It was one of the finest performances in a British boxing ring in 2021.
Jason Cunningham’s emphatic win over Gamal Yafai, a fight he agreed to at three weeks’ notice, gave the 32-year-old his biggest title to date. The Doncaster ‘Iceman’ has now been the European super-bantamweight champion for five months and defends his crown for the first time on Saturday in a rearranged bout against Brad Foster who puts his British and Commonwealth belts on the line.
Amidst the hoopla of the heavyweight shenanigans in Las Vegas and the rising temperatures of a Liverpool derby, Cunningham vs Foster is a terrific old-fashioned domestic clash with three prized possessions to fight for in Birmingham and will be shown live on BT Sport.
Boxing Social had the pleasure of speaking to Cunningham last week and talked to him about fighting Foster, the win over Yafai, where his European title resides, his fears as the away fighter, staying ready for a big opportunity and why we think he is an inspiration to other fighters.
Boxing Social: How’s things then, are you all set for October 9?
Jason Cunningham: “Yeah. I’m in a very, very good place. Feeling very, very confident. All the hard work’s been done. My last spar was with Jack Bateson, 10 rounds straight through. So, obviously, he brings the switch of styles from orthodox to southpaw like Brad Foster. We’re getting the best sparring we possibly can. I’ve been up and down the country. Preparation’s been absolutely brilliant. I’ve had Lee McGregor, James Beech who has obviously boxed Foster before. There’s a young amateur kid called Edward Hardy who has done a lot of work with Sunny Edwards and Dennis McCann of late. He’s a very, very good boxer coming through, so he’s given me some good rounds and finished off with Jack. Preparation’s absolutely brilliant and I’m ready to go.”
Boxing Social: So, when you’ve sparred someone like Beech who has already fought Foster can you see why he gave him a hard night’s work?
Jason Cunningham: “All styles are different. If I look at my sparring, there’s a lot of positives to take from out of the spar and how Brad’s done with him. James gave me some good rounds as well, said things that Foster does in there, not that I read too much because it’s different from one fight to the next. Obviously, Lee McGregor’s a very, very good fighter as well. Had some brilliant rounds with Lee. Jack’s very sharp, has a good amateur pedigree like myself so you’ve got be switched on there. That were brilliant work. And like I said because he [Bateson] switches from orthodox to southpaw it’s kind of replicating what Brad’s going to be doing. I can’t complain. I don’t take too much out of it like that, I just make sure I’m performing my best in these spars and getting the best out of myself. I’ve ticked all them boxes and I’m happy.”
Boxing Social: The last camp you had led to the biggest win of your career against Gamal Yafai. Has this camp been similar or different?
Jason Cunningham: “Very, very different just in terms of the time of preparation I’ve had. I’m always in the gym which is why I was able to take the [Yafai] fight with three weeks to go. It were three weeks, boom, we had to get straight back to it and take everything from zero to a hundred. Whereas this one, with the postponement as well by Brad, we had to taper down a touch just so I don’t burn out and overdo it. So, the timing of it all has been precise. But we’ve had a lot more time to prepare on what Brad does and different game plans going into the fight. You’re going to see the best version of me in there. We’ve kind of prepared for anything and anything that Brad’s willing to bring to the table. So, I’ll just adjust and work towards whatever Brad’s going to bring. We’re ready for it.”
Boxing Social: I read somewhere that you thought this fight was too soon for Brad. Have you ever been in a fight where you thought this has come too soon for me?
Jason Cunningham: “Not in the same sense. The way I look at it, just because of my level of experience, I know in the past where I’ve had to learn from my mistakes which I did early on in my career similar to Brad. I know the mental side of things as I aged, and he’s got a lot riding on his shoulders. It’s a big show in his own city, he’ll be expected to do tickets and all the rest of it. I’m riding the crest of a wave; I’m the European champion and I’m enjoying every single minute of it being on this stage. In another 10 years time when all this is said and done, I’ll be looking back at this and this is what it’s all about, I’m enjoying the moment and taking it all in my stride. I know with his age where he’s at. I’ve had 35 pro fights, he’s had 16. I’ve had more wins than he’s had fights and, if you compare the level of opponent we’ve been in with, I’ve been in with a former world champion. In terms of the stats, it’s all in my favour but we’ll see what Brad’s all about. Is he going to be the real deal? I’m prepared for Brad, definitely not underestimating him. I know he’s a good fighter. I’m just very confident and I believe timing’s right for me.”
