A Boxing Memory: Oliver McCall vs Frank Bruno
My first ever boxing memory was in 1976, Muhammad Ali defending his world heavyweight title against the Yorkshire born Richard Dunn. Ali would win the fight in 5 one-sided rounds, a love affair was born.
The memory fades over the years, and Ali would again be in the next fight I can remember with any degree of certainty, his losing fight with Leon Spinks in 1978, Ali said he would return, and he did.
The rematch later that year was Ali’s last hurrah, a masterclass of a performance that saw Ali retain his crown and soon after he retired, if only he had.
The saddest fight in boxing history regrettably followed, Larry Holmes beat an Ali that was in name only. But the seed was planted for my love of boxing, and it continued to grow over the years.
The BBC had a firm grip on boxing in the UK, and one domestic up and coming heavyweight was very much centre stage. Frank Bruno was the big hope, to end the incredibly long wait for a British world heavyweight champion.
In 1897 Bob Fitzsimmons beat James J Corbett, but British success at world level since, was scarce, the horizontal label that was thrown at British heavyweights firmly stuck, how things have changed since.
But Bruno came along, he gave us hope, James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith seemingly took away that hope, a fight that broke my heart.
The American came to London in 1984 to take on the unbeaten Bruno who was now 21-0 and he looked our best hope of ending the long wait.
Bruno a mile ahead on points was knocked out in the 10th and final round, and Harry Carpenter said the Bruno story was over, Harry was wrong.
Carefully, cynically even Bruno was manoeuvred into three world title opportunities. Sadly for Big Frank, Tim Witherspoon, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis would all play their part in Bruno being perceived as the brave but perennial loser.
By 1995, Lewis had ended the long wait for British heavyweights, but Bruno still persisted, Frank Warren offered him one last chance. Wembley Stadium the scene of his first attempt to win the world heavyweight title again played host to his last chance of glory.
The WBC world heavyweight champion Oliver McCall had knocked out Lewis, squeaked past an ancient but a still more than competent Holmes. But Bruno now had his best chance, but with the firm realisation, he was now at the point of no return.
But this time Bruno would not be denied
The old pattern returned, the standard good start, then the big muscles again became a hindrance as the rounds progressed. Bruno slowed, McCall finally woke up, Bruno grabbed for dear life and survived, barely, the judges soon confirmed what we already knew. Bruno shed tears of joy, the nation cried with him.
That fight wasn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but it was everything to Bruno of course, but also to me. Boxing was my first love, Bruno my second, that September ranks as my second favourite fight, only a certain Sugar Man defeating the Marvelous one in 1987 beats it.
Bruno couldn’t enjoy his moment for long. Tyson fresh out of prison wanted what he had before, Bruno couldn’t stop him.
A much better fighter than given credit for, the pantomime type character he played didn’t help how people viewed him, but Bruno finally got there. All the disappointments along the way didn’t matter, in many ways they made that September night even more special.