Robert Silva writes about the second greatest Super Welterweight of all-time, Mike McCallum.
In the history of boxing, there aren’t many legendary fighters more underrated than Jamaican native Mike McCallum. McCallum’s ability to skillfully fight both inside and outside was rare. He was a master boxer who was also one of the greatest body punchers that ever lived. I will detail in full why McCallum is the best kept secret in the storied history of the sport.
After a tremendous amateur boxing career which saw McCallum represent Jamaica in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics, McCallum turned pro at the age of 24 in 1981. McCallum won his first 21 fights to earn the WBA 154-pound number one ranking. The man who was the WBA Champion at the time, the legendary Roberto Duran, decided to fight McCallum’s Kronk stablemate Thomas Hearns and be stripped of his title instead. When McCallum was unable to get either a shot at Duran or a guarantee that he would fight the winner of the Hearns-Duran fight, he promptly fired his trainer and the head of the fabled Kronk Gym, Emmanuel Steward. Throughout the 1980’s, McCallum was frustrated in his inability to secure a fight with the Fabulous Four. He was considered too high a risk for too low a reward. Duran made much more money in both his destruction at the hands of Hearns and his loss to Marvin Hagler. Hearns made much more money in his knockout of Duran and historic loss to Hagler. The same with Hagler, who made huge money in his defeats of both Hearns and Duran and his decision loss to Sugar Ray Leonard.
Despite the fact that McCallum’s fighting ability was on the level of the aforementioned legendary quartet, he was completely shut out in getting both a huge payday and an opportunity to match skills against any of them. Instead, he concentrated on winning the WBA 154-pound title that was stripped from Duran. On October 19, 1984 at Madison Square Garden, McCallum put on a brilliant display of boxing as he battered Sean Mannion for the entire 15 rounds. When both fighters were inside, McCallum battered Mannion’s body while deftly slipping and blocking punches in return. When fighting outside, McCallum controlled the action with his tremendous left jab and punishing counter punching. Despite winning a lopsided decision in front of a huge crowd at the Garden, McCallum received a paltry purse of $15,000. This made McCallum that much more hungrier in his pursuit of greatness.
McCallum seemingly took out his frustration on two of Steward’s fighters, David Braxton and Milt McCrory. In both defenses of his WBA Super Welterweight crown against the Kronk fighters, McCallum punished both tall, lanky fighters to the body. Once he battered their bodies, he battered both fighter’s faces with ripping combinations. Both men’s faces after getting knocked out by McCallum looked as though a baseball bat had struck them several times. Neither fighter was ever the same.
McCallum two biggest wins during his 154-pound title reign occurred 11 months apart against two stylistically different fighters. On August 23, 1986 he defended against one of the greatest pure power punchers in boxing history, Julian Jackson. McCallum showed his incredible boxing and counterpunching resulting in a second round stoppage of his dangerous foe. Then, in his sixth and final defense of his 154-pound title, McCallum faced the vaunted former Undisputed World Welterweight Champion Donald Curry. Curry dominated the first four rounds by outboxing McCallum and deftly avoiding his counters. Then, in the fifth round, Curry walked into one of the greatest left hooks ever landed inside a boxing ring. My father compared it to the left hook Sugar Ray Robinson knocked Gene Fullmer out with thirty years earlier. Immediately after the fight, McCallum moved up to 160 pounds. Even at 160, he was unable to secure a fight with any members of the Fabulous Four.
McCallum held the WBA Super Welterweight title for over three years and six successful defenses. The only time he was in danger of losing his title, he rectified with a singular left hook. Despite the fact that he was both ignored and avoided by the greats in and around his division, McCallum excelled at the highest level one could obtain in the sport of boxing. All of these attributes add up to McCallum being the second greatest Super Welterweight in boxing history.