Do You Remember McCallum, Jackson, Nunn, Graham, or Benn?

19.12.05 - By Jay Briggsy - Mike McCallum: In a age of headhunters, McCallum earned his nickname of "The bodysnatcher" early in his career. It was the one virtue he had not mastered in the amateurs, which did not reward body work, so he went and learned it as a pro and turned out to be one of the best body punchers, ever. An all around fighter, McCallum had no real weaknesses and often stopped his foes by doubling up on the left hook after landing a body blow.. He had notable wins over Ayub Kalule and Julian Jackson, which launched his career, while back to back successful title defenses against top class opposition, in Milton McCrory and Donald Curry, was the peak of his career. McCallum proved his versatility by winning three world middle weight title fights against three vastly different styled opponents, in Herol Graham, Steve Collins and Michael Watson. Graham was an awkward, defensive boxer, while Collins, a tough, infighting grafter.

McCallum found himself as the underdog when he came up against the smooth-boxing Michael Watson. Nevertheless, McCallum put on a boxing clinic as he dominated the fight. McCallum then avenged his only defeat to Sumbu Kalambay and seeked a unification clash with the young and brash, Chris Eubank, but Eubank responded by saying "What would he bring?" A reporter then mentioned, "Danger,” but it seemed danger wasn't on Eubank's agenda. McCallun then looked for a unification clash with the young and talented James Toney. However, McCallum was later stripped of his world title for not giving Steve Collins a rematch. A pair of fights with Toney went ahead. In two of his best ever performances, McCallum boxed on the move and frustrated Toney. He drew Toney's lead and counter punched with accuracy, and held the ring centre to dominate with the jab. McCallum paced both fights identically, winning at least two of the first four rounds and two of last, while dominating the middle stanzas with his busy jab and combinations. Despite putting on two clinics in his 1991 and 1992 fights with Toney, McCallum's efforts were rewarded only by a draw and an unpopular majority decision loss. At a 1995 press conference, Nigel Benn said "Roy Jones can beat the crap out of my head all he likes, but I'm not letting Mike McCallum snatch my body!". Roy Jones Jr. might have said it best saying "Ray Leonard had a lot of glamour, but he didn't have the skills of Mike McCallum.”

Julian Jackson:

Jackson's broad shoulders and long arms seemed to be the key to the power that knocked out or stopped 27 of his first 29 opponents, including 22 in a row. He could also be a very good body puncher, which often gets overlooked. Like many big punchers, Jackson seemed to have a brittle chin, as all of his losses came by knockout or TKO. In many of his fights, it looked as if Jackson was going to lose by being out boxed, but invariably Jackson would land that one big punch and the fight would be over. Take the Herol Graham fight, as Jackson was about to be pulled out of the fight in the fourth round because of swelling around his eye, when he detonated a right bomb on Graham’s chin that had Graham unconscious before he hit the canvas.

Jackson failed in his first attempt at a title when he had Mike McCallum all but out on his feet in the first round, only to see McCallum come back to stop him on his feet in the second. However, Jackson bounced back from his first defeat with a succession of beautiful knockouts against quality operators. His knockout of Terry Norris was a short right hand that landed directly on the jaw of Norris, who amazingly beat the count but obviously not able to continue. Recurring eye problems saw Jackson out of action at times because of a detached retina, and many people claim Jackson was operating on about 70 percent of the vision most boxers possessed. In his return bout, Jackson scored the stunning KO of Herol Graham. Jackson was obviously confused by the defensive skills of Graham and looked out of control and balance throughout the fight before he rescued himself with a knockout punch. His first two defenses of the title did not hear the bell ending the first round as his opponents were knocked out in less than three minutes.

Jackson went 12 rounds for the first time in his career against Thomas Tate. It was a very good fight with Tate visiting the canvas in the fourth round but coming back to shake Jackson on several occasions. The decision was unanimous for Jackson, however, and well deserved. Jackson's conqueror was Gerald 'G-Man' McClellan (conqueror of Roy Jones Jr. in the amateurs in 1988), was an up and coming Kronk Gym - Don King power fighter with a concrete chin, who was described by an incarcerated Mike Tyson as "the best fighter in the world". It was a very close fight against the faded Jackson but McClellan managed to get him out of there in a five round shoot out. However, Jackson was years past his best by this stage in his career.

Michael Nunn:

After an impressive amateur career, Nunn looked exceptional in his early pro career as a tall, rangy left-handed boxer, who was both quick and slick. His chief weapons were his speed of hand and speed of reflex, and he would use the ropes well for defense. His first eight fights ended in knockouts. In three years, he ran his record to 27-0, before winning world title glory. Instead of $400 purses, he was fighting for $20,000, $100,000, $375,000. Back in October 1987, he had destroyed highly regarded middle weight Darnell Knox with a fourth-round TKO. Some believe that was the best single performance of his career. He hit Knox with a left hand out of seemingly no where, causing Knox to think that the referee had hit him. Undefeated Olympic gold medalist Frank Tate was totally out classed by Nunn, losing by TKO in the 9th round.

