Even at age 46, Oliver McCall is as quick with his words as he is with his signature right hand, the same one he used to turn the heavyweight division on its ear in 1994 when he knocked out Lennox Lewis.
Now the former world champion is gearing up for one last run at heavyweight supremacy, a journey that continues Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., when he faces undefeated Mariusz Wach (25-0, 13 KOs) for the World Boxing Council (WBC) International heavyweight title. The 12-round Wach-McCall showdown is the main event of Jimmy Burchfield’s Classic Entertainment & Sports’ “November Reign” professional boxing event, presented in association with Global Boxing Promotions.
“Expect to see a new and improved Oliver McCall,” said the Chicago heavyweight, who is known primarily for beating Lewis in ‘94, in addition to a bizarre incident inside the ring three years later in the rematch and the legal troubles that followed.
With a new team behind him, McCall (56-11, 37 KOs) is ready to write a new chapter in his career, perhaps establishing his legacy as one of the most underrated – and, in some cases, underappreciated – American heavyweights of the Don King era, a stretch of dominance highlighted by the success of fellow countrymen Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe.
“America is looking for its next up-and-coming heavyweight. I want to show them we already have one,” McCall said. “I want to get that world title back.”
McCall’s second-round knockout over Lewis for the WBC world title in ‘94 reestablished America’s dominance in the heavyweight division. A year earlier, Lewis had become the first foreign-born heavyweight champion in WBC history. He held the belt for 16 months before losing to McCall at Wembley Stadium in London.
America did not reclaim the title until Tyson beat Frank Bruno in 1996, a short-lived stretch that ended when Lewis regained it the following year and subsequently held it for the majority of the next six years with the exception of the seven-month stretch in which Hasim Rahman held the title.
Lewis’ second stint as WBC champion ironically began in ’97 with a bizarre win over McCall in which McCall suffered what he described as a “breakdown” in the fifth round and began crying. Referee Mills Lane stopped the fight, awarding Lewis the victory by technical knockout. McCall remained successful in the ring, winning 13 of his next 14 fights, but his personal life spiraled out of control due to his problems with substance abuse.
McCall spent time at drug rehabilitation facilities to get his life back on track and eventually resurrected his career in 2007 when he beat Sinan Simal Sam for the WBC International title. On the cusp of earning another world title shot, McCall lost a close, unanimous decision to Juan Carlos Gomez in his next fight, costing McCall his spot as the WBC mandatory challenger.
At the time, it seemed as though the 42-year-old McCall had run out of ammunition, but he continued to chase the dream two years later after taking a break to rehabilitate a shoulder injury. His knockout win over John Hopoate in May of 2009 began a streak of three consecutive victories, culminating with a 10-round unanimous-decision win over veteran Lance Whitaker.
Once again, McCall finds himself on the brink of something major, knowing next month’s showdown against Wach could be his last shot at winning another title. Perhaps it’s only fitting that the man who’s never been knocked down in his professional or amateur career is still standing after all these years.
“I’m ready to show people I can still win a world title,” McCall said. “I love boxing. It’s part of my life. I’m real good at it, and I can still fight. I’m coming off a big win [over Damian Wills in August] and I’m looking forward to becoming an old heavyweight champion.
“I always knew I’d get another shot; it was just a matter of when. I’m definitely ready now.”
Facing Wach will be a tall task, both literally and figuratively. The 6-foot-7 Polish heavyweight is coming off a knockout win over Kevin McBride in July for the then-vacant WBC International title, but McCall, who stands in at 6-2, is no stranger to facing taller opponents.
“He reminds me of Henry Akinwande without the jab,” McCall said of the retired, 6-7 British heavyweight, whom he defeated via 10th-round knockout in 2001.
“He doesn’t have the ring generalship Henry fought with. I have the ring generalship and the experience. I’ve had a lot of tough fights against world champions. I have the will to win. I’m very sturdy and tough. The better shape he’s in, the better it’ll be for me, because he’ll take more chances underestimating me because of my age.
“I’ve had a lot of success fighting taller guys. I’m a pit bull in that ring, and I like to bring it to the fighter. You’re going to see a spectacular performance in November.”