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  • Writer's pictureCrawjo

Fight #36: James Toney vs. Mike McCallum

Fight #36: James Toney vs. Mike McCallum, December 13, 1991, Convention Hall, Atlantic City, NJ

And James Toney becomes the first fighter to appear twice on this list. The last time we saw him, for fight #49, he was winning a championship at cruiserweight. Here, 12 years earlier, he is defending his middleweight championship against future Hall of Famer Mike "The Body Snatcher" McCallum. By the time of this fight, McCallum was 35 years old and no longer one of the most dangerous punchers in boxing. But he had just one defeat on his resume and plenty of fitness and experience to take on the 23-year-old Toney.

This was a matchup between two counter-punchers. Often that ends up being a dull affair, as you tend to get two fighters waiting for the other to engage, and so they end up staring at each other for 12 awkward rounds. Not in this case. Throughout the fight, McCallum seemed convinced that his best chance would be to land a left hook that he could throw off his left jab. But to get an opening for that left hook, he needed Toney to throw overhand rights. So McCallum spent much of the fight trying to bait Toney into missing with big right hands, mainly by popping the left jab and trying to control the distance in the fight, stepping in and stepping back as needed.

Toney definitely took the bait, but the problem was that he landed that right hand far too often for my taste. McCallum seemed to be staggered by Toney's shots at several points in the fight, especially in the 4th round, when Toney first started finding home for that right, and then again in rounds 8, 10, and 12. In the last round, Toney nearly got himself a knockout, as he staggered an exhausted McCallum repeatedly, but Toney, who by that point had himself thrown 800 punches, was too tired to finish the Body Snatcher off.

When Toney was not landing big right hands, McCallum tended to control the action with his left jab, occasionally punctuated by his signature shots to the body (hence the nickname), and, when Toney missed with right haymakers, McCallum was able to land shorter, straighter right hands. (The left hook never really became a factor in the fight, as McCallum never got the timing on that punch right. McCallum's trainer, Eddie Futch, had previously trained Joe Frazier, owner of arguably the greatest left hook in boxing history.)

I scored the fight 116-112 in favor of Toney. I think you can make a fairly convincing case that Toney won a minimum of 6 rounds and probably at least 7. But the judges' scorecards produced a split draw, with scores of 116-112, 113-115, and 114-114. I think the 113-115 scorecard is wrong, but even if that judge had made it 114-114, it still would have been a majority draw.

As it stands, the outcome gave the young Toney another crack at McCallum. One year later, the young fighter won a majority decision over McCallum, which provided the pretext for still a third fight between these two in 1997, by which point Toney was still a prime 29 years of age, and McCallum was pushing 41. Toney won that last fight, and thus the trilogy, by a unanimous decision. For his part, Toney would go on to win championships at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight, and cruiserweight. In the dying embers of his career in the 21st century, he took several cracks at winning a heavyweight championship, but never quite got there. He came the closest with a 12-round unanimous decision over John Ruiz for the WBA championship, but a post-fight drug test revealed that Toney had been bulking up with anabolic steroids, and he was promptly stripped of his title. That test is likely the reason that Toney has not yet earned induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, but I would bet he gets there eventually. For rather obvious reasons, boxing writers tend to be much less scrupulous of moral failings than baseball writers are.

As for McCallum, he retired following his final defeat to Toney in 1997, finishing his career with a record of 49-5-1. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame when he first became eligible in 2003. He now lives in Las Vegas and serves as a mentor to younger fighters, most notably rising lightweight star Devin Haney.

A couple other notes on this fight:

The recently deceased Marvin Hagler served as commentator for this fight. He was very good in this role, offering incisive analysis and noting key turning points in the fight as they were happening.

The facility that hosted this fight was, at the time of the fight, known as Trump Plaza. I believe this is the Atlantic City casino that Donald Trump ran into the ground before he became president. Unfortunately, throughout this fight you can see a (fairly young) Trump in the front row ringside. The whole time he appears to be laughing at his own jokes to the unfortunate woman sitting next to him. Watching this fight today constitutes my longest exposure to Donald Trump in months. The building that once hosted this remarkable fight, and that awful future president, was destroyed by controlled demolition last month. Adios.

Here is a video of the fight:

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