For some fighters, the creation of an aura is important. If they can defeat their opponent mentally before the fight even starts, it’s an advantage. It can’t be taught, no matter how many hours of training a fighter puts in.
Rising middleweight prospect Alton Cunningham recognized the importance of having an aura early on. He spent his youth watching professional wrestling and looking up to stars like The Undertaker, The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Goldberg and Brock Lesnar.
“He was ‘The Phenom.’ He had that aura and that mystique,” Cunningham, speaking about The Undertaker, told Combat Press.
Cunningham was drawn to pro wrestling because of the one-on-one competition. He grew up playing basketball in his native Wisconsin, but switched to running track and field after his freshman year of high school.
It was when Lesnar made his initial switch from WWE to mixed martial arts that Cunningham began watching the sport. He became a fan of other fighters who had auras all their own, including Fedor Emelianenko and Anderson Silva.
“I just watched Fedor as a guy who should be a middleweight beating up all of these big dudes, and I thought to myself, ‘I need to do this,’” said Cunningham.
He also began following the career of UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor when the Irishman was still fighting for the United Kingdom-based promotion Cage Warriors.
“I’m a huge fan of his style,” Cunningham said of McGregor. “He changed the game with the way he uses those long, rangy kicks.”
Cunningham, whose record now stands at 3-0, began training in MMA soon thereafter. He made his amateur debut in 2014. Cunningham split his first two amateur fights, but he has not tasted defeat since. Now, he is creating an aura of his own after winning every single one of his subsequent nine amateur and pro fights by knockout.
“I’m not a fan now, though. I’m creating my own style,” Cunningham said. “I’m a full-time fighter, and I was forced to fight growing up. I didn’t know anyone in Wisconsin and I was bullied. I knew I was a natural-born striker, but I work on my jiu-jitsu now more than anything. It’s a chess match at first, and you can just roll around and get a good sweat going and work on the technical stuff.
“I’m taking more classes, and I have to be more well rounded, because these middleweight guys are killers. It motivates me to be the best fighter I can be.”
If Cunningham had decided to pursue a career in the squared circle instead of the cage, he might have adopted the same nickname he uses now: “The Bo Man.”
“I made it up in Spanish class in high school,” Cunningham said. “We had a substitute teacher and I was the class clown, and I told her I changed my name. Now it means I’m on another level — you might be a ‘beast,’ but I’m a ‘Bo.’”
Cunningham began his career primarily on regional and local shows, fighting for promotions with names like Pure FC and 3 River Throwdown. He makes his promotional debut for the Legacy Fighting Alliance on Friday, Dec. 15, against Dominic Garcia, who sports a 4-1 mark.
“I’m going to make my debut on the national stage and show what I can do,” Cunningham said. “I told LFA that if you put me on the main card, you won’t be disappointed. I’ve finished all my fights, and I’ll finish this one too. And it will be fireworks. I’m going to seek and destroy. I know what he does, and I can do it better. He’s pretty green on the ground and he has a strong left hand, but I notice he fights with his hands down. I’m the strongest guy he’s fought so far, and it’s going to be a rough night for him.”
Cunningham actually has another fight already booked for early next year with Pure FC. According to Cunningham, that booking came together before his fight with LFA was set.
“I couldn’t pass up this opportunity,” said Cunningham. “I’m going to go in there and finish the fight and knock out each guy in the first round and get the call-up to the UFC or Bellator. I’m always training and always in shape, and I will eventually be world champion. I’ve already accomplished my goals up to now. I’ve won title belts in three different promotions and fought the top guys in each of those places. I’m starting to show up in the prospect rankings, which is pretty cool, but it puts a target on your back. My ultimate goal is to make it to the UFC and get a title fight, and get paid for it.”
If he makes it to the UFC, Cunningham would be in the same promotion as one of his inspirations, McGregor, who Cunningham believes had the biggest moment in MMA in 2017 with his huge boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr.
“Those two guys made history, and it may not happen again for a long time,” Cunningham said. “Both guys asked for it and showed that if you want something, you just need to ask for it. It helped to open the door for a lot of fighters and helped change the sport.”