How Great Was Sumbu Kalambay?

How great was Sumbu Kalambay, the slick, smooth, and tough middleweight from the 1980s? Perhaps Kalambay, who today celebrates his 65th birthday, was a near great. Certainly, on his best night, Kalambay could give ANY 160 pounder fits.

Naturally gifted yet not fully realizing his own vast potential until quite late on in his career, Kalambay of the Democratic Republic Of The Congo picked up a loss and a draw in the early going of his pro career – this after compiling a listed amateur record of 90-5.

Kalambay could be quite beautiful with his approach, as he could also be tricky and awkward for his opponent. Not exactly a slugger who thrilled fans, Kalambay instead used his brains, his subtle moves, and that inner toughness. Among the fine fighters, Kalambay defeated during his 13-year pro career: Mike McCallum, Herol Graham (twice), Iran Barkley, Buster Drayton, Robbie Simms, Doug DeWitt, and Steve Collins.

The men to have beaten Sumbu? Aldo Buzzetti (in Kalambay’s third pro outing), Duane Thomas (in Sumbu’s American debut), Ayub Kalule, Michael Nunn, McCallum in a return bout, and Chris Pyatt (in Kalambay’s final fight).

There is no doubt, Kalambay was a tremendous fighter of merit. The first man to defeat both McCallum (32-0 at the time) and Graham (38-0 at the time), Kalambay ruled as WBA middleweight champ from October of 1987 to March of 1989. Unfortunately, it is the March ’89 loss Kalambay suffered at the hands of an unbeaten Michael Nunn that he is perhaps best known for. Nunn, landing THE punch of his career, shocked everyone in taking Kalambay out inside a single round with a stunning left hook that landed flush on the chin.

This was, however, an aberration, with Kalambay’s chin holding up against anything and everything any other fighter threw at him. Purists marvel over the sheer boxing skill on display in the two McCallum fights, as well as the two Kalambay-Graham duels. Nunn aside, who got lucky (if there is such a thing in the sport of boxing when two men get into the ring against one another), no man ever mastered Kalambay.

Kalambay became a fine trainer after retiring, and he says he will always love boxing, that it is in his blood. Fans who were fully appreciative of Kalambay’s skill and ability still love watching Sumbu’s many impressive ring performances.

How great was Sumbu Kalambay? In a 2011 Ring Magazine poll, Kalambay was placed at #9 on their list of best middleweight titleholders of the last 50 years. Kalambay was quite special. The 65-year old’s final pro ledger reads 57-6-1(33).