Steve Cunningham had some strong words for Antonio Tarver. | Ed Diller/ DiBella Entertainment
Everyone in boxing is aware of former world cruiserweight champion Steve Cunningham’s special story.
They know the trials “USS Cunningham” has had to endure involving the plight of his 10-year-old daughter Kennedy, who was born with a rare heart defect, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which shut down the left side of her heart.
Kennedy underwent a heart transplant in December 2014 at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. It’s a galvanizing reason why Steve fights for his family.
So you can imagine how personal Cunningham took it when the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board (NJSACB) announced that Antonio Tarver tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug for their Aug. 14 WBC heavyweight elimination bout at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., that resulted in a 12-round draw.
In a statement released by Tarver, he claims: “I have no idea how my urine sample tested positive because I didn't take anything illegal. Either the test was contaminated, or mixed up with another sample. We believe in the process and I will fully comply. Further analysis will prove I’m 100 percent innocent because I’ve done nothing wrong.”
This is the second time Tarver has tested positive. In 2012, the 46-year-old grandfather failed a drug test in California for the steroid drostanalone after a draw with Lateef Kayode in Carson, Calif.
The California State Athletic Commission levied a one-year suspension against Tarver, who also lost his TV commentating job at Showtime over what he claimed was a “false positive.” Tarver was given the chance to have the “B” sample of that test analyzed if he wanted to appeal. Instead, Tarver chose not fight again for 17 months.
In the buildup for the fight against Cunningham, “The Magic Man” blared to anyone willing to listen that he had been through “hell” the last two years of his life.
But Cunningham didn’t want to hear then, and certainly doesn’t want to hear any excuses now. He’s livid-- and he’s not afraid to let Tarver know how he’s taken this latest positive test as a risk to not only his livelihood as a professional fighter, but as a direct threat to his family and children.
Cunningham first heard Monday morning that Tarver failed his drug test.
“I had a feeling something was up when I brought up the fact that we’re going to be tested in the press tour and he kind of got bothered by that,” Cunningham said. “When a guy gets caught, you have a track record, you have a history. In my book, once you get caught once, you should never be allowed to fight again in the sport.
“In this sport, we’re already super human without taking anything. We shape and work our bodies to kill someone in the ring-- without any illegal drugs. If you boost yourself up even more, it gives you the threat of killing someone ever greater. Guys should be banned for life if they’re caught once using PEDs.
“That man could have killed me. I’m very angry to hear his positive test. I commentated on the Prichard Colon fight against Terrel Williams. You have a normal fighting guy like Williams that put Colon in a coma. Williams wasn’t on anything. He fought a clean fight. It shows how dangerous boxing can be. I hope the best for Colon and he’s in my prayers, but he’ll never be the same again.
“Then I find out Tarver tested positive. He wanted to take out the father of this little girl, my daughter, who everyone in boxing has been praying for, and my other kids. That’s the way I see it. I really take it personally what he tried to do. It’s a selfish, vindictive, evil thing. Tarver has no respect for boxing, or the other fighters in the sport. He has no morals. He only cares about himself.”
Cunningham wants steeper fines for positive tests. Tarver (31-6-1, 22 KOs, 1 NC) says he plans to appeal the positive result. If he loses, the draw with Cunningham (28-7-1, 13 KOs) would be changed to a no-contest.
“People know my stance, and I’ve said that if any fighter tests positive against me, I’ll file a suit on them for attempted murder, or aggravated assault,” Cunningham said. “You know you willingly took this, you know the rules. You’re trying to hurt me more than the contract allows. I signed the contract that says I will incur injuries, but this super-human strength that allows you to take punches, and give back even harder ones, that’s illegal by law, according to me. He’s been caught once already.
“Here’s the big thing right here, and before me, Antonio Tarver knocked out Johnathon Banks, and knocked out the guy [Mike Sheppard] before that. We have to question every big victory he’s had now. He’s popping up on tests, and this is twice in three years. I know some people spoke about him being a future Hall of Famer. A guy in the Hall of Fame respects the sport. They respect other athletes. This man doesn’t.
“He shouldn’t be allowed around the sport. He tainted himself. He fights just for the money. He wanted a fight with [Wladimir] Klitschko so he could do what he did against me, fight for 30 seconds of each round and swing the judges with his star power. He destroyed his star power with his second failed test, in my opinion. Tarver robbed the fans of a good fight. A liar is very convincing every time he lies.
“He’s 46 with his big belly, and looks like he eats doughnuts and cookies all day. He came into that fight and survived. He got his victory with a draw. It’s the second time with this guy. We need to stop this now. You get caught one time you’re done. The one thing I got is total vindication.”
Cunningham said he doesn’t want a rematch with Tarver. In fact, Cunningham, who walks around at 203 pounds, recently announced that he will be dropping back down to cruiserweight, where he was a two-time IBF champion.
He said he’s aiming to get back in the ring by early January, through Cunningham’s new manager, Al Haymon.
“The judges wouldn’t give me the credit for what I was doing at heavyweight, they didn’t respect me there and instead of being bullheaded, I’m just going back down to cruiserweight,” Cunningham said. “It won’t be anything to lose three or four pounds to fight back at cruiser again. I’m going to stay there. I’ll fight Godzilla if he can make cruiserweight. What I want to do before my career is over is fight on a navy ship, an aircraft carrier, or a naval base, something like that would be special.”
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