Dear Oliver McCall

The American WBC heavyweight champion says he wants to do to Frank Bruno what Nigel Benn did to the brain-damaged boxer Gerald McClellan. He shames the sport, says the editor of Boxing News
Click to follow
The Independent Online
When Michael Watson was fighting his way back from the edge of death after his knockout by Chris Eubank, one of the true friends who helped him recover, to a degree that has astonished his neurosurgeons, was Nigel Benn. You clearly care little about boxing, so you may not be aware that it was Watson who, in 1989, ended Benn's unbeaten record when he knocked him out in what was Britain's most-publicised fight of the year. That Benn is now one of the rocks on whom Watson is rebuilding his life is a truer measure of the chivalry and camaraderie of the ring than your half-baked and tasteless threats to "turn Frank Bruno into a vegetable" when you defend your WBC heavyweight title against him at Wembley on 2 September.

The sport's critics, who already have ammunition enough without your contribution, will say that your outburst raises again the question of the ethics of boxing, but they're wrong: the only ethics it throws into question are your own. You claim Gerald McClellan was your best friend, yet you are apparently happy to exploit his plight in a cheap attempt to grab a few headlines and sell a few tickets. Your fault is not that you suffer an excess of honesty, but that you show a callous contempt for your fellow-professionals, men who - whatever their competence - deserve your respect as much as ours.

Boxers are special people, unique among sportsmen in that they risk their very lives each time they go to work. For that reason, outside business hours they are generally the most gentle and easy-going individuals one could meet; getting hit in the head for a living tends to put life's minor irritations into sharp perspective. Fighters like you, and the equally misguided Chris Eubank, are the exceptions to that rule. You may think you are engineering some kind of gladiatorial confrontation with Bruno, but you are wasting your time. It is utterly inconceivable that Bruno, a man, unusually, as decent and humane as his public image suggests, would respond in kind.

There is not even anything new or innovative in bad-taste hype. If you knew your heavyweight history as well as your old employer Mike Tyson does, you would recall that Jack London, in the build-up to Jack Johnson's defeat of James J Jeffries in 1910, exhorted Jeffries to "Wipe the smile off the nigger's face". Or you could ask one of your predecessors as heavyweight champion, the venerable Max Schmeling, about his experiences in America before his rematch with Joe Louis in 1938. That was presented as a practice run for World War II, with Schmeling being unfairly and inaccurately portrayed as a Nazi. Even Louis, or more probably his press agent, said: "This isn't Louis v Schmeling - it's the good old US v Germany."

Actually, the link with Schmeling flatters you. He won the real championship, not the splinter of it which you currently claim, and his dignified bearing throughout his career showed that he, unlike you, appreciated that there was more to being a champion than merely brandishing a green plastic belt.