Steve Cunningham fights for family

After a fighter dies, or is rendered brain damaged, there is the inevitable blowback. "Boxing should be abolished," some say. It happened after Russian heavyweight Magomed Abdusalamov suffered brain damage and was comatose following his Nov. 2 fight against Mike Perez at the Madison Square Garden Theater in NYC.

Those crusaders don't consider two things. First, fighters need to compete at an extreme level and aren't built, mentally or physically, like them. Second, boxing exists as a rare path to prosperity. This world contains fewer and fewer such avenues, as technology replaces the need for many jobs.

Crusaders against the sport don't consider people like Steve Cunningham, a 37-year-old former cruiserweight champion who gloves up Saturday in a heavyweight tussle against Manuel Quezada, a scrap promoted by Main Events to run on NBC Sports Network. Cunningham (25-6, 12 KOs) has lost back-to-back fights against Tomasz Adamek (SD) and Tyson Fury (KO7).

The do-gooders don't consider that, without the structure of the sport and the opportunities afforded by it, Cunningham, or thousands of men like him, would not have been able to shrug off the temptation of the streets and the black-market hustle that, while remunerative, is inevitably a dead-end endeavor. They don't consider that men like Cunningham wish to test themselves to a degree that us regular folks can't fathom. Cunningham wants -- and needs -- to fight men considered bigger, stronger and better than him, to prove doubters wrong.

I chatted with the boxer and got the lowdown on the 36-year-old Quezada (29-7, 18 KOs with three straight losses), his future plans and maybe the largest single reason he puts his life on the line for our entertainment.

"Quezada is a natural heavyweight, normal sized, and has been in with some opponents I'm looking to fight," said the also "normal-sized" heavyweight. "He's a good measuring stick for me, and I want to look impressive. It's not just about winning."

No, it wouldn't be, not when he has daughter Kennedy, age 8, on his mind. Cunningham and family just learned that Kennedy will need a heart transplant instead of corrective surgery. Steve and wife Livvy went online, joined a Facebook group and are feeling optimistic about Kennedy's chances to get a transplant -- and thrive.

It can't go without saying that if Cunningham beats Quezada, gets back on the winning track and gets a title crack against a Klitschko down the line, it would take the load off the family financially. When Kennedy gets her transplant, the family will need to move to a house in Philly more suitable for her condition, so Cunningham knows this is a must win.

"I want to get this money, to move and also become a world champ again," he said.

While he grinds to provide for his family, he hears from people who think his sport, his path to prosperity and financial security, should be abolished. In fact, he heard it from a doctor who was assessing him for his pre-fight medical examination.

"This guy is telling me to stop boxing," Cunningham said. "And I'm thinking to myself, 'Is this guy really saying this?'"

He was, and they will. And usually it is from people who are secure and have no concept of the dearth of opportunities available to the masses. I don't know about you, but on Saturday night, I'll put journalistic integrity aside (I'm only human) and root for Steve Cunningham, little Kennedy and all the good souls who are lifted up by the sport, which elevates far more than it drags down.