1. OLIVER McCALL was largely unknown outside of the boxing hardcore when he walked into the Wembley Arena battleground on September 24, 1994 to challenge WBC heavyweight champion, Lennox Lewis. But those that knew McCall were aware of his quality, and Boxing News warned the champion he could be in for a tough night.
2. THE American, hard as nails and mad as a hatter, worked for many years as Mike Tyson’s sparring partner, and claimed to have dropped the fearsome fighter while he was preparing for Michael Spinks. Frank Bruno was also reported to have had problems with McCall, telling him after their sessions: “You’re too good to be a sparring partner, McCall.”
3. LEWIS had shocked many observers in 1992 when he flattened feared Canadian Razor Ruddock in just two rounds – a result which won him the WBC title by default – but he had failed to reproduce that performance since. He had turned back veteran Tony Tucker over 12, struggled at times with Bruno before stopping him suddenly in seven, and allowed the overmatched Phil Jackson to last until the eighth.
4. EVEN so, McCall was made a 5-1 underdog, with odds that were too long, but justifiable. Although he had beaten Francesco Damiani to earn the shot, and stunned previously unbeaten Bruce Seldon three years before, points losses to the likes of Tony Tucker, Buster Douglas, and Orlin Norris suggested McCall was lacking at the very top level.
5. IT would be the last time that Lewis would work with trainer Pepe Correa. The coach had a history of distastefully insulting Lewis’ opponents – he told Bruno that Lewis would blind him – and hurled a suspender belt at McCall in the build-up, sneering: “That’s the only belt you’ll get to wear this week.” The man in charge of McCall’s corner was a classier character. Emanuel Steward had been employed to plot Lewis’ downfall and was working his 94th world title fight.
6. THE fact that Lewis had agreed to a March 1995 defence against bitter rival Riddick Bowe, and there was already talk of a superfight with Mike Tyson for the winner, suggested that McCall was being overlooked. Tyson, awaiting release from prison, had been told he would be granted the No.1 spot with the WBC when he was freed. It was reported he phoned up McCall to wish him luck for the Lewis challenge.
7. McCALL entered the ring in a bizarre state. The then-BN editor, legendary writer Harry Mullan described the scene: “McCall came to the ring in a condition only a shade removed from hysteria. I have never, in 25 years of ringsides around the world, seen a man more motivated and ready for battle. He was actually weeping with tension and emotion as he strode up and down the side of the ring directly above me, occasionally pausing to punch the corner padding or to stare out unseeingly into the crowd, his face contorted and eyes screwed up as tears mingled with the sweat of his dressing room warm-up.”
8. AS Mullan observed, “Men in that state are either very dangerous or very vulnerable”. Unfortunately for the Briton, who picked up $3,000,000, it turned out to be the former. A crowd of 7,000 watched Lewis edge the opening round but the pair exchanged right hands and McCall’s seemed the stronger. Even so, Correa sent Lewis out with the instruction; “Go out and knock the bum out.” It provided a curious taster for disaster. Steward had taught McCall to counter Lewis’ lazy left, and when the champion amateurishly hung out his lead with his chin in the air, McCall delivered a frightful right hook over the top. Lennox collapsed, glassy eyed, to the canvas.
9. REFEREE José Guadalupe Garcia began the count. Lewis got to his feet by the time ‘six’ had been tolled but struggled to stand tall. His legs were not reacting well. He hoisted his hands to his chin in a ploy to show he was ready to fight, but the referee did not buy it. He put his arms round the unsteady heavyweight. To experienced ringsiders, it seemed like the right decision. But Lewis protested that the stoppage was premature. McCall, meanwhile, sprang high into the air like a defective Jack in the Box. The fight, and Lewis’ first reign, was over.
10. LEWIS was determined to re-build following the shocking collapse. Out went Correa, and in came that man, Mr Steward. Between them they crafted one of the best careers in heavyweight history before Lewis retired, while champion, in 2003. Along the way, in 1997, the met McCall again. Revenge was served via fifth round stoppage but the contest will always be remembered for the break down Oliver – riddled with substance and alcohol problems – experienced in the ring.