Skip to main content
Original Issue

Drawing on Experience

Wily Mike McCallum drew with IBF middleweight champ James Toney

The young face was empty of expression, an assassin's mask carved in cold stone. Only the eyes, dark marbles ablaze with fire, showed the fury still burning fiercely within 23-year-old James Toney, the IBF middleweight champion. "You blind bastard," he snarled at Milton Chwasky, the bespectacled attorney for Mike McCallum, the recently defrocked WBA middleweight champion, who had just weathered 12 ferocious rounds against Toney, escaping with a draw last Friday night in Atlantic City.

At the postfight press conference, Chwasky said that while it had been a great fight, he thought his fighter had won. Growling, Toney leapt to his feet and moved toward the startled 51-year-old attorney. Two members of Toney's entourage and a Trump Plaza security guard struggled to hold him back. "Let me go!" Toney yelled. "I want to hit him."

That was something Toney had done to McCallum for most of the evening. Fortunately for McCallum, he has one of the five great chins in the world; the other four are on Mount Rushmore. For 36 minutes the undefeated Toney, who had 20 knockouts in 29 fights, crashed right-hand rockets against that unyielding jaw. His 35-year-old challenger, who had won 42 of 43 fights, never wavered. The relentless Toney got a lesson in courage and finesse from a cagey veteran who had held the WBA championship from 1989 until early December, when he was relieved of the title by the Panamanian family of boxing's alphabet mobsters. WBA officials had demanded that McCallum defend his title against Steve Collins, the challenger he had defeated in 1990.

"The WBA wanted $30,000 from McCallum's purse, plus a $35,000 exception fee for letting him fight Toney," said Chwasky. "We were going to go along with that. Then they came back and demanded we give Barney Eastwood, Collins's manager, another $50,000 for stepping aside. That's when we said no."

McCallum's purse for fighting Toney was $500,000, $50,000 more than the IBF champion received. The WBA's demands would have sliced McCallum's purse by $115,000. Instead of forking over, Chwasky took his case to Seth Abraham, president of Time Warner Sports, who backed McCallum against the WBA. Abraham assured Chwasky that the company's pay-per-view service, TVKO, would give McCallum his full purse even if the WBA stripped him of its title.

"I really believe these organizations are on their way out," said Abraham. "This was a Gillette Friday Night fight of the '40s, a great fight, and none of those organizations were around back then."

As expected, Toney came out like a tornado, his hard punches amazingly fast but frenzied. Early on, McCallum turned him away with wisdom: sliding side to side, circling just beyond danger, spinning his opponent into moments of frustration, using his jab to set up well-placed shots to the head.

Late in the second round, Toney caught McCallum with a double hook to the head, dropping him for a count of three. Referee Steve Smoger called it a slip, a ruling that could have gone either way.

Slowly, Toney's youth and the rage of his attack began to wear down the older fighter, causing McCallum to pause before he fired back. Toney would crash a stunning right against McCallum's head, and while everyone was waiting for him to fall, McCallum would step in and hammer Toney in return.

Toney would have won if Smoger had credited the champion with a knockdown in the second. That would have given Toney the round 10-8, changed judge Robert Cox's final tally from 114-114 to 115-114 in Toney's favor and resulted in a split decision for the champion. Judge Gary Merritt scored the fight 116-112 for Toney. Judge Tom Kaczmarek, who should have marked his card in braille, thought McCallum won 115-113.

During the postfight press conference Toney was still in a fighting mood. When asked if he wanted a rematch, he turned to McCallum and fired, "Let's do it now." McCallum, his face a swollen mass, smiled uneasily.



McCallum (right) and Toney took turns landing rockets through 12 punishing rounds.