Boxing Social: Did you expect to win the Yafai fight so comfortably?
Jason Cunningham: “I knew I was all wrong for him, especially being a southpaw. In comparison to Gavin [McDonnell], similar kind of height and he struggled with that against Gavin. I knew what I had to do to beat him. I didn’t expect to drop him three times in the process but in a way it’s a good job I did because two judges had it 114-111 so I wouldn’t be sat here now as European champion which is another thing leading into this fight. I’m doing it all the hard way, in the away corner. Of late there’s been a lot of decisions that the public have been complaining about. I intend on making it a clear and comprehensive win, but I ask for a fair crack of the whip especially at this stage of my career, where it leads on to, that nothing like that comes into play. But I intend on doing a dominant performance which I’ve got to do in the away corner anyway. We’ll take it as it comes.”
Boxing Social: Did the scorecards take the shine off the Yafai win?
Jason Cunningham: “I probably struggled to give him more than a couple of rounds, that’s not being disrespectful to Gamal. With three 10-8 rounds, it should have been very wide. It didn’t take the shine off it as much because of the reaction I got. I got a lot of respect from that fight and rightly so. My performance outshone the scores anyway but if you do put it into perspective then yeah it needs to be questioned. That’s why I don’t want anything like that happening again especially if I put another great performance in. All being well it don’t come to anything like that and I’m walking away with all the three belts.”
Boxing Social: Before the Yafai fight was mentioned did you think that kind of opportunity was ever going to present itself again?
Jason Cunningham: “After the year and more we’ve lived through I didn’t know what we were doing next! It was lucky I do keep ready because if I had turned that opportunity down for whatever reason at three weeks’ notice then that opportunity would have definitely not come around again. Everything happens for a reason and that was the reason and this was supposed to be, but like I say after the last year we’ve lived through I couldn’t really say what was to be expected. It’s been bizarre.”
Boxing Social: With the career you’ve had it must feel worthwhile and extra special.
Jason Cunningham: “Definitely. Especially now I’m here. It’s not over yet. Especially having to do it on the small hall shows, selling tickets here and there. It’s been a hard slog but it’s finally coming to fruition if you like, and it’s taken me this long to get to this stage. That’s why for that reason alone I’m enjoying it all. I’m buzzing for the next fight. What’s spurred me on a lot for the fight is it’s to do with my legacy. I’d become a three-weight Commonwealth champion, a British champion. I’ve done everything from an International Masters, which is the bottom of the bottom and every domestic title: Area, English, British, Commonwealth, European, there’s only one place to go. I’ve done it the old school route. There’s a lot spurring me on for the fight but like I say above all else I’m just riding a wave and enjoying it.”
Boxing Social: You’re something of an inspiration. Six defeats but you’ve stayed in the gym, taken the big opportunity and proved, just like others have, that fight records should be ignored.
Jason Cunningham: “That’s how you want it to be. Same with Maxi Hughes from Doncaster. Maxi’s just won IBO world title and it just shows you never give up on your dream. For instance, if I use Maxi’s story, before the lockdowns and Covid come around he were going to pack it in. Then he got all of them fights behind closed doors, took the Jono Carroll fight, won that and a year later he’s IBO champion of the world. Never give up on your dreams, you don’t know what’s around the corner. For me, and probably for Maxi, we’ve used those defeats to our advantage in terms of what we did wrong and learned from the mistakes and improved as a fighter. Obviously experience, and you can’t buy experience which comes over the years. That’s the difference between me and Brad. It’s put me in good stead really.”
Boxing Social: On the flip side of that has there ever been any occasion where you thought I’m done with boxing?
Jason Cunningham: “No, never. I have actually achieved my goal but there is more to achieve. I didn’t realise this until only recently because you’re always chasing, always looking to improve yourself. I said before I turned pro I was good enough to become a European champion and a lot of people would have probably written me off at that but I’ve done it. I’ve ticked that box and that can never be taken away from me. But I believe there’s more to come.”
Boxing Social: Is the new belt taking pride of place in your home?
Jason Cunningham: “No, it’s down at my mum and dad’s house. Reason being is they’ve always supported me. My dad, he’s always drove me about here, there and everywhere. Kept me on the right track, put everything into me so my belt is proudly on my dad’s chest of drawers. Just to top it off I bought my dad a nice car. You get that bit higher up, you get better purses, so I’ve been able to give a bit back to him as well.”
Main image: Queensberry Promotions.