- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Heavyweight contender Tyson Fury of Great Britain will make his American debut against former cruiserweight titlist Steve Cunningham on April 20, promoters Hennessy Sports and Main Events announced Wednesday.
The 12-round contest, an eliminator for the No. 2 position in one of the sanctioning organizations, will take place at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York and air live on NBC's "Fight Night" (4 p.m. ET), the network's second boxing card since 2005.
"I'm very proud to say that Tyson Fury's American debut is taking place at Madison Square Garden, New York," promoter Mick Hennessy said. "This is a dream debut in the U.S. for Tyson, as this fight is also being shown live on network TV. It just doesn't get any better than this."
The winner of the bout will be one win from a mandatory title shot against heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko.
Boxing returned to NBC on Dec. 22 as part of Main Events' deal with the network as the exclusive promoter of the fight cards on NBC Sports Net. In that main event, Cunningham (25-5, 12 KOs), in his second fight since moving up to the heavyweight division, lost a heavily disputed split decision to former cruiserweight champ and heavyweight contender Tomasz Adamek in their rematch.
But it was such a crowd-pleasing fight -- and many felt that Cunningham, 36, of Philadelphia, had been robbed by the judges -- that he is getting another opportunity on a big stage against the 24-year-old Fury (20-0, 14 KOs), who had been looking for the right spot to come to America.
"Giving Steve the opportunity to fight on NBC again -- in a bigger venue for another shot at the No. 2 position in the IBF -- after his controversial decision loss to Tomasz Adamek in December is what Main Events and 'Fight Night' are all about," Main Events promoter Kathy Duva said. "Steve put on a fantastic performance against Adamek and deserves to be rewarded with this fight. We also get to introduce Tyson Fury, a young heavyweight contender, to the American public in a true crossroads match."
Fury owns a decision win against fringe contender Dereck Chisora, but Cunningham, although smaller, is a lot more experienced.
"Cunningham's got all the tools -- a former world champion, good fighter -- he's got a lot of skill," Fury said. "I'm looking to put on a devastating performance, the best of my career to date.
"I'm absolutely ecstatic to be fighting at Madison Square Garden. It goes back in history, and I can't wait to put my name with a long list of champions who have fought there. I'm a historian of boxing myself, so this is definitely the pinnacle of my career so far."
The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Fury will have a substantial size advantage against Cunningham, who is 6-3 and has never weighed more than 207 pounds for a fight.
"I'm looking forward to getting back in the ring on April 20 to face Fury," said Cunningham, who won a piece of the cruiserweight title twice. "For the first time in my career I have a guy coming to my country to face me. I am certain he's never faced a fighter like me. What an amazing opportunity to fight in historic Madison Square Garden and return to NBC again. I am prepared to fight a great fight and come out with a victory."
Cunningham has spent most of the past few years fighting in Europe, where most of the top cruiserweights were from.
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