And Oliver McCall is STILL fighting.
A quarter of a century ago today, September 24, 1994, a big heavyweight upset took place, as Lennox Lewis, still a relatively new champion, was attempting to make the third defence of his WBC crown. It was during this time that the legendary Emanuel Steward had his eye firmly on Lennox. Steward knew how Lewis could be beaten, and Emanuel also knew how to prevent him from losing. He later said how he was almost desperate to become Lewis’ trainer, and get his hands on him; how he would mould him into the fighter he believed he could become.
But first enter Oliver McCall.
A tough, but unpredictable and unreliable fighter, McCall was known as a veritable headcase by some figures in the sport, for various reasons. It wasn’t hard for those in the audience to figure out for themselves that “The Atomic Bull” was kind of different. One only had to see the bizarre way he entered the ring to fight – he was in tears. Clearly the warrior from Chicago was somewhat unique. However, he could also be a dangerous puncher. He was not a fighter to take lightly when prepared correctly. And this he was tonight, by none other than Steward.
A successful defence was expected by practically everyone beforehand and Lewis, defending the title in the country from which he hailed, was a big betting favourite. But Lewis’ hometown fans were about to witness a huge heavyweight upset.
The first round came and went without any hitches for Lennox, as he just shaded an eventless round. Back in his corner he listened to instructions from his then trainer, Pepe Correa. Then, in round two, barely half a minute in, McCall unleashed the punch Steward had worked on incessantly with him in the gym. Steward had noticed how Lewis was vulnerable to right hand counters and gave McCall orders to throw one with all his might whenever Lennox left himself open after throwing his own shots.
The plan worked perfectly as McCall, with his eyes closed, caught Lewis flush with a huge right hand that connected on his wide open chin. The champion crashed to the canvas and though he beat the count the referee – the little known (at the time) Jose Garcia – waved the fight off. McCall was the brand new WBC heavyweight champion of the world. He had landed the single best punch of his entire career.
There were protests immediately afterwards from the Lewis camp about a premature stoppage and though some agreed with the criticism of Garcia’s handling of the bout, it was too late now. But a great comeback was soon to come.
Steward later said how he knew Lewis was the better fighter, it was simply a case of him being poorly handled. He would now go to work on polishing Lennox as a fighter and making him realise all the potential he had. As we all now know, Steward did a fine job, and Lennox – after being made to wait an agonisingly long time for another chance at the title – went on to become the all-time great we all rate him as today. He avenged the loss to McCall (in an absolutely surreal fight) and then went on to unify the titles with a win over Evander Holyfield.
In so doing, Lewis finally achieved everything Steward knew he was capable doing of all along.
As for McCall, he is today, at age 54, still searching for another miracle, for another perfect punch.