Boxing: Bruno survives to inherit his fortune

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The Independent Online
Barely an hour after a grimly achieved points victory over Oliver McCall for the World Boxing Council championship established Frank Bruno as only the second British heavyweight this century to challenge successfully for at least a share of the richest prize in sport, his future was being calculated in multiples of seven figures.

From the moment of unanimous declaration, Bruno's triumph at the fourth time of asking was a moveable feast. First, an easy defence to maintain the impetus in national popularity re-affirmed at Wembley Stadium late on Saturday, then the riches that would come from another effort in the real world of heavyweight boxing. Represented most alarmingly by Mike Tyson, that world also includes Lennox Lewis, who violently stopped Bruno in defence of the WBC title two years ago before a sensational loss to McCall last September.

On the understanding that the WBC put him forward to challenge the winner of Saturday's contest and firm in the belief that their No 1 contender, Tyson, will first take on Bruce Seldon for the World Boxing Association championship, Lewis and his associates are pressing for a re-match with Bruno. "I don't see how they can refuse us," Frank Maloney said when taking a call at ringside from Lewis, who is in the United States preparing for next month's contest against Tommy Morrison in Atlantic City.

However, yesterday Don King, who controls most of what he surveys in the heavyweight division, including Bruno through an alliance with Frank Warren, and has close ties with the WBC, was as vague as it was possible to be in the circumstances. "There are a number of options out there for Frank," he said. King mentioned Axel Schulz and Franz Botha, who meet for the vacant International Boxing Federation version of the championship in Berlin in December, but Lewis, unquestionably because of a commitment to the rival Duva organisation, Main Events, did not appear to be under serious consideration.

Whatever the result of Saturday's contest, King was guaranteed to be a winner but, because of the commercial influence exerted by Bruno's wife, Laura, he will find the new champion more difficult than McCall in negotiation and settlement. This explained a great deal of flattery. "Fine woman," King trumpeted.

However you analyse cause and effect, and at the risk of appearing churlish, this was not a great heavyweight championship fight. It is no disparagement of Bruno to say that McCall was mostly responsible.

When he was expected to apply pressure, especially in the middle rounds, McCall seldom put two punches together. Where it had been felt he would seek to take Bruno out, he made virtually no use of right hand power.

It had been believed that McCall was superior technically, but after 12 hard rounds he left the impression of a sparring partner who got lucky against Lewis. Bruno looked a lot stronger at the start, and the defending champion could do little at close quarters.

Bruno's record of vulnerability against big hitters had raised the notion that it would be foolish to go head to head with McCall, but he was quickly successful in trading punches, raising a bump under the champion's left eye and forging ahead in the first three rounds. This was to the immense satisfaction of the challenger's many supporters. "Broonho, Broonho," they chanted on seeing their man stand up stoutly. Patent limitations in technique were forgiveable.

Eventually, Bruno's countenance was his receipt for the transaction. His features slowly changed until the man who came out for the 12th round did not completely resemble the man who arrived in the ring to the flash of laser beams and a cannonade of fireworks bursting above the ancient arena.

In fact, by then Bruno was conveying the impression that he would again end up as a great British loser. Responding at last to the instruction to clinch in a crisis, wrapping the suddenly rampant McCall in a wide embrace, Bruno survived an onslaught in the 11th round but, when they came together once more, the signs of despair were immediately familiar. Bruno's mouth dropped open and up went his head in a vain attempt to avoid the champion's rushes.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that had McCall simply taken a step back Bruno could not have avoided falling on to punches that would surely have ended his career in the ring.

Fortunately for the challenger and the thousands who urged survival, McCall was too desperate in application. Making the mistake of staying in on Bruno's heaving chest, he passed up the opportunity.

This should not take anything away from Bruno who outscored McCall for most of the contest. Until the strength went from his legs, he fought gamely, keeping the champion off with a ramrod left, sometimes surprising him with solid hooks and uppercuts.

Nevertheless, McCall's cornermen found his lack of purpose inexplicable. "We couldn't get him going until it was too late," one of them said.

Others were damning in assessment. "The worst performance l've ever seen from a heavyweight champion," the former title-holder, Ingemar Johanesson, said. "All credit to Bruno, but McCall brought very little to the contest."

Understandably, this was of no consequence to Bruno who thanked just about everybody apart from his original mentors, Mickey Duff and Terry Lawless. "They created him," Jarvis Astaire said.

Gracious in defeat, McCall gave Bruno full credit. "Frank deserved to win," the former champion said. "I just couldn't get going. I was too relaxed."

An improved fighter, more ring-wise than in previous title attempts, Bruno deserved his victory, but nobody should run away with the idea that it has made Tyson nervous.

n Nigel Benn made the ninth successful defence of his WBC super-middleweight title on the Wembley undercard, stopping the American Danny Perez in the seventh round.