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Steve Springer

Nunn Needs a Somebody to Fight Him

November 29, 1987|Steve Springer

It appears that Michael Nunn is not going to fight Frank Tate for the International Boxing Federation title, after all.

Nor is he going to fight soon for the World Boxing Assn. or World Boxing Council titles.

Instead, it looks like Nunn's next opponent might well be somebody you've never heard of.

So what's new, you say? That's the story with most of the people Nunn has fought. Nobody but their manager, and their mother, has heard of them. It's the big reason Nunn is unbeaten. And untested.

That's the knock on the North Hollywood middleweight and it's not entirely fair.

Sure, in amassing a 27-0 record with 18 knockouts Nunn has fought his share of stiffs. Especially in the beginning.

Check the ring record of any big-time fighter and you will find few household names among his early opponents. Most fighters build up their records and acquire their seasoning by facing boxers who often are little more than sparring partners.

Ever heard of Rocky Ramon? He was one of Sugar Ray Leonard's early opponents. How about the legendary Cocoa Kid and Cove Green? They were both early knockout victims of Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

Even an incredible success story like Mike Tyson, heavyweight champion at age 20, began slowly. Tyson needed nearly 20 fights before he was ready to take on bigger names.

Nunn was no different. Blessed with blinding speed, he was a great defensive fighter from the start. But he had to be taught how to punch. Not since Muhammad Ali has there been a boxer who could so effectively drop his hands and still dodge everything thrown his way merely with head and body movements.

It was more ballet than boxing. And that was the problem.

Mention Bolshoi to most boxing fans, and they think you swear with a funny accent. The only dance they want to see is the winner parading around the fallen body of the loser. They want knockdowns galore, plenty of blood and guts.

They had a problem with Nunn--as did the networks, which look not only for winners but entertainers.

Nunn rarely lost a round, but he rarely gained fans in winning. He didn't like to get in and mix it up. Why, he thought, should he stop and plant his feet to deliver punishing blows when he could simply stay out of harm's way and pile up points?

Because, he was told by people such as promoter Bob Arum, the path to a title must be strewn with knockout victims. If Nunn wanted to make it into prime time, he was going to have to slug his way there. Feet of Mercury weren't enough. He was going to need hands of stone. He was going to have to develop a knockout punch.

So he did.

He developed a new style against lesser-known fighters. Nunn has fought seven times this year. Six of those fights ended with a knockout. In his most recent appearance, he won the North American Boxing Federation middleweight title last month by stopping Darnell Knox. Cold.

By the end of the fourth round, Knox's corner had thrown in the towel. Their fighter had a smashed nose and had offered little resistance to Nunn's suddenly dangerous fists in that final round.

With the world middleweight title split three ways, Nunn thought he would go home and wait for offers.

He's still waiting.

Thomas Hearns, the WBC champ, is looking at either Leonard or Hagler. That's certainly understandable.

Sumbu Kalambay, the WBA champion, is scheduled to fight Mike McCallum, who made a name for himself by knocking out former welterweight champion Donald Curry.

But IBF champ Tate, despite receiving a big-money offer from Arum to fight Nunn, apparently will fight Tony Sibson instead in London. And none of the other top middleweights has shown much interest in Nunn.

Why?

For one thing, some network officials still question Nunn's appeal, still picture him as all butterfly and no bee. For another, some fighters don't want to face Nunn because his speed makes them look awkward.

His critics might well be right. Maybe Nunn is boring. Worse, maybe he'd be boring and bad against a higher quality fighter.

For Nunn, however, the waiting game is frustrating.

He's not looking for those stiffs anymore. He's looking for a stiff challenge. It's time to find out what this guy's got. And he'd be the first to agree.

But he's stuck in a real Catch-22.

With no better offers, Nunn will be forced to continue to fight nobodies.

Which will cause his critics to complain that he fights nobodies.

Which might cost him the chance to fight a somebody.

Which will leave him a nobody.

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