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Fears for Tears: Recalling the 2 Fights Between Oliver McCall and Lennox Lewis

Rob Lancaster@RobLancs79Featured ColumnistApril 21, 2016

Mills Lane calls off the rematch between Oliver McCall and Lennox Lewis.
Mills Lane calls off the rematch between Oliver McCall and Lennox Lewis.JOHN GURZINSKI/Getty Images

Oliver McCall became used to fighting.

During a boxing career that spanned nearly 30 years, the heavyweight had 73 bouts. At one stage, he was the WBC champion of the world.

The American faced even greater challenges outside of the ring.

As journalist Steve Bunce documented in an article for the Independent in 2010, McCall has battled with addictions, leading to spells in rehab and problems with the law.

On McCall's 51st birthday (April 21, 2016), Bleacher Report looks back at two unforgettable nights—albeit for vastly different reasons—when he went head-to-head against Lennox Lewis.

The Underdog Bites Back

Oliver McCall and trainer Emanuel Steward devised the perfect plan to beat Lennox Lewis.
Oliver McCall and trainer Emanuel Steward devised the perfect plan to beat Lennox Lewis.John Gichigi/Getty Images

On Sept. 24, 1994, flanked by promoter Don King, McCall cried as he made his way to the ring at Wembley Arena in London.

It wasn't new for McCall to shed a tear or two, as he explained to BoxingInsider.com: "I usually cry when I go to the ring anyway. So I can pump myself up emotionally. So I can really inflict what I need to inflict on my opponent."

He needed to be pumped up, as he was facing an undefeated WBC champion who had struck gold as an amateur at the 1988 Olympics.

But McCall—who had lost five fights before getting his big chance—was a live underdog. A former sparring partner to Mike Tyson, The Atomic Bull was ready to charge.

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Having served notice in Round 1 that he had come to fight, McCall produced a right hand in the next that ended up bringing an early end to proceedings.

His trainer, Emanuel Steward, had spotted that Lewis held his left hand low. When the Englishman attacked, McCall countered brilliantly. He followed up a short left hook with a huge straight right, dropping Lewis to the canvas.

The champion rose quickly. Too quickly.

Still feeling the punch, he stumbled around as referee Jose Guadalupe Garcia continued to count. The Mexican official took a close look at Lewis and decided he could not continue.

McCall did a star jump in the air as he realised what he had achieved, before running around the ring with his arms aloft.

Lewis, meanwhile, had his arms spread out wide, questioning the timing of the stoppage. Per BoxRec, the beaten fighter branded McCall's right a "lucky punch."

His promoter, Frank Maloney, threatened to protest to the WBC. Garcia, however, remained adamant in his call.

The referee said in the aftermath, per the Associated Press (h/t the Los Angeles Times): "To allow more punches to Lennox Lewis would have fatal consequences. My duty is to protect the health of the fighter"

Lewis decided that the best way to get back on track was to hire the man who had masterminded his downfall.

After firing trainer Pepe Correa after the loss, he teamed up with Steward.

McCall, meanwhile, shed further tears after pulling off the upset. He successfully defended the belt against veteran Larry Holmes, but a return trip to Britain in 1995 saw him defeated on points against Frank Bruno.

A Crying Shame

Oliver McCall barely threw a punch in the rematch with Lennox Lewis.
Oliver McCall barely threw a punch in the rematch with Lennox Lewis.Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Lewis had to wait until Feb. 7, 1997 for a rematch with McCall.

The WBC strap was up for grabs again, only this time neither man was defending it. Mike Tyson had vacated the title rather than face Lewis, opting to pursue a bout with Evander Holyfield instead.

McCall had recorded easy wins over Oleg Maskaev and James Stanton prior to the second meeting, but his career had been hampered by stints in rehab.

He was also arrested in December 1996 after throwing a Christmas tree in a hotel lobby in Tennessee, leading to him being charged with vandalism, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Lewis, meanwhile, looked vastly improved under Steward. The new partnership had won four on the spin, with The Lion primed for a chance at redemption at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas.

In an unusual act, McCall ran to the ring. It was an entrance more akin to WWE wrestling than boxing. There was no crying to get emotionally tuned in this time, just a sprint to get proceedings started.

For the opening two rounds, Lewis was in complete control. Wary of the right hand that had ended his first reign just under three years earlier, he kept his distance and worked well behind the jab.

But, after Round 3, McCall opted not to return to his corner. While he took laps of the ring, his corner waited. And waited. If it was all part of a cunning plan his trainer at the time, George Benton, knew nothing about it.

In Round 4, McCall dropped his hands low and continued to stroll around. Astonishingly, there were times when he didn't even face up to his rival, offering Lewis the chance to take free shots. In a sport where you're instructed to protect yourself, McCall was a sitting duck.

Lewis was hesitant to attack, perhaps fearing it was a trap.

Yet by the middle of the fourth it was clear all was not well with McCall. He shook his head on more than one occasion, leading to referee Mills Lane asking him if he wanted to carry on.

The bout did go on, yet McCall's state even deteriorated before Round 5.

He began to cry while stood in his corner and had to be told to sit down on his stool. The crowd had grown restless while Lewis was left to wondering just what was going on in the opposite corner.

After 55 seconds of Round 5, Lane stepped in to call a halt to the farcical "fight." McCall made a hasty exit, retreating to his dressing room to a chorus of boos and surrounded by security.

Per Gerald Eskenazi of The New York Times, McCall revealed in a rambling, 40-minute, post-fight press conference the following day that he had been working to a plan: ''My strategy was—and I know it sounds kind of absurd—was a kind of rope-a-dope."

It looked less like rope-a-dope and more like a mental breakdown.

Leonora Petty, a psychiatrist, examined McCall the morning after the fight. She declared his mental state to be fine.

Marc Shatz, a Beverly Hills clinical psychiatrist, did not agree, telling Steve Springer of the Los Angeles Times: "People have breakdowns all over the country every day. What made this so unusual was that it happened in front of 5,000 people and on...HBO."

McCall was back in the ring less than nine months later.

He fought on until 2014, but he will forever be remembered by many for the night he stopped fighting completely.

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