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Best I Faced: Oliver McCall

8 APR 1995: OLIVER MCCALL, RIGHT, IS CONGRATUATED BY PROMOTER DON KING AFTER DEFEATING LARRY HOLMES IN A 12 ROUND DECISION TO RETAIN THE WBC HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP AT CAESERS PALACE IN LAS VEGAS, NEVADA. Mandatory Credit: Holly Stein/ALLSPORT
05
Apr

Prior to scoring one of the more shocking upsets of the 1990s, Oliver McCall was known in boxing circles for sparring countless rounds with a prime Mike Tyson. According to gym folklore, Tyson was never able to hurt, much less drop the granite-chinned gatekeeper.

However, McCall proved to be much more than a sparring partner when he traveled to England and upset Lennox Lewis for the WBC heavyweight title in 1994. The former fringe contender didn’t hold the belt very long but went on to have a solid career that spanned four decades.

McCall was born in Chicago on April 21, 1965. He was the youngest of nine children, and his family lived on welfare in a tough part of town.

“I would say it was definitely tough for me and my family,” McCall told The Ring. “It wasn’t as tough for me, looking up at a lot of brothers and sisters. Those early days I was glad to have a big family.”



His parents split up and eventually McCall, never far from trouble, was sent to live in foster care as a teen. During this time he first encountered boxing and fought briefly as an amateur, compiling a record of 31-2 (28 knockouts).

It was in his early years as a pro that McCall was employed by a rising Mike Tyson as a sparring partner.

As McCall built his own career in the ring, he lost to the likes of Buster Douglas (UD 10), Orlin Norris (SD 10) and Tony Tucker (SD 12). After the Tucker loss in June 1992, McCall put together five wins to become the WBC mandatory challenger.

In September 1994, McCall traveled to London with trainer Emanuel Steward in his corner to face Lewis. The underdog stopped the Brit in the second round.

After successfully outpointing Larry Holmes in his first defense, McCall returned to London and was outboxed by Frank Bruno. He came back with two wins to set up a rematch with Lewis in February 1997.

The fight came to a bizarre conclusion in the fifth round after “The Atomic Bull” had a mental breakdown, crying at times and not engaging Lewis until referee Mills Lane stepped in and ended the spectacle. McCall was fined $250,000 from his reported $3 million purse.

McCall was able to piece his career back together, and despite ongoing trouble with drugs and the law, he fought on until 2014. He was never again able to fight for the world title, however, and retired with a record of 57-14 (37 KOs). Incredibly, the only stoppage loss on his record came against Lewis despite fighting well into his 40s during a career that lasted nearly 30 years.

Now 53, McCall lives in Texas, is married to childhood sweetheart Alethia and has seven children. He remains connected to boxing as a trainer for various fighters.

McCall graciously took time to speak to The Ring about the best he faced in 10 key categories.

BEST JAB
LARRY HOLMES: Larry Holmes definitely had the best jab. In the fight, (he) gave me a lot of problems by having such a quick, long right hand that made the jab more effective. He had a stiff jab. The jab I experienced from Larry Holmes was the jab that I seen him use as a young kid and he was heavyweight champion. I actually caught on to it a bit coming up and it helped me use my jab more. As a matter of fact, I think my jab is more like a Larry Holmes jab now than when I fought him, so I’ve learned some things.

BEST DEFENSE
MIKE HUNTER: When I fought Orlin Norris in Florida, he had that peek-a-boo style – he was pretty crafty. He had good movement and timing. Because he was short, it was more difficult to hit (him). When I fought Mike “The Bounty” Hunter, he was so unorthodox (that it was) difficult to hit (him). (Hunter) had unorthodox movement. He’d put his right foot in front of his left foot, overstep and still make you miss and keep his balance. Mike Hunter made Mike Tyson look real bad in sparring. This guy was something to see. I’d pick Mike Hunter.

FASTEST HANDS
BUSTER DOUGLAS: He had nice handspeed for a heavyweight. A Buster Douglas in shape is a dangerous Buster Douglas for any heavyweight champion in the history of boxing. The Buster Douglas that beat Tyson would have given any heavyweight in the history of boxing trouble that day.

BEST FOOTWORK
BRUCE SELDON: When I fought Tony Tucker in Cleveland, his footwork was a little better than I thought it was going to be. Tony “TNT” Tucker, for him being 6-foot-5 and the way he had his footwork and boxing skills at that size, (was impressive). I fought Bruce Seldon and he’d have to be up there too. He kept his balance pretty good. Between the two, it would have to be Bruce Seldon.

BEST CHIN
HOLMES: Wow! That is a difficult one. That would have to go Larry Holmes. I cracked Larry Holmes with some shots.

SMARTEST
HOLMES: I learned more from Larry Holmes (than any other fighter); he taught me a lot. Hands down. As far as craftiness, definitely Larry Holmes. Him winning that fight with Ray Mercer, that’s what made the fight with me that much harder, because I believe Larry Holmes thought, “I just whooped an Army sergeant.” So he thought he could do the same with me.

STRONGEST
FRANK BRUNO: Out of all my fights, Bruno was able to wrap me up, tie me up, wear me down, lean on me, hold me, elbow me. Look at the fight. I admire him, but it was a stretch as far as the refereeing of that fight.

BEST PUNCHER
LENNOX LEWIS: There was two; both come from London. The first one was with Bruno. I got hit with a right hand (in the first round) … and it made my eye swell. It made me timid coming in because if you hit it again, it’s gonna split, and I never had my eye cut in a fight. The second one would have to be in the third round of the second fight with Lennox Lewis. The punch I got hit with – and I remember that punch – it was a wallop. I looked over his shoulder and saw his momma rooting for him to knock me out, and I thought of my momma not being there. When that man hit me I was going to retaliate, and I broke down. The overhand right that hit me sent me reeling into the ropes, and as I came back I could have just held him if I hadn’t broken down. I thought, “Wow.” I just shut down. I’d pick Lennox. I’m just going off what went through my mind. Bruno hit me dead in the eye, but it wasn’t as brutal as far as the shock to my body or pain as that right hand was. When Lennox hit me with that right hand in the third round, that was a crunching right hand. It makes me think I don’t know how I could take the punches that came after it with my hands down.

BOXING SKILLS
HOLMES: I would have to say Larry Holmes as far as pure boxing skills. Me at my best and him at 25 percent (when we fought) and (him) being champion when I was a kid. He’s my dude as far as skills.

BEST OVERALL
HOLMES: Larry Holmes. It has to be Larry Holmes. As well as boxing skills, he could do the other things. He had an awesome jab. He learned how to box well. He learned not to make the same mistake twice. He learned when he got knocked down how to get up and still beat you down. Stuff like that. He had to put up with a lot of criticism. He was a great champion and it was a trip for me to face him.

Lee Holliday helped coordinate this feature. The Ring appreciates his assistance. Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @AnsonWainwright

MORE: BEST I FACED — LENNOX LEWIS

 

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