How good is Oliver McCall?

18.08.05 - By John Way: Last weekend, the boxing world saw a fruitful return of "The Atomic Bull" to the boxing ring. Winning his biggest fight in nearly five years, the forty-year-old McCall has-somewhat depressingly-placed himself back on the fringes of heavyweight contention. With a single punch, he disposed of his Polish foe late in the fourth round, blowing a competitive match-up wide open. With this latest career saving knockout, the critics are again forced to acknowledge that the once (?) drug ravaged Chicago native still has the talent to face, and even beat world class opponents.. While nay-sayers point to Saleta's brittle jaw as a factor, the disbeliveers need only recall Oliver's narrow loss to "Touch of Sleep" Williamson last year as definitive proof that the ex-champ still has a few more classics in him. Notably, since then, TOS has thrashed Derrick Jefferson and was miraculously, if somewhat suspiciously ranked as champion Chris Byrd's mandatory challenger.

After twelve fights (11 wins with one loss) McCall was jobbed against talented Mike Hunter in a wholly pedestrian ten round waltz. Three forgettable wins followed before being matched with fellow future champion, James "Buster" Douglas, again coming up short in ten rounds. Two fights later, Oliver was subject to another debatable loss, this time against Orlin Norris. After this depressing streak of bad luck and bad officiating, the "Atomic Bull" put together a magnificent streak by upsetting top prospect Bruce Seldon in nine rounds. Using crafty head movement and deceptive power, McCall proved to be too much for the highly touted future champion. Taking fate into his own hands, he was just as impressive in beating tough Jesse Ferguson, before losing yet another dubious decision to former champion Tony Tucker.

Impressive even in defeat, McCall put together the best winning run of his career, starting with a beating over Michael Dixon, who would later ravage highly rated Alex Garcia in a mere two rounds. The next victim was ex-champ Francisco Daimini, who had previously beaten Pinklon Thomas and Johnny DuPlooy. After an interim win over Dan Murphy, McCall was granted the chance of a lifetime when a fight with Lennox Lewis arouse for the WBC title. Recognized as one of the two best heavyweights on the planet, "the Lion" was looking for an easy fight after taxing battles with Phil Jackson and previously mentioned Tony Tucker. He got it! In fact, after less than six minutes of action, Lewis was sound asleep, resting peacefully on the canvas courtesy of a perfect straight right.

After the post-fight celebrations died down, Oliver set out to defend his title against ancient Larry Holmes. For those who don't remember, only a few years previous, Holmes had taken unbeaten bomber Ray Mercer to school, stole his lunch money, and ran off with his best girl. Since then, Holmes had put together several more victories, and a very impressive loss to then champ, Evander Holyfield. Once again, the "Easton Assassin" came precariously close to regaining his title, only falling a few points short on the scorecards.

In his second defense, McCall was matched with that fearsome punching, but glass chinned Briton, Frank Bruno. Having already failed in title challenges against Lewis, Mike Tyson, and Tim Witherspoon, Bruno was seemingly on his last run at championship glory. Finally making the best of the situation, Frank managed to out point a point win over his lackadaisical foe. McCall's passive behavior was later to be explained away as ongoing personal problems, centered around a dark history of cocaine addiction. Hopping back into the title picture with a first round shellacking of future contender Oleg Maskaev, he soon was facing Lewis in a rematch. After beating McCall, Bruno had peacefully "given" the title to come-backing Mike Tyson, who vacated the crown in favor of pursuing Bruce Seldon's WBA strap.

McCall versus Lewis II goes down in history as perhaps the most bizarre heavyweight title fight ever. Entering the ring in a shambolic state, Oliver began to suffer a minor mental breakdown after several rounds of action, finally culminating in his tearful refusal to offer any
resistance whatsoever. It doesn't take Marilyn Vos Savant to figure out that Lewis' right hand had little to do with this sudden psychological collapse. After only five rounds, McCall's entire body of work was erased, and replaced with the label of "quitter", "crybaby", and "crack-head". While trying to make sense of his problems, "The Atomic Bull" fought increasingly erratically, soon becoming a scourge of stumblebums before facing his first real test since that fateful night in London England.

Never what anyone would call friendly looking; he was matched with equally intimidating (looking) Nigerian Henry Akinwande. Akinwande generates approximately the same amount of viewing enthusiasm as a root canal thanks to a safety first style that places him along side John Ruiz, Sven Ottke, and Johnny Nelson as one of the most boring fighters alive. More aggressive than usual, Henry seemingly had McCall whipped, until a crunching right hand left him unable to continue, to almost universal applause. Following this remarkable display of concessive power, prospects of rematching Maskaev or Lewis surfaced, but quickly died down as Oliver continued to languish through long periods of inactivity.

Now, after resolving whatever conflicts kept him out of the ring, Oliver McCall is riding high again after several impressive performances. Can he beat top contenders like Jameel McCline, Calvin Brock, or James Toney? Not likely, but that's no reason not to try, and as history shows, he usually puts up an intriguing battle in the process. Regardless, with names like Seldon, Ferguson, Tucker, Lewis, Daimeni, Akinwande, Holmes, and Saleta on his ledger, I would definitely say McCall is one of the best heavyweights of his generation. Comment are welcome below.

Article posted on 18.08.2005

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