Gordon Cunningham’s drive to succeed is more than just winning

Family is everything, especially for Ontario amateur middleweight Gordon Cunningham.

Still early in his martial arts career, Cunningham, 25, competed for the first time in a kickboxing exhibition match. At the time, he said he still wasn’t sure how often he would like to compete or how far he’d like to go in martial arts.

But it was after securing a quick first round knockout victory and seeing his mother’s reaction that he realized martial arts is something he needs to do.

Gordon Cunningham
Gordon Cunningham lands a knee on Trey Senior in their bout at MFL 16. (Photo courtesy of Montreal Fight League)

“I ran over to my mom after and she was in tears, but they were tears of joy. That was it, that was when I made the decision. If this is all I need to do to put a smile on that lady’s face, that’s easy,” said Cunningham in an interview with MMA Empire.

“I wouldn’t have come as far as I have already if it weren’t for her and that motivation to put a smile on her face.”

For Cunningham’s mother, Barbara, she said watching her son fight for the first time was one of the most nervous moments of her life.

Even to this day, despite enjoying watching her son succeed, Barbara said it doesn’t get any easier for her to watch.

“It was horrifying; I was so nervous and scared. Everything was shaking,” said Barbara in an interview with MMA Empire.

“Even still now, all of his fights I’m so nervous. It’s not because I don’t believe in his abilities, it’s just the mother in me. It’s always nerve-racking.”

MMA an outlet for Cunningham

Other than a small amount of jiu-jitsu in grade nine, Cunningham didn’t start training MMA full-on until he was 20 years old.

And, initially, it wasn’t the pursuit of an MMA career that led him to begin training, but more as an outlet.

After witnessing first-hand the accident in which Barbara tripped and fell, and hit her head on a coffee table, resulting in the loss of one of her eyes, Cunningham said he was hard on himself for not being able to prevent the incident, and fell into a state of depression.

Gordon Cunningham
Gordon Cunningham in the cage at MFL 16. (Photo courtesy of Montreal Fight League)

“I felt like I could’ve done more to potentially prevent it from happening or maybe make the situation better. I was just super down in the dumps, felt really guilty, and was kind of throwing myself a pity party, falling into a pretty deep depression stage,” said Cunningham.

“I recognized I had to get out of it, and I was just sitting in my apartment one night watching UFC fights, and in the back of my head I always thought I could do it (MMA) if I tried, and then it just kind of came to me. I was like I’m going to give it a shot.

Barbara said the accident occurred on the other side of the room from where her son was, and said there was nothing he could’ve done to prevent it from happening.

In the days and weeks to follow, Barbara said it was hard to see Cunningham being so hard on himself after the accident.

“Literally, there was nothing he could’ve done. He was mad at himself because he thought I just tripped and fell, but it was the aftermath that he realized it was more than just falling,” said Barbara.

“He took it very hard and felt very guilty, but there was literally nothing he could’ve done. It just happened so fast.”

Fast rise due to elite team

Since day one, Cunningham has been part of the team at Adrenaline MMA Training and Fitness in London, Ont., a gym stacked with some of Canada’s best fighters such as Jesse Ronson, Mark Hominick, and Sam Stout.

Cunningham said being surrounded by such an elite group of training partners and coaches for his entire MMA journey is what has allowed him to progress his career so quickly.

Gordon Cunningham
Gordon Cunningham throws a body kick at Trey Senior in their MFL 16 contest. (Photo courtesy of Montreal Fight League)

“I’m able to take little things from each one of their games or fighting styles and implement it into my game. It’s not like I’m just trying to be a shadow of one of these guys; I’m taking the best attributes from each and every guy’s game and implementing them into mine,” said Cunningham.

“With that many high-level guys, you never stop learning. There’s never going to be a day where I can say I’ve learned it all.”

Cunningham’s determination and grit goes back all the way to his childhood where he seemed to excel at almost anything he did.

Barbara said Cunningham was always a devoted and talented kid, and was always looking for a way to stay busy, especially with sports.

“Gordy was a very determined and defiant young child. He was one of those kids who was just naturally talented,” said Barbara.

“It seemed that whatever he touched just turned to gold. He was good at everything.”

Fast forward to the present day and Cunningham’s pursuit of reaching the sport’s highest level, Barbara said that same natural talent and determination, along with his tenacity and toughness, will allow him to achieve his goals.

“He loves to watch people when it comes to training, and he’ll catch on rather quickly. It’s amazing how far he’s come in such a short period of time,” said Barbara.

“You can’t say can’t to him. He just overcomes whatever, and does it.”