IT'S PROBABLY acceptable, at least in a financial sense, to fight once a year if you are an

Oscar De La Hoya

or a

Floyd Mayweather Jr.

, sometimes pulling down $20 million and up for a night's work. But most boxers, even former world champions, need to stay busier than that to pay the bills and even put something away for a rainy day. That is why onetime IBF cruiserweight champion

Steve "USS" Cunningham

is embarking on his latest international adventure.

Cunningham (22-2, 11 KOs), the Southwest Philadelphia resident and Navy veteran, bids for the now-vacant title he once held when he takes on Toronto's Troy Ross (23-1, 16 KOs) Saturday in Neubrandenburg, Germany. It will be the 33-year-old Cunningham's first bout under the aegis of his new German promotional company, Sauerland Event, and his fifth fight abroad since turning professional in 2000. Then again, Cunningham became accustomed to dropping anchor in foreign ports during his time in the armed forces.

Cunningham and his manager-wife, Livvy, believed his need for a well-stamped passport was mostly a thing of the past when he signed to defend his IBF belt against Poland's Tomasz Adamek, a bout that was held at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Dec. 11, 2008. After fighting twice in Poland and once apiece in South Africa and Germany, Cunningham said he was ready for the remainder of his ring career to take place on U.S. soil.

But Adamek wrested the championship from Cunningham on a split decision in one humdinger of a scrap. With the loss, the former petty officer second class, who had acquitted himself so well at sea and between the ropes, was put into involuntary mothballs. Not only was there no rematch with Adamek, who moved up to heavyweight, but very little activity of any sort. Cunningham fought only once in 2009, a 12-round unanimous decision over Wayne "Big Truck" Braithwaite on July 11 in Sunrise, Fla., continuing a pattern that saw him punch for pay just one time in 2008 (the loss to Adamek), twice in 2007 and twice in 2006.

The realization that he was not a priority led Cunningham to walk away from his promoter of 8 years, Don King. His last bout for Don King Promotions was against Braithwaite.

"I wasn't happy with the way I was being promoted," Cunningham said before leaving for Germany. "Look at how infrequently I've fought the last several years. You have to cash in when you can, especially when you have a belt. [King] didn't have a good relationship with the [American television] networks and other people in the business, so it was the right thing for us to move on and see what another promoter could do.

"After me and Adamek got it on, a Fight of the Year candidate that people were calling the greatest cruiserweight bout of all time, we weren't able to finalize a rematch because TV wasn't interested. The numbers weren't there."

Cunningham, the father of two children, said the ho-hum attitude on these shores regarding the cruiserweight division made it difficult for him to land better-paying fights, or to gain a loftier position in King's promotional pecking order.

"I got a family to provide for," he said. "If I can't provide for them like I want to on what I'm getting in America, I have to go where I can get what I need.

"With DKP, more often than not we were buried on undercards. It was like we were almost an afterthought. I was beginning to think people were paying attention to what we had to offer."

Upon becoming a free agent, though, Cunningham and his wife were contacted by several promoters who apparently had taken note of who he is and what he still has to offer. The most attractive pitch was made by Kalle Sauerland, of Sauerland Event, which promoted the Dec. 29, 2007, bout in Bielefeld, Germany, in which Cunningham defended his IBF title on a 12th-round stoppage of a German, Marco Huck.

"They have a respect for fighters [in Germany]," said Cunningham, who will be making his second appearance with Brother Naazim Richardson as his chief second. "It's not really that much of an issue where you're from or what [weight] class you're in. They respect cruiserweights there, whereas in America the cruisers are treated like stepchildren."

It didn't hurt that Cunningham looks back fondly on his bout with Huck, and not just because he won.

"Of course the people were rooting for their hometown fighter, but afterward they showed me love and respect," he said. "I beat their guy, but they appreciated that I did what I had to do and didn't act the fool. I'm not a disrespectful guy. I'm not into talking trash or trying to fight anybody at a press conference."

Apparently, Cunningham's gentlemanly demeanor plays well in European venues.

"I guess I'm back to being a road warrior," he said. "I don't mind; Germany has great boxing fans. I feel like I'm still in my prime, and ready to show the world what I'm capable of.

"But I want everybody to know this: Philadelphia's in my heart. I take Philadelphia with me every time I go somewhere else. I did it in the Navy, and I'm doing it in boxing, too."

Friday fare

The heat should be turned up on Floyd Mayweather Jr. (41-0, 25 KOs) to agree to fight Manny Pacquiao (51-3-2, 38 KOs) when the Filipino sensation collects the hardware as the Boxing Writers Association of America's Fighter of the Year for 2009 and Fighter of the Decade for 2000 to '09 at the BWAA's 85th annual awards dinner Friday night in New York. "Money" absolutely detests that anyone might be viewed as his equal, much less his superior . . . Also on Friday, light-heavyweights Anthony Ferrante (9-0, 4 KOs), of Northeast Philadelphia, and Chuck Mussachio (15-1-2, 5 KOs), of Wildwood, N.J., vie at the Tropicana in Atlantic City . . . Former heavyweight contender Michael Grant (46-3, 34 KOs), at 37 on the downside of his career despite an eight-bout winning streak, takes on Poland's Tomasz Adamek (41-1, 27 KOs) on Aug. 21 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

Send e-mail to fernanb@phillynews.com