Nunn's first million-dollar payday came in Las Vegas against Sumbu Kalambay for the undisputed middle weight title. Nunn ended the fight with a lightning left hook 88 seconds into the first round. In what should have been the beginning of super stardom, it was actually the beginning of the end for Nunn, as drugs got him and caused him to go tooth and nail with Iran Barkley in a close fought fight in which Nunn was booed for being too defensive. Nunn never again was as impressive as he was up to the Kalambay fight, and looked very poor against Marlon Starling. He was still good enough, though, to completely school and dominate unknown challenger James Toney for the first six to nine rounds of this routine title defense. Nunn, however, walked into a huge Toney right hand in round 10, then was knocked out by a Toney left hook in round 11, in a shocking upset.

Herol Graham:

Herol 'Bomber' Graham was a slick, peppering boxer and easily one of the best fighters to never win a world title. He gave Mike McCallum and Julian Jackson their most difficult ever fights by far. Hands by his waist, waiting to counter, relying on reflexes to avoid punches, switch-hitting - Graham was something else in his prime. A tricky southpaw, who was so lightning fast at 154 pounds, that nobody could even lay a glove on him.

Graham won his first 37 fights, easily, and was avoided like the plague by Hagler, Leonard, Hearns and Duran. Next up, was another easy win over Ayub Kalule, (who Ray Leonard described as his most difficult ever win) at the peak of his career, to take him to 38-0. His loss to Sumbu Kalambay was a huge shock upset, however. Graham had already signed to fight Iran Barkley for the world title and Kalambay was only seen as a safe warm up fight and so Graham didn't reportedly train for the fight. He lost a 50/50 split decision to a prime Mike McCallum after showboating at the end of the fight, which didn't go down well with the judges. One of the best wins of his career came against a hot, young lion Rod Douglas, who was a very exciting prospect at the time. Nevertheless, Graham rolled back the years and countered him to pieces. His darkest moment was the Julian Jackson fight but he bounced back yet again by easily out boxing Sumbu Kalambay in his own backyard, only to find himself on the end of a scandalous decision, robbed of victory in what would of avenged his first defeat. He very almost defeated Charles Brewer in an admirable comeback, some 20 years after his pro debut. Graham is widely regarded as one of the greatest British talents of the last 50 years. Surely, the 1986 Graham would have likely out-pointed the 1986, Hagler. Graham was the number one contender at the time. Herol Graham was almost too good to be true during his undefeated streak, but unfortunately he failed to put bums on seats due to his defensive style.

Nigel Benn:

Perhaps, one of the most exciting fighters ever, Nigel Benn knocked out his first 21 opponents, most of them in the early stages. Benn brought undoubted excitement to his fights, his punches pole axing a succession of challengers. Lethal left hooks, robust right uppercuts, swinging right crosses; they all were capable of rendering an opponent senseless. Also, a brutal body puncher when he had the patience to not headhunt, which is an area he had problems with. He was careless, though, fighting sometimes with such wreck-less abandon that led to some of his opponents to landing a lot of shots on him, and coming close to stopping him. This happened during a fight in October 1988, with Anthony Logan. Be that as it may, what heightened Benn’s appeal was that he appeared to be most dangerous when hurt. Logan, for all the inconvenience caused, ended up unconscious on the ring canvas. Benn had Nunn and Graham screaming to the hills.

Benn's power was proven beyond doubt against Doug DeWitt and Iran Barkley in America in world middle weight title fights, Thomas Hearns' right cross had failed to floor DeWitt or Barkley once in 15 rounds total yet Benn's bombs floored DeWitt and Barkley six times in under four minutes in total. Benn also knocked out Robbie Sims for the first time in his career before moving up in weight and maturing into more of a counter punching style that often saw some beautiful feinting and nice defensive moves as well as the discipline to punch to the body and pace himself. Benn proved his versatility by often out boxing opponents after his losses to Michael Watson and Chris Eubank; those losses taught him that being a forward marching barbarian could be capitalized on by good defense. So Benn brought out his boxing skills later in his career until bumping into Gerald McClellan, who Benn decided to slug with to stand a chance of beating. McClellan was the WBC world middle weight champ and a power hitter boxer coming off a chilling 93-second rematch demolition of Jackson, but Benn out fought him and out punched him by bringing back the old Dark Destroyer from his fighting days in what was his career defining win. McClellan was tragically left wheel chair bound at the hands of Benn, and that combined with it being one war too many, meant that Benn never was the same again. Every inch the Dark Destroyer, and his overhand right smash took Iran Barkley and Gerald McClellan to their knees in title defenses.

Personally, I don't think Bernard Hopkins or Jermain Taylor could beat an undefeated Mike McCallum, nor an undefeated Herol Graham. In my opinion, A young Michael Nunn, had the boxing ability in him to blow away Hopkins and Taylor, on the same night. Moreover, the monstrous punching Julian Jackson would have likely also knocked them out, and Nigel Benn would have given them fits. Personally, I don't think Hopkins or Taylor are as good as these multi weight greats of the 1980's and 1990's.

Article posted on 20.12.2005

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