Two weight World Champion Steve Collins speaking to Ringtv.com on the Best boxer he faced ‘The best boxer was definitely Mike McCallum. He was in his prime at 33 years old and I was 26 and still learning. Mike had beaten some of the very best fighters in the world at that point and guys like Sugar Ray Leonard wouldn’t go anywhere near him because he was so slick. I learned more in one fight with Mike McCallum than I did in my five previous fights combined, do you understand? He was skillful, a master at combination punching and he had everything at his disposal. He was the smartest guy I ever fought. I learned a lot from him and he educated me. Every once in a while you face a guy who is a bit special and they either finish you or make you. When Prince Naseem stepped up a level (to face Marco Antonio Barrera in 2001) he lost and that was basically the end of him. I fought McCallum and although I lost it made me a better fighter because he was the best in his time. Sugar Ray Leonard told me personally that there was no money in facing McCallum and it was a fight he could lose. I asked him that during a Q&A and he admitted it to an entire audience. I stepped up to the elite level and traded with one of the best fighters around, so I knew I would get better and I knew I would become a world champion after that. McCallum didn’t get the credit he deserved but just look at his record and you see the guys he beat’.
Three weight World Champion and one of the greatest ever defensive fighters James Toney on the Best fighter he shared the ring with ‘Mike McCallum — That’s an easy choice, right off the top of my head it’s the Body Snatcher. He was the best fighter I fought at middleweight, super middleweight and cruiserweight. Out of all the fighters I fought, I respect him the most because he made me think about everything I tried to do. Before McCallum I was just runnin’ in on everyone, but he made me slow down and think for the first time’.
And the Best Boxer…’McCallum — Yup, it’s him again. It’s between McCallum and Michael Nunn, but I gotta go with McCallum because he was a master boxer who wasn’t afraid to stand his ground. Nunn was mostly fast. I admit that he outboxed me for about nine rounds, but my body shots slowed him down. I told him during the fight ‘I’m gonna catch you!’ And I did. I fought my share of boxers who thought they were clever like Roy Jones, Michael Nunn, Montell Griffin, and Reggie Johnson, but they were all scared to really fight. McCallum boxed, he fought, he defended, and he didn’t run all over the ring. He could do all that because he was smart’.
We’ve just read the views of two world champions, James Toney has fought legends such as Roy Jones Jnr and Evander Holyfield, Steve Collins has beaten great boxers such as Chris Eubank Snr and Nigel Benn, yet both are in agreement when it comes to the best boxer they have faced – Mike McCallum. So who is he and why haven’t you heard about him?
Before Gennady Golovkin, arguably the most avoided fighter in the sport today, there was Mike McCallum, underrated and avoided, his nickname was ‘The Bodysnatcher’ due to his ability to land hurtful body shots, over a 55 fight career, The Bodysnatcher would go on to beat 7 world champions en route to becoming a three weight World Champion himself. Amongst his wins were also two of Britains finest middleweights, Herol ‘The Bomber’ Graham and Michael Watson whom he dismantled over 11 rounds. If you want to watch a Boxing masterclass, this is one of the fights I would recommend viewing.
McCallum was born in 1956 in Kingston, Jamaica, turning professional in 1981. His 1st ‘Big’ fight was against Julian ‘The Hawk’ Jackson, a dangerous opponent with a huge punch, a future World Champion who would rank at no.25 by Ring Magazine in their 2003 list of ‘100 Greatest Punchers’. Jackson was quickly dismissed in Round 2. But it would be the following year in 1987 when the world would finally sit up and take notice of McCallum when he knocked out former WBC champion Milton McCrory followed by former undisputed champion Donald Curry with a picture perfect left hook. They may have taken too much notice, it may have been McCallums bad luck he was fighting in an era of the ‘Four Kings’ Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Tommy Hearns and Marvin Hagler, all four are legends in the squared circle, and as their careers were winding down to an end or their best years were slipping by, none were too keen on taking on the risk of fighting the bodysnatcher. The late great Johnny Tocco, who ran the Ringside Gym on Charleston and Main in Las Vegas from 1952 until the mid to late 1990s, Tocco was to have said that ‘Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran, yes even Marvin Hagler, none of them wanted any part of Mike McCallum’. The ‘Hitman’ Hearns would have been well aware of Mike McCallum’s prowess, both trained at the famous Kronk gym in Detroit under legendary trainer Emmanuel Steward and both would often spar against each other under Stewards watchful eye. Unfortunately for McCallum, the Super fight would always evade him, Roberto Duran famously declined to fight him having been presented with a contract, instead choosing to fight his stable mate Tommy Hearns. Hardly surprising when the match would net Duran $5million whereas a fight with McCallum would ‘only’ make Duran $500k, high risk low reward.
Steward was high in praise for the Bodysnatcher, a nickname he himself coined for McCallum ‘he never got the recognition or the super fight with Leonard, Duran, Hagler-none of those guys-which I think he’d have been 50-50 to beat any of them! He just fought anybody, anywhere, under whatever conditions and prevailed all the way ’till he was really never beaten. His age really only caught up with him. He was a great champion.’
Mike McCallum finished his career with 49 wins and 5 losses with 1 draw, 3 of those losses came in his last 4 fights as age got the better of him, including losses against 2 legends of the ring, Roy Jones Jnr and James Toney, finally retiring after the Toney defeat at age 40 in 1997. An unsung hero and a forgotten legend of the ring, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003 and currently works as a trainer in Las Vegas.