Mike McCallum: Forgotten Champion

06.04.05 - By Tyrus Linston: During the mid to late 1980’s the junior middleweight and middleweight divisions were graced by some of the sport’s biggest names. Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas “Hitman” Hearns, and “The Hands of Stone”, Roberto Duran, were just a few of the excellent fighters that fought during this time frame. These guys, however, were considered to be the “crème de la crème” of that particular era. Even today at many sports bars, country clubs and living rooms, the debate still rages on as to which one of the four was the best. I guess it is just a matter of opinion, depending on whom you ask. There was another great champion that fought during the same era, but he, because of his tremendous boxing ability and lack of mainstream notoriety, always managed to find himself on the outside looking in. This great fighter’s name is Mike McCallum.

McCallum, aka “The Bodysnatcher”, was born in Kingston, Jamaica on December 7th, in the year of our lord, nineteen hundred and fifty six. McCallum had an excellent amateur career, compiling a 240-10 record and representing Jamaica during the 1976 Olympic games in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

He made his pro debut on February 19, 1981, stopping Rigoberto Lopez in four rounds. In addition to being a vicious body puncher as his moniker suggests, he was also a fine defensive fighter. After getting his debut out of the way, his hall of fame career really started to take off.

He fought 12 times within his first year as a professional, stopping all twelve of his opponents inside of the distance. His first real test would come in his seventeenth bout against former world champion Ayub Kalule. He would stop Kalule in round seven of their highly anticipated match-up. Kalule was also stopped by “Sugar” Ray Leonard a year and a half earlier in what was deemed an experimental bout for the welterweight champ. And that it was. Soon after winning the 154lb title, he relinquished it, opting instead to stay at 147lbs and defend his WBC welterweight crown against the very dangerous WBA champion Tommie Hearns.

After stopping Kalule, McCallum’s next big fight would be against the rugged Sean Mannion. The prize: The WBA Junior Middleweight Title. After capturing the title with a hard fought fifteen round decision over Mannion, McCallum would spend the next three years defending it a total of six times with three of the defenses coming against some pretty tough customers. Back in 1986 McCallum stopped the hard-hitting Julian Jackson in a two round slugfest that saw both guys rattled. It was McCallum’s second defense of the junior middleweight crown. Jackson, also an islander (Virgin Is), was widely considered to be one of the biggest punchers, pound for pound, that the sport had ever seen. His kayo percentage was tops among all world champions when he was a titleholder during the mid to late 1980’s and early 90’s. It was even higher than Mike Tyson’s, and back then that was a pretty impressive accomplishment.

McCallum took some really big shots from Jackson during the first round of their title bout, but he was able to weather the storm, come on in the second round and stop Jackson with his own barrage of punches. McCallum’s fifth and sixth defenses were against former welterweight champions Milton McCrory and Donald Curry. He stopped McCrory in ten rounds and Curry in five. His knockout of Curry is one of the best one-punch kayos you will ever see. As McCallum slipped Curry’s right hand, he came back over top with a counter left hook that put Donald Curry flat on his back. A thing of savage beauty it was! Curry, being the champion that he was, tried his best to beat Richard Steele’s count, but the punch he got caught with was just too crisp and too clean a punch to take from a guy like McCallum who knows all too well what he’s doing.

After his resounding victory over Curry, McCallum decided to move up to 160lbs and challenge Sumbu Kalambay for his WBA Middleweight Title. He would lose a 12 round unanimous decision to Kalambay, but would come back to win that same WBA championship belt a year later with a split decision victory over Britain’s Herol Graham. He would defend the title a total of three times with victories over Ireland’s Steve Collins, Englishman Michael Watson and Sumbu Kalambay, the same fighter who had denied him the crown three years earlier. Later on that same year (1991) McCallum would challenge James Toney for his IBF Middleweight Title and fight him to a draw. McCallum and Toney would hook up again eight months later with Toney pulling out a majority decision to retain his title.

After losing a close points decision to Toney, McCallum would regroup and campaign as a super middleweight, hoping to get a shot at the very charismatic “Sugar” Ray Leonard. After his efforts to secure a shot at Leonard failed, McCallum would move up yet again to challenge the “Bad Boy from Down Under”, Jeff Harding, for his WBC Light Heavyweight Title. McCallum would outbox and outslick the game Harding over the course of twelve rounds to win a close, but unanimous decision. He would defend the title only once before dropping a clear-cut unanimous decision to Frenchman Fabrice Tiozzo in June of 1995. A year and a half later he would match wits with professional boxing’s real-life version of Superman, Roy Jones, Jr. for the vacant WBC title (light-heavy) relinquished by Tiozzo after his move up to cruiserweight.

This was, of course, the same title that McCallum lost to Tiozzo. Talk about second chances! McCallum, throughout the course of his storied career, has definitely had his fair share of them. In February of 1997 McCallum would move up one final time to challenge James Toney for the WBU Cruiserweight Championship. This would be the final installment of their stirring trilogy and McCallum’s swan song. Toney, a great fighter in his own right, would defeat McCallum a second time on points to capture the WBU Cruiserweight Title. As stated earlier, this would be the last fight of Mike McCallum’s illustrious career. He finished his career with forty-nine (49) victories, thirty-six (36) by kayo, against five (5) defeats and one (1) draw. McCallum, a three-time, three-weight world champion, was inducted into the hall of fame in 2003. He is now a boxing trainer based in Las Vegas, NV.

Article posted on 06.04.2005

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