LAS VEGAS — Not since the Alamo did anything Texan fall so spectacularly. It may not be as well remembered, but for sheer concussive force, Mike McCallum's one-shot destruction of Donald Curry compares favorably.
Curry, now of Fort Worth but whose constituency once took in all of boxing, was stretched head to toe with that single shot Saturday night, a monstrous cannon, a left hook by the junior-middleweight champion. And so, in the space of milliseconds, Curry's comeback was not validated, while McCallum's secret championship was.
McCallum, trailing on all three judges' cards, delivered it early in the fifth round, catching Curry, his hands down, flush on the jaw. Curry tipped over like a plank and lay calmly in front of his own corner, as if gathering energy for a situp. But referee Richard Steele had gotten to the count of eight before Curry was able to do one. From the sitting positin he gazed across the ring, unfocused. He struggled to his feet but began to collapse backwards when Steele gathered him in his arms.
It was a stunning development, as any outcome is that comes of a single punch. Until that time, the former undisputed welterweight champion--the next Sugar Ray Leonard or Marvelous Marvelous Marvin Hagler, take your pick--was asserting his previous form. It appeared Curry had shrugged off last year's surprising loss to Lloyd Honeyghan and was the promising junior middleweight he said he had grown into.
Although he probably didn't win every round, as judge Jerry Roth scored it, he was definitely the dominant fighter through the first four. His quickness reminded all in the Caesars Palace/HBO audience that youth, indeed, is a wonderful thing. McCallum, who claims to be 30 but who is rumored to be a peer of Happy Chandler, was beaten to many punches by the 25-year-old Curry. "I didn't expect him to be that fast," marveled the Jamaican.
Nor did he expect Curry to hit so hard. McCallum, the longest-reigning and least-rewarded champion in boxing today, had never been down in his career. But he came close. In the second round, Curry (27-2) socked him with a left hook, and McCallum's knees did a nice little jitterbug that was independent of his torso. Afterwards, McCallum simply said, "I was hit today."
Through those early rounds, Curry seemed to sneak in some damaging overhand rights, and his punches in general were more crisp and, according to HBO, roughly twice as accurate. All the same, the less accurate McCallum, 153 3/4, was offering some punishment. Curry's left eye began to swell in the second round and by fight's end had assumed a prominence of its own.
McCallum (32-0), who was making his sixth title defense, thought he recognized an opportunity in the fifth. "I see him going in and out," he said, "and I timed him beautifully. When I showed him my right uppercut, he'd back up. He was covering very good inside, I notice, so I shift from the body to the head. I hit him in the jaw. It was picture-perfect, I think."
It was a work of art, all right. And it was soon done and on canvas for all to see.
Curry didn't think the knockout was all that strategic, but then he didn't remember it, either. His postfight comments were studded with a lot of, "I really don't remembers." About all he could say was, "I just got careless, I got caught. I was pulling back, I was relaxed." He didn't know how relaxed he was about to get.
It is amazing, but that single punch may have ended a promising career. Curry, 154, whose list of future opponents had always included million-dollar names like Hagler and Leonard until his first loss, may not be retired after his second loss, but he is certainly not to be linked with any names beyond six figures. His comeback has been less than promising. Said promoter Bob Arum: "He's a longshot now to get back into a big-buck situation."
For McCallum, who was a 2-1 underdog to retain his World Boxing Assn. title, the victory means as much or more to his career. His payday of $475,000, his highest ever, will surely be exceeded now that he is recognized as a giant killer. The name of Thomas Hearns, three-time champion, was being bandied about before Curry had even hit the deck.
"This is the day," McCallum said softly, "when Mike McCallum gets his recognition." And all it took was one punch.