September 27th, 2012 By Pedro Fernandez
ISan Francisco, CA- Having been around the block since the early Cassius Clay days, I’ve seen my share of fighters. There were the pretenders, the contenders, the overrated, the out right frauds, and then there are the fighters who come, do their thing and attain greatness and get little fanfare. Quite possibly the greatest fighter that fits that last criteria is a fighter born in Jamaica named Mike McCallum. Perhaps the game’s best body puncher in history, his moniker was “The Body Snatcher.”
BIG BOYS WANTED NO PART OF “THE BODY SNATCHER”
I remember hearing the name Mike McCallum back in the 70s when he was still an amateur. Great chin, big heart, the jab, right cross, a potent left hook, Mike had all that and superb timing as well. The late great Johnny Tocco, who ran the Ringside Gym on Charleston and Main in Las Vegas from 1952 until the mid to late 1990s, Tocco told me that Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran, yes even Marvin Hagler, none of them wanted any part of Mike McCallum.
WOULD FIGHT ANYBODY, ANYWHERE!
Fearless as they come, Mike was also a realist. He once told me as we were watching Mike Tyson spar with the late James Broad, “If I were a heavyweight I could beat Tyson.” Not the boastful type, McCallum broke down Tyson’s style and explained how he would exploit Tyson’s “squaring up” to opponents and go up the middle with both body and head shots. And when Tyson did the “peek a boo” style his trainer Cus D’Amato first developed for the not so-iron chinned former two-time heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson, Mike had an answer for that too. “When Tyson goes into that style, you need to fire up the middle, pivot and punch at him from different angles.” Easier said than done, but Mike McCallum was a man who quietly talked the talk before walking the walk and lowering the boom on foes!
FIRST TITLE WINNING EFFORT WASN’T SPECTACULAR
While his first title winning effort in 1984 against Sean Mannion went the then 15 round distance, Mike went into that WBA 154 lb. title fight was 21-0 with 19 short endings. He never lost again until 1988 when he faced Italian resident Sumbu Kalambay in Italy and that was only a one-point difference in favor of Sumbu, whom Mike would best in a rematch (more later).
WHOLE FAMILY WAS IN CAESARS SPORTS PAVILION!
In 1987, July to be exact, Mike was a 2 1/2 to 1 underdog to ascending welterweight champ Donald Curry. One year earlier, Curry who was trained by the late Dave Gorman in Texas, was a “pound for pound” guy before Lloyd Honeyghan stopped a weight drained welterweight (147 lbs) Curry in eight frames. As a side-note, Gorman trained Curry, Gene Hatcher, Stevie Cruz and Robin Blake. I am of the opinion that Gorman “burned out” these world class fighters by pushing them too hard, too long in the Texas heat. Seeing the McCallum-Curry fight was the last time my entire family was together in Las Vegas, this occasion was made even more special when I dropped $250 on McCallum, again a 2 1//2 to 1 underdog. The left hook that put Curry out was one of beauty.
THE MCCALLUM HOOK THAT ENDED CURRY’S CAREER!
Even though he had lost to Honeyghan, some pundits still called Donald Curry the “next Ray Leonard.” They were not saying this after Mike McCallum clocked him with a perfectly timed left hook. Some critics that was too wide of a punch, many, they like their hooks tighter. That’s the kind of crap Mike put up with his entire career that went from 1981 to 1997. Curry would fight 11 more times, go 7-4, three being KO losses before retiring (24-6, 27 KOs) in 1997, this after a 1991-1996 hiatus from boxing.
BEAT UNDEFEATED STEVE COLLINS
After striking gold in a Sumbu Kalambay rematch, “MM” was World WBA middleweight (160) champion. From the times I watched Mccallum, I thought he was at his best at 154 lbs. where he had six defenses, and having never lost a fight. Once at middle, did I mention his defeating the 41-1 Herol Graham, beat then once defeated Michael Watson (22-1) via KO. But throughout this Hall of Fame run, McCallum got little press. Diehards who had witnessed a Boxing PHD as McCallum taught a lesson to every opponent in his prime and at his best weight. When you talk about the history of the 154 lb. class, you have to rate McCallum near or at the top.
JAMES TONEY DECISIONS HURT MIKE THE MOST!
Based on history, the James Toney decisions hurt Mike the most. The first he told me he thought was a draw in 1991. Winning the second fight, Toney would end up making a lot and spending more money than he had. McCallum claims fight #1 was indeed a draw, but that he got “jobbed” in the 1992 rematch. While McCallum never made zillions, from what I’m told he has a few bucks on ice if need be as McCallum saved a good portion of his earnings. His overall record was 49-5-1, 36 KOs and had never been dropped. Mike McCallum is enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame and today we would like to honor McCallum by adding him to the RingTalk.com “Wall of Fame.” A true Boxing PHD.