Anyone with a passing interest in heavyweight boxing over the past twenty years will hold a mental image of one sort or another of heavy punching former champion Oliver McCall. Whether it be the crunching right-hand which felled Lennox Lewis, his emotional implosion in the rematch or the various drug fuelled episodes which have blighted his attempts to construct another run at the championship he lost to a grateful Frank Bruno in 1995. Last night at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel he dropped a clear decision to peripheral contender Timur Ibragimov spelling the end of any residual potential the now 45-year-old could claim.
Staunch advocates will suggest otherwise but the defeat draws to a close two decades as a leading heavyweight, a period in which many with a greater wisdom than I will remark that the Atomic Bull, as the destructive puncher was tagged, under-achieved. A seemingly outlandish claim given the WBC title he secured by dumping Lennox Lewis on the canvas in 1993. Even prior to this leap to championship class McCall was a well-known figure in the trade, as a rugged sparring partner for Mike Tyson and as a contender with a good chin and dynamite in his gloves.
One theory suggests his lack of consistency or repute during those early years was his sparring partner mentality, precisely, a failing to emerge from the shadow of his employers and a struggle with the additional responsibility of forcing the pace of a fight. It is a phenomenon oft referred to in boxing circles but hard to qualify or quantify. However, McCall had demons and weaknesses that strangulated his ability to perform of far greater strength and reach than this minor psychological theory.
A regular inhabitant of rehabilitation clinics in both the prelude and aftermath of many of those infamous nights in the 1990’s, the on-set of middle-age has failed to afford him the strength to resist the call of those demons and he was, once again, fighting for the first time since arrest for drugs possession. Typically, the arrest was poor timing – is there ever a good time – as he looked for match-ups to further capitalise on his interesting, if not significant win over Mount Whittaker back in October.
Doubtless we will continue to see Oliver fight. He has sufficient gravitas to continue to earn a crust and will continue to compile victories away from the spotlight, after all, a man who tried to downplay his ‘mental breakdown’ in the Lewis rematch as his own interpretation of Muhammad Ali’s ‘Rope-a-dope’ tactics, was once questioned for throwing a Christmas Tree out of a window and often travelled with a drugs counsellor as part of his entourage is unlikely to permit one points defeat to a long-forgotten Uzbek contender to conclude his career.
And I would never encourage any commission or association to prevent him earning a living while ever it is safe for him to do so. I would add one small caveat to that however. He operates in a heavyweight division filled with 250 pound giants and has an ability to absorb power shots few of his contemporaries could match, after all, despite dropping his hands to his sides repeatedly and offering no defence to Lennox Lewis, the great British Heavyweight failed to dint him in 5 rounds.
Exactly the type of fighter who needs protecting from himself. He is, we must remember, 45 years old and while those types of ages are becoming ever more common-place Oliver McCall strikes me as a fighter at greater risk than most given his less than monastic devotion to self-preservation and clean-living.
His record drops to 54-10-1NC (37ko) with this latest defeat.
To paraphrase Vinnie Jones in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, “Goodbye Oliver, its been emotional”.