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Cunningham fighting for family

Steve Cunningham proudly calls Philadelphia home, but the former two-time cruiserweight titleholder who now fights as a heavyweight, has not boxed there in 11 years.

The last time Cunningham had a hometown fight was in his 13th professional bout, when he remained undefeated by winning an eight-round decision against Demetrius Jenkins in March 2003 on the undercard of the heavyweight rematch between Hasim Rahman and David Tua.

Since then, Cunningham has fought all over the place -- throughout the United States, South Africa, Poland and several fights in Germany when he was signed with German promoter Sauerland Event -- and had his ups and downs.

Now the 37-year-old Cunningham (26-6, 12 KOs), who has been fighting as a heavyweight since 2012, is coming home to face Amir "Hardcore" Mansour (20-0, 15 KOs), a 41-year-old from Wilmington, Del., who trains in Philadelphia, in what amounts to a make-or-break fight for both men on Friday night (NBC Sports Net, 10 ET) at the Liacouras Center on the campus of Temple University.

"This is a real 50-50 fight," said Main Events promoter Kathy Duva, who represents Cunningham. "Neither fighter has a clear advantage. I can't wait to find out who wins.

"The heavyweight division is starting to get really, really interesting. I don't think it is going to be so easy for [champion] Wladimir Klitschko to dominate. In the next three or four years there is going to be big changes in the division and both these gentlemen have a chance to be part of that change."

As a heavyweight, Cunningham's results have been mixed. He is just 2-2 and in need of a win both to remain relevant in the division as well as out of financial need for his sick daughter.

He outpointed journeyman Jason Gavern in his debut in the division, but then Cunningham lost two fights in a row, a controversial split decision to Tomasz Adamek in a rematch of their classic cruiserweight title fight (won by Adamek in 2008) and a seventh-round knockout loss to British contender Tyson Fury, whom Cunningham dropped. In December, Cunningham rebounded with an eight-round decision win against Manuel Quezada.

Cunningham is happy to be home.

"The last time I fought in Philadelphia, Philly didn't know me," Cunningham said. "I learned to fight in the Navy so I didn't have a following at home. I have always wanted to fight in Philly at this level or higher.

Despite being undefeated, Mansour has not yet faced top opposition, though he stopped Gavern in the first round while Cunningham went the distance with him. He is seeking to show that even at his age, and having been out of the ring between 2001 and 2010 because he was in prison, that he can make some noise in the heavyweight division against his best opponent to date.

"It's the best all-Philly fight in years. Two careers are on the line in this one," promoter Russell Peltz said. "The winner becomes a player in the heavyweight sweepstakes. Cunningham has to prove he's still viable as a heavyweight and Mansour must prove he can hang with the big boys."

In the co-feature, middleweight Curtis Stevens (26-4, 19 KOs), looking for his second win in a row since being stopped in the eighth round of a one-sided title fight against Gennady Golovkin in November, will face untested Tureano Johnson (14-0, 10 KOs) in a scheduled 10-round bout.

Cunningham, who used to spar with Mansour, is not only fighting to remain relevant as a heavyweight, but also for something even more important -- money to help pay the medical bills he and his wife, Livvy, are dealing with related to their 8-year-old daughter Kennedy, who was born with a congenital heart defect.

"This isn't about a belt or about winning, this time I need this for my family," Cunningham said. "I need to make money. I have to get a new house for my daughter's condition. I am fighting for another payday and to keep going."

Trainer Naazim Richardson has seen what Cunningham and his family have gone through.

"If you know what this man has been through with his daughter, none of us know that pain," Richardson said. "To face the [possible] death of your child that is a darkness no one should ever face. Not to say jail is not a dark place, but what he and his wife is facing is bigger than boxing. I have watched him persevere and become a two-time world champion. Steve isn't going to intimidate anyone out of the ring, but when you compare skill he wins hands down. What he has accomplished has been on skill and skill alone."

Although Kennedy's condition is no secret, Cunningham prefers not to discuss it in detail, instead focusing on the fight.

"I am not going to get into what we are going through," he said. "What is the evidence of a thing, not seen, but hoped for? Faith. You could never tell me that I am not going to be a world champion. I have faith. I back down from no man. In actuality, who isn't from the streets? Who isn't hard out here? We are all hard when we need to be. A smart man knows how to survive, when to fight and when not to fight. We all have the rough, tough story. No man on this earth scares me, especially within a four-corner ring with rules. I am getting in this ring to win. We are going to get it on Friday.

"My main advantage is experience. This is boxing. We sign up to fight. I never worry about anyone's power. I have been facing these type of situations since Day 1."

By stepping up to face a quality opponent, Mansour, a southpaw, understands that a win would be a big boost for his career while a loss would be devastating.

"I don't brag about being incarcerated. I am ashamed of being incarcerated," said Mansour, who sparred with Cunningham after being released from prison and resuming his career. "I am disappointed in myself. I am not using prison to be a pedestal for my toughness. I don't deny who I am as a person. I don't deny my history, my present or my future. My future is to be successful in this game right here. I have never seen a skill set that can outmatch mine and I have never had to use all my skill sets.

"Sometimes I need to utilize strength instead of skill. I don't have a padded record. I didn't have the luxury of fighting a bunch of bums. I have a very talented skill set of boxing. I can box. I can out-box you. You can't beat me in boxing. I am not letting anyone take my [regional] title. I am coming to get you. You are not going to beat me with no jab. You are going to have to come and get this work. We all go through problems with our friends and family, but you are not going to take my title. You are going to have to come and get this work. He was a great cruiserweight champion, but this is the heavyweight division, and that was a few years ago."

A few years ago, yes, but now Cunningham and Mansour are looking to the future.