By Neil Dennis -No one can argue that Rob Calloway hasn’t put his heart into the ring. With a total of 87 fights to his professional record, “The All-American Prizefighter” from St. Joseph, Missouri has fought and fought often. Although he considers himself a cruiserweight, he has fought just as often at heavyweight. What’s more, those men he fought were hardly what they call “tomato cans”. From Hasim Rahman to Otis Tisdale to Ruslan Chagaev, Calloway has made a name for himself as a fighter that doesn’t back down, win or lose. His latest fight is no different. On May 28th, Calloway plans to square off with former WBO Heavyweight Champion Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs at the Norfolk Scope in the second installment of the ICB Knockout Series. As with every fight, he plans to put it all on the line..
“A win over Shannon Briggs would be big,” says Calloway. “I’m not going to come back against a journeyman or somebody where a win wouldn’t propel me into a big money fight. I know a win over Shannon Briggs would propel me into a big money fight. I figured, ‘What the hell? I’m going to take a chance.’”
And it is taking chances like this that have defined Calloway’s long and distinguished career. It began in the amateur s, where Calloway won three Kansas City Golden Gloves tournaments. He also made it to semi-finals of the 1992 Western Olympic Boxing Trials, losing a decision to two-time National Golden Gloves champion Jeremy Williams. Under the tutelage of his father-in-law Jerry Redmond, who remained in his corner until his death in 2000, Calloway amassed 40 amateur bouts before turning professional.
“I’m originally from Louisville, Kentucky, and I got a basketball scholarship to Missouri Western,” explains Calloway. “I met [my wife] Robin in school. Her dad was a boxing fan and I’m a boxing fan, so he took me to the Kansas City Golden Gloves. I told him I wanted to do it next year, and that’s how it all started. He made me an outstanding boxer winning the Golden Gloves tournament my first year fighting, so I gave up basketball. I stayed in school though and got my education, a degree in Physical Therapy.”
Calloway turned professional in 1992, but soon found it was going to be a hard road to earn recognition. One of the first setbacks of Calloway’s career came under dubious circumstances. It was against journeyman Ken McCurdy in his sixth pro fight in front of a hometown crowd. Originally ruled a unanimous decision win for Calloway, it was later changed to a split decision loss.
“I thought I beat the guy hands down,” Calloway reflects. “They announced me the winner. Then later, they said the cards were wrong. I don’t know, it was long ago, but I felt like I won. I knocked the guy down, but I didn’t knock him out. It was ten years ago, and it didn’t make much difference in my career thankfully.”
Weathering through highs (a knockout win over one-time heavyweight contender James Tillis) and lows (dropping close decisions to cruiserweight titlists Kenny Keene and Tue Bjorn Thomson), Calloway gave his fans at the Civic Arena a big win in 2002 against Otis Tisdale. This fight gave Calloway extra satisfaction because of the way Tisdale disrespected him, saying among other things that he had overheard local basketball players talk about how Calloway “couldn’t punch his way out of a paper bag”. This was just fuel to the fire for Calloway, who gave the local crowd a show and an eleventh round knockout, from which Tisdale’s career never recovered.
“He took a really good beating,” says Calloway. “I beat him for eleven rounds. He was a real smart ass. I really wanted to punish him, more so than anyone I had ever fought. We packed the house and I had a good payday.”
It certainly wasn’t the last “good payday” for Calloway, as several months later he earned his first televised fight on Showtime against Ruslan Chagaev. A full five years before he defeated Nicolai Valuev to take the WBA Heavyweight Championship, Chagaev met Calloway at Cobo Hall in Detroit. Though it ended in the third round as a technical draw, the fight was a hard-fought battle while it lasted.
“They called me for the fight with Chagaev on five days notice,” Calloway remembers. “I never fought on Showtime. I knew it would be a good fight. He was a southpaw, and I’d never fought a southpaw. He was a big puncher, and he threw in some good shots. But you know, I got a big heart and I didn’t quit. It was called a draw, and rightly called a draw.”
A rematch would happen, albeit to Calloway’s surprise, in Munich in 2006.
“I was supposed to fight [Alexander] Dimitrenko,” he continues. “I’m looking at a poster right now, and it says Calloway versus Dimitrenko. That’s who I was supposed to fight. Dimitrenko’s a big, big right-handed boxer. So then, I flew over there and they say, ‘Rob, Dimitrenko has got a hurt shoulder and you’re going to have to rematch Chagaev. ‘ I said, ‘Forget it! I’m not going to do that! I was in negotiations with him for later.’ So, I ended up fighting Chagaev in a rematch for half the money we had been negotiating.”
The fight, which netted Calloway a paltry $50,000, also netted him a knockout loss in the second round from a heavy left hook that floored him. It was only the second time Calloway had been knocked out, the first time coming from former champion Hasim Rahman in 2004.
“Rahman hits the hardest with his right hand and Chagaev is the hardest with his left,” Calloway remarks.
Though Calloway’s time with Chagaev ended in Munich, he became very close friends with Rahman, as did their families.
“His children [Shiref and Yimmah] and my son [Chase] are good friends,” Calloway beams. “They keep in touch all the time on the phone, on email, in Facebook because their all very good amateur [boxers]. They follow each other’s careers and they talk a lot.”
Calloway’s son Chase has particularly made a stand-out career in the amateurs. So much so, that they are giving serious consideration toward a bid for the Olympic team in 2012.
“He actually won the National Junior Golden Gloves,” says Calloway. “He won one in Kansas City. He went to Chicago for the six state regionals and won that. He then fought the New York state regional champion and beat him in the quarterfinals. He beat the California state champ in the semi-finals. Then, he beat the Florida state champion in the finals. He’s very skilled, level guy. He loves the sport and picked it up from me. He’s got talent and he’s going to be around a long time.”
But as his son’s amateur career takes off, Calloway’s professional career continues. A career that Calloway did consider ending last year, but hasn’t in hopes of one more bid at glory. Even when retirement comes, Rob Calloway will still have plenty to do. He works as a physical therapist at Heartland Health in St. Joseph as well as runs Team Calloway Family Health and Fitness Club with his wife Robin. This, on top of training a large stable of talented amateur fighters, will indeed keep Rob Calloway busy once his days in the ring are done.
At the moment, however, Calloway has business with Shannon Briggs as part of the ICB Knockout Series at the Norfolk Scope. As he has recently surprised others expecting to win against him, such as heavyweight contender Terry Smith and cruiserweight prospect Juan Carlos Robles, he plans on surprising Shannon Briggs as well.
“[The fans] are going to see a guy who’s going to give them 110 percent,” says Calloway. “I’m not coming in there to lie down. They’ll be cheering Shannon because he’s a big guy, a big puncher, and a former heavyweight champion. I respect him, but in no way am I intimidated by Shannon. Either he knocks me out, or he loses.”