A year ago, Jason Cunningham lost everything he had worked so hard to accumulate when Zolani Tete, the scourge of many British boxers over the years, stopped him inside four rounds in Wembley. It was, on reflection, as shocking to watch as it was for Cunningham to experience and indeed the only thing more shocking than the result itself was the news to follow months later.
Perhaps, in that respect, shock is the wrong word; this is boxing, after all. Even so, with no hint beforehand other than the speed with which he was stopped, Cunningham was to one day discover that Tete was being investigated for having used performance-enhancing drugs. Worse, he found out the same way as the rest of us: by seeing the news online. This left the Doncaster man in quite the cul-de-sac, not knowing who to believe, what to believe, and now having to possibly reframe and recontextualise all that had happened in the South African’s presence.
As is his custom, though, Cunningham simply tried not to think too much about it. Far better, he thought, to just put it behind him and keep moving forward, first in the form of a March fight against Miguel Gonzalez, which he won over 10 rounds, and now, on Saturday (July 29), in a make-or-break test against Liam Davies, the current British and European super-bantamweight champion.
A fight as dangerous as it is necessary, Cunningham can forget all about what happened against Tete should he do against Davies in Telford what he has made a career of doing: upsetting the applecart. However, as easy as that sounds in theory, this particular challenge, given Davies’ recent run of form, his ambition and his freshness, could prove to be a challenge like no other for Cunningham.
At 13-0 (5), Davies has had things all his own way as a pro to date, yet that’s not to say he has been matched softly. Instead, the 27-year-old from Donnington has, especially in the last year or so, been matched competitively and come through a couple of stern tests. The first of these was against Marc Leach, whom he outboxed rather impressively to take the British title in 2022, while the second was against Romanian dangerman Ionut Baluta, against whom Davies claimed the vacant European crown that same year. In both those fights Davies showed his ability to adapt to different styles and to also remain in control when having taken a lead. Not only that, there is an unbridled confidence with Davies that appears to give him the mental edge over opponents. He exhibited that against Leach, when flooring the champion early and then boxing superbly from that point on, and he has displayed it, too, whenever he has crossed paths with Cunningham and tried banging the drum for the fight. It is in those moments you can see the confidence pouring out of Davies. It is in those moments you see blissful ignorance at its most powerful.
Cunningham, of course, cuts a wiser, more knowing and therefore more cautious figure. He no doubts respects Davies’ talent and his potential, but he will also be of the belief that taking this fight now is a step too far for Davies given his relative inexperience as a pro. As well as that, Cunningham will point to the fact that he has shared a ring with the likes of Tete, Michael Conlan, Khalid Yafai, Jason Booth, Jordan Gill and Reece Bellotti as reasons to not be fearful. Then, should someone say, “Yes, but he lost to each of those fighters,” he will turn around and guide them instead to his wins against Brad Foster and Terry Le Couviour, both of whom were unbeaten, and the breakout win against Gamal Yafai, which of course landed Cunningham the European super-bantamweight title.
That is the belt the southpaw will once again look to win this Saturday when locking horns with Davies in the battle of Doncaster vs. Donnington. To win it, Cunningham, 32-7 (7), will know he needs to not only use every ounce of the experience he gained in those aforementioned fights, but also that he must be better than he has ever been before. Because now, at 33, and with that shock against Tete still relatively fresh, there is a target on the former champion’s back. Added to that, too, is the feeling that the “The Iceman” creeping up on unsuspecting prospects and contenders could be a thing of the past, at least as far as Davies is concerned.
It’s up to Cunningham to disprove that view, of course, just as it’s up to Davies to ruin Cunningham’s hopes of adding another chapter to his Cinderella story and, instead of that, usher him closer to retirement. Whichever way it goes on Saturday, when assessing their respective styles, plus the bit of needle between them, it figures to be an entertaining and action-packed fight. And yet, not for the first time before a fight like this, a fight in which two men meet at differing ends of the experience scale, there remains a suspicion that the one coming up will have too much for the one going down. If indeed that’s true, it will mean Davies, the boxer with the belts and unbeaten record, should get by Cunningham and continue his reign, most likely via decision.
On the Telford undercard, meanwhile, there is a decent welterweight fight between Eithan James, 11-0, and James Moorcroft, 19-2 (7), which is scheduled for 10 rounds, as well as appearances from unbeaten prospects Moses Itauma, 3-0 (2), who is an 18-year-old heavyweight of whom big things are expected, and Owen Cooper, 8-0 (3), who is a talented welterweight from Worcester.