LONDON — The lovable loser from London finally became a boxing winner last night.
Bloodied, weeping, yet still standing, Frank Bruno claimed a 12-round unanimous decision over Oliver McCall of Chicago to grab the World Boxing Council heavyweight championship before a frenzied, flag-waving crowd at Wembley Stadium.
On his fourth and presumably final try, the British national hero with a weightlifter's body, sledgehammer jab and glass chin finally won a slice of boxing's greatest prize.
There may be too many title belts to go around a lackluster division, but don't tell that to the Britons who danced in the aisles and sang "Land of Hope and Glory" in the tumultuous moments after the decision was announced.
And don't tell it to Bruno, 33, who was knocked silly in three previous championship fights, but who dished out enough punishment in the early rounds to pile up enough points and withstand McCall's late rally. Bruno became the fourth Briton to hold a world heavyweight title, although the last Brit to win an undisputed heavyweight championship was Bob Fitzsimmons in 1897.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," Bruno said while sitting on the ring apron, alternately talking and weeping after the victory.
"I'm just glad I won," said Bruno (40-4). "All of the years I've been dreaming of this. Everyone who stood behind me, I thank them. It was tough, but I've done it."
McCall, 30, who beat Lennox Lewis to take the crown in September 1994, saw his championship reign end after two fights. Judge Malcolm Bulner gave Bruno a 115-113 victory. Newton Campos and Fay Solis each had Bruno the winner by 117-111.
"Give Bruno credit for fighting a courageous fight," said McCall (26-6).
In the opening rounds, Bruno unloaded a barrage of left jabs that left McCall stunned. McCall absorbed the punishment, put up little defense and waited until the fifth round to throw a meaningful punch. But by then, the challenger was confident and ahead on points.
As the fight wore on, it became apparent that McCall's last hope to retain the title was to win by a knockout.
McCall hurt Bruno with an uppercut in the 11th, and in the 12th, McCall shoved the local hero around the ring and unloaded a hard right to Bruno's head. McCall banged Bruno with another body shot and a left-right combination. Bruno, bleeding from the mouth, hanging on desperately, turned the final minute into a dance of attrition.
On the same card, Virgil Hill of Fargo, N.D., gained a unanimous decision over Drake Thadzi, a Malawi-born fighter based in Canada, to retain his World Boxing Assn. light-heavyweight title, and Britain's Nigel Benn knocked out Danny Ray Perez of Albuquerque in the seventh round to retain his WBC super-middleweight title.