2nd Sept 1995,
Frank Bruno vs Oliver McCall.
The sport of boxing has a special place within British sporting culture. Over the decades certain fighters have left an endearing and lasting impression on British boxing fans, young and old. Fighters such as Henry Cooper, Barry McGuigan, Lennox Lewis, Nigel Benn and Prince Naseem Hamed are just a few of the names synonymous with the boxing public and still evoke memories of their finest hours in the squared circle.
One particular fighter who was lauded and admired throughout Britain and beyond was former WBC Heavyweight Champion Frank Bruno. Bruno in his heyday was one of the most popular mainstream sporting celebritiesin Britain, and his fights garnered much interest with the British public. A fundamentally sound boxer with devastating power (38 KO’s in 40 fights), Frank came close to winning a world title on 3 occasions, but came up short when fights went down the stretch. Bruno looked every part an elite fighter, but his stamina would fail him eventually. When the title fight between Bruno and the WBC Champion Oliver ‘The Atomic Bull’ McCall was announced, there was a feeling that this would be Bruno’s last but maybe his best chance.
Oliver McCall was indeed an enigmatic heavyweight champion. McCall is mostly remembered for his win over Lennox Lewis, and was Don King’s first Heavyweight World Champion since Mike Tyson, for whom he was also a sparring partner. Oliver McCall had ability, but his mental state and his battles with substance abuse would curtail McCall ever reaching his full potential. Yes, he had some success but it was fleeting. The footage of the sparring sessions with Tyson can still be found, and you could see McCall making Tyson work harder than most of his opponents.
The stage was set on a chilly night at Wembley Stadium, in front of 30,000 fans; all hoping Bruno would finally achieve his dream. Millions up and down the country glued to their TV screens hoping for Bruno’s hand to be raised in victory. The great Nigel Benn walked Bruno into the ring, carrying the Union Jack; Benn himself had defended his WBC Super Middleweight title with a 7th round KO of Daniel Perez in the co-main. Bruno as always was in magnificent shape and looked focused. McCall also came in good shape, but one could question his state of mind once the bell rang.
As the bell rang, Bruno came out fast and started landing his trademark jab and 1-2 combos. It wasn’t hard for Bruno to find McCall, who wasn’t throwing much back. Part way through the 1st round, Bruno landed a sweeping right hand which got McCall’s attention which caused swelling under McCall’s left eye. Bruno was building up a healthy lead on the cards in the early rounds; his straight 1-2 and his jab were very effective, but McCall was beginning to enjoy some success in the middle rounds. After round 7, McCall took the centre of the ring and Bruno was on the back foot. Bruno was visibly getting tired, and McCall knew it. Bruno was trying to keep McCall away with straight shots, but McCall was bulldozing his way in and roughing Bruno up. The tide was beginning to turn in McCall’s favour.
The championship rounds were thrilling. Though the crowd were behind Bruno and he was ahead on points, the fight was slipping from his grasp. McCall, buoyed by his corner, was dictating the pace and Bruno was trying desperately to clinch and do whatever he could to see the fight through. A flush uppercut from McCall at the end of the 11th round was an ominous warning. The last round was one of the most emotive rounds in British boxing history. McCall came out a man intent on keeping his title, and threw everything at the challenger. Bruno was out on his feet, but using his experience from his previous attempts; he hung for dear life and smothered McCall’s advances.
As the last bell rang, the partisan Wembley crowd cheered as Bruno raised his weary arms in the air in triumph. All was left was the decision to be announced. Bruno was the winner by unanimous decision with one score of 115-113 and two of 117-111. It was a joyous celebration; Nigel Benn jumped into the ring and hoisted Bruno in the air whilst the crowd went into rapturous applause. Bruno was finally a world champion. An emotional Frank thanked everyone for supporting him and on that night was an example of how hard work and perseverance can pay off. Though it was a great victory, Bruno’s new status wasn’t enjoyed for long. He lost his title to Mike Tyson in 1996 in a 3 round demolition and soon announced his retirement.
Despite his short title reign, Frank Bruno still remains a firm favourite with boxing fans. His place in British sporting history is firmly cemented.
Written and contributed by Nigel Hinds, Twitter- @tawallah23
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