The fight of their lives
By Kai Pfaffenbach
Steve Marcus, our Boxing expert in Las Vegas, is maybe the one and only photographer within the company who has shot more World Championship title bouts than I have throughout the last couple of years.
I shot “Iron” Mike Tyson in Copenhagen, South Africa’s “White Buffalo” Francois Botha on several comebacks, I got my picture taken with Lennox Lewis after a fight I photographed and I followed the untouchable Klitschko brothers on their way to dominate the heavyweight class as only “The Greatest of All Times” (Muhammad Ali) did before!
But it was an IBF cruiserweight re-match which fascinated me the most. Steve “USS” Cunningham challenged Yoan-Pablo Hernandez from Cuba to get his title-belt back. Cruiserweight is as fast as middle-weight but the punch power is almost as much as heavyweight.
From the first second those two men delivered an absolutely top-level fight with clean technique, accurate, fast hits and the ability to take those punches. It was in the fourth round when a combination and a straight right hand sent Cunningham on the deck twice within a minute.
None of the almost 10,000 spectators and experts in the arena expected him to “survive” the round or come back for a fifth. But this man did come back and delivered another eight rounds, pushing himself and title-holder Hernandez to the limit.
People were obviously standing on their chairs (I’ve heard that later from a TV commentator as I couldn’t take a look over my shoulder during the actual fight), cheering for both fighters waiting for a knock-out to come. In the end the fight lasted its twelve rounds, Hernandez defended his title by a 3-0 judge decision but he was too exhausted to climb on the ropes to acknowledge his well deserved applause. Hernandez enjoyed a kiss from his girlfriend as Cunningham tried to stop his cuts from bleeding.
From the photographer’s point of view this fight was another debut for me – I’ve never ever on any given assignment needed the full capacity of a 4GB memory card. But the amount of punches and reactions during those 50 minutes were just too good to be true.
Usually I shoot the first two rounds on a 70-200mm zoom-lens to get the fighters a bit closer. For this one I decided within the first minutes to stay on the two wide-angle zooms: 24-70/2.8 and 16-35/2.8 as the fight was like a wild fast race through the ring.
In the end even the shirt of referee James Cotton told the story of the fight of their lives for these two boxers: in his bloodstained shirt the “Ref” stood in the corner, winking to me as I shot the close-up of his shirt and saying with a smile: “Looks like I fought for the belt myself” – and so did I.