Pride of Jamaica: Mike McCallum

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

One of the most complete ring technicians of the modern era, Mike McCallum first came to prominence in the 1978 Commonwealth Games, held in his home country, picking up the gold medal in the welterweight division. 

Born in Kingston, Jamaica on 07th December 1956, he left his native country to turn professional in the United States as a light-middleweight in January 1981. He stopped the American Rigoberto Lopez in the fourth round, going 12-0 before fighting in his home country in his thirteenth contest against Gilberto Almonte.

Unfortunately for the Kingston crowd they only got to see 66 seconds of their man in action, issuing a sixth straight and final stoppage defeat on the Dominican's ledger. It would be Kevin Perry who stopped McCallum's stoppage spree, lasting the full ten rounds in front of the Madison Square Garden crowd in the Jamaican's fifteenth pro outing in June 1982. 

Two fights later he faced the biggest name of his career to date in the guise of ex WBA light-middleweight champion Ayub Kalule. The Ugandan, who set up home in Copenhagen, Denmark, also got off to a great start in the paid ranks. Within three-and-a-half-years he became world champion, dethroning and sending defending WBA champion Masashi Kudo into retirement. The champion made four successful defences, before losing his title and unbeaten record to Sugar Ray Leonard in June 1981.

He won his next four contests and challenged Davey Moore in an attempt to regain his old title. Though the defending champion was vastly less experienced than Kalule, he still had enough ring savvy to stop the Ugandan in the tenth round in July 1982.

Four months later he faced McCallum, in only his fifth outing outside his native Denmark. A right uppercut from the Jamaican put Kalule down in the first round. After seven completed rounds the fight was stopped with the Ugandan on his stool, dropping to 40-3 (19 early), whilst McCallum improved to 17-0 (16 KO's).

McCallum continued to win and due to his fearsome body attacks was starting to become known as the 'Body Snatcher'. By 1984 he became number one contender to WBA light-middleweight champion Roberto Duran. However, the Panamanian wanted a big contest after extending Marvin Hagler the full fifteen rounds for the undisputed middleweight title in November 1983, and elected to face WBC counterpart Thomas Hearns instead.

The World Boxing Association decided to strip Duran of their title and scheduled McCallum and Irishman Sean Mannion to face each other for their vacant belt on the undercard to Marvin Hagler versus Mustafa Hamsho on 19th October 1984. Although Mannion had a solid record of 29-5-1 (10 KO's), he wasn't in McCallum's class, who pocketed the vacant belt by scores of 150-134, 149-136 and 149-133. It was the first time two women judges had scored a world title fight and McCallum became the first-ever Jamaican world boxing champion. The victory was a bittersweet experience for McCallum, as in the build-up he un-expectantly lost his wife, Yvonne, of fifteen years, after an unknown illness, leaving him to look after his young daughter singlehandedly. 

On 01st December 1984 McCallum made the first defence against the tough Italian Luigi Minchillo. The Italian had only lost three and managed to take Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns the distance, without getting knocked off his feet. Again, the champion showed his class and the challenger's corner pulled their man out after thirteen rounds, with McCallum leading by scores of 130-116, 130-118 and 129-119.

McCallum next defended his belt in July 1985, stopping David Braxton on cuts in the eighth round. With a non-title fight in May 1986, he next defended his championship against the hard-hitting Julian Jackson. The U.S. Virgin Islander started his pro career in February 1981 and amassed a ledger of 29-0 with a staggering twenty-seven stoppages, with only Curtis Ramsey extending him into the twelfth round in August 1984, before succumbing to Jackson's power.

The challenger took the first round on two of the judges' cards and managed to sting McCallum with his power. The champion used all his ring craft to avoid the dangerous opponent, managing to drop Jackson in the second. With the challenger trapped on the ropes from McCallum's pressure, the referee Eddie Eckert, saved the Virgin Islander from further punishment at the two-minute and 03 second mark.   

That August he had a non-title fight in Paris, stopping Irving Hines in the fourth round and the following month, staying in the French capital, defended his belt against Said Skouma. The Parisian was stopped in the ninth round as the champion improved to 29-0.

McCallum kicked off his 1987 campaign with an appearance in front of his Jamaican fans. Again, they didn't get to see much of him as he dispatched Leroy Hester in the opening round. Next up for his WBA title was ex WBC welterweight champion, Milton McCrory. 

The challenger boasted an amateur career of 105-15, winning the 1979 World Junior Championships in Japan as a welterweight. He turned pro in September 1980 and blew away his first seventeen opponents before Pete Ranzany took him the ten round distance in April 1982. McCrory carried on winning and in March 1983 he faced Welshman Colin Jones for the vacant WBC welterweight title.

The green strap was left vacant when Sugar Ray Leonard retired due to retinal problems. After twelve rounds the WBC championship remained vacant as both combatants couldn't be separated by the judges. The two boxers faced off again five months later and this time McCrory was given a split decision. 

In his fifth defence, McCrory put his WBC crown on the line with Don Curry, the WBA and IBF champion on 06th December 1985, to decide the first undisputed welterweight champion since Sugar Ray Leonard. Both champions had unbeaten records and a mouthwatering contest looked to be on the horizon.

However, Curry quickly found his range and momentum, stopping McCrory in the second round. In April 1986 McCrory campaigned as a middleweight, winning three in a row, all points decisions over Keith Adams, Doug DeWitt and Jorge Amparo. In March 1987 he dropped down a division to take the vacant NABF with a first round win over Rafael Corona, before facing McCallum in April 1987.

McCrory looked to make a competitive contest in the first few rounds behind his jab and dangerous right hand. It didn't take long for the champion to suss out his former Kronk teammate and went to work on breaking the challenger down. The Jamaican piled on the pressure in the eighth and McCrory was fortunate to hear the bell. By the tenth he had nothing left and went down from a barrage of punches. With blood streaming from a cut eye, Joe Cortez waved the finish at the two-minute and 20 second mark.

Three months later McCallum shared the ring with another former welterweight world champion, Don Curry. Curry had an amateur resume of 400-4, winning an array of titles including the National Junior Olympics in 1977 and the 1980 World Cup as a welterweight. By the end of the year he started out in the paid ranks, and by February 1983, aged twenty-one, he defeated Jun Suk Hwang for the vacant WBA welterweight crown.

Twelve months later, the newly formed IBF recognised Curry as their champion and was pitted against Marlon Starling for both crowns. The two met previously in 1982, with Curry claiming a split decision. This time however, the champion went one better, winning by a unanimous decision.

The defences came thick and fast and by December 1985 he became undisputed welterweight champion with a two-round destruction job of WBC counterpart Milton McCrory. Curry was being touted as the only credible opponent for middleweight king Marvin Hagler. However, that fight never materialised compliments of Britain's Lloyd Honeyghan, who dethroned the weight-drained champion in six rounds on 27th September 1986.

Curry debuted as a light-middleweight in February 1987, winning two bouts by disqualification, both in the fifth round against Tony Montgomery and Carlos Santos, two months later. Curry then faced McCallum on 18th July 1987. The champion, notoriously a slow starter, planned to jump on Curry from the very first round. "I've studied him. He has a great right hand and a good hook. Let's see if he can handle the pressure and my body shots."

The champion started brightly enough, though two of the three judges sided with Curry to take the