Steve “USS” Cunningham, a former two-time IBF Cruiserweight Champion, has been in many big fights in his career, but the biggest was with his daughter Kennedy and her treatment for hypoplastic left heart syndrome.
Along with his wife Livvy, they moved their family from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh in 2015 and have ingrained themselves into the area’s boxing community.
“All the fighters show us respect because of my career accomplishments and my daughter’s story,” said Cunningham. “They’ve made us feel like we are at home here.”
After Kennedy’s successful heart transplant in 2015, they’ve remained in Pittsburgh, opening a boxing gym in 2018 with plans to host fight nights for amateur boxers from around the city and the world.
The USS Fight Academy will hold its first-ever Amateur Fight Night on March 13th. The event will take place inside their spacious gym in North Versailles.
“It’s something we saw from the minute we walked in the gym,” said Livvy Cunningham, Steve’s wife. “It got pushed back a year, but we’re excited that it’s finally happening.”
The event will take place exactly one year to the date of the last scheduled and sanctioned amateur boxing event in the Pittsburgh area. The 2020 Pittsburgh vs. Ireland Donnybrook at Priory Grand Hall in the Northside was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some of Pittsburgh’s best young pugilists were supposed to go toe-to-toe with opponents from the Drimaugh Boxing Club in Dublin, Ireland.
His son Steve “Tugboat” Cunningham Jr, the fourth-ranked amateur nationally at 141 pounds and plans to turn pro after high school, was scheduled to fight his second international opponent, Evan Kirwan, an Irish amateur boxing champion.
His first opportunity was the Pittsburgh vs. Cuba Boxing on the Bridge event in 2016. His second international opponent was an opportunity for people from Gateway High School to see him fight in person.
“Teachers, the principal, and vice-principal of the school were coming to see him fight,” said Cunningham. “It was very disappointing. To us, this was his coming-out party. Pittsburgh is a beautiful place, and the fans love good fighters and will get behind you.
The pandemic, as it was for many businesses, was rough for the gym. After celebrating the gym’s third anniversary this past January, they feel like they’re coming out of it stronger than ever.
“It takes three to five years for a business to become profitable,” said Livvy. “
You’d never think that going into that third year, and you would face a pandemic. We still have some building and growing to do, but we’re on our way.”
They’ve had talented fighters come spar and train. They’ve also honed talent to compete in the USA Boxing National Championships.
In addition to Steve Jr., his younger Cruz “Missile” Cunningham and Maximus “The Gladiator Ruiz each have two national championships.
On Saturday, the USS Fight Academy will look to start the amateur career of another boxing talent.
Abigail Neubauer from North Hunnington started her training a year and a half ago. She started going to USS Fight Academy because her cousin started training there.
In those three days a week kids’ classes, she fell in love with boxing. When she graduated from the kids’ boxing classes last May, she began training to become an amateur combatant, which upped her training from three days to six days a week.
I stepped up from the kids’ class and never thought about going back,” said Neubauer. I’ve been waiting to do this for a while now.”
It was hard to find a competitor her weight and age class, and she was willing to whatever it takes to prepare for her first fight.
Steve Sr. always wanted to train a female fighter from scratch since opening up his gym three years ago.
“Women are more fierce than men. They’re more vicious, you know, they go for the blood., It’s just different with women’s boxing,” said Cunningham. “I’m amped. We’re all amped to see how she does on her first fight.”
She says Cunningham has pushed her further than she ever thought she could go and would have never picturing boxing being the most significant part of her life.
“If you would have asked me two years ago, would I be in a boxing gym like training six days a week? I would have said no”, said Neubauer. “Once I found this place, Steve kind of took me under his wing and started training me as one of his own.”
She said her biggest challenge in boxing is the sport’s mental aspect, but she’s
ready for her first challenge.
“If you manifest you’re gonna win, then you’re, it’s all about what you put your mind to,” said Neubauer. “It depends on how bad you want it, and I want it bad. So I’m going to give it my all and leave everything out on the mat.”
The Cunninghams plan to make Pittsburgh an amateur boxing hub with the USS Fight Academy as the home for future tournaments and amateur showcases.
“We want to try to do a show once every other month or show which is good for us good for the gym and keeping our athletes active before national tournaments,” said Cunningham. “I want to build-up to the point of even either doing invitationals and tournaments with other gyms.”
Tickets are available at the USS Fight Academy 1712 Lincoln Hwy, North Versailles, PA. First Bell at 6 PM. Adult Tickets $20, Children Tickets $10. All State Protocols will be followed and face coverings will be required.