Oliver McCall: Fighting a losing battle

The former world heavyweight champion was working towards a last shot at the big time – until he wound up behind bars. As he awaits his fate, Steve Bunce tells the tale of a doomed struggle against cocaine

Oliver McCall has been a professional boxer for 25 years and an addict for longer, but nobody in his entourage was overly concerned when he left his hotel room in Miami last month to visit the city's zoo.

It was the weekend before a fight, due to take place on 15 February, on a card that also featured McCall's son Elijah, who is trained by his father, and the excursion must have seemed innocent enough. McCall – the former WBC world heavyweight champion, famous for his trio of title fights in the Nineties when he knocked out Lennox Lewis at Wembley in 1994, lost on points to Frank Bruno in 1995 and finally broke down in tears in a rematch with Lewis in 1997 – is a big animal lover. But there is a side to the once fearsome "Atomic Bull" that is less naive, and events soon led to a low ebb that now look likely to finally end a proud fighter's career.

That Saturday, McCall was arrested and charged with possession of crack cocaine, possession of a crack pipe, and a violation of his latest in a long, long line of paroles. Now, still, he is being held at Broward County detention centre in Miami.

In the mugshot from his arrest, McCall, now 44, has a sickening cartoon quality, his eyes at mad angles and his face a wretched reminder of crack's destructive ability. The fight he was preparing for would have been McCall's 66th in a career that started in obscurity on the forgotten circuit that exists in many American cities.

The fighter's struggle with drugs has led to prison terms, months in rehab and most savagely the night at the Las Vegas Hilton when McCall started to cry and howl during the vacant title fight against Lewis. It took Lewis, the referee, the millions watching on TV and the crowd a long time to realise that they were witnessing an addict going through the most naked and aggressive withdrawal from crack. In McCall's corner the two men in charge of trying to get his head and body right knew exactly what was happening.

"Oliver has his problems and you better hope that you never have the same," said Greg Page, the former heavyweight champion who was working the corner with George Benton, a one-time contender whose career was ended when he was shot in the Sixties. Page was an addict and he knew exactly what was happening, but from his perch on the ring steps he had no way of knowing that in a few years his life would nearly end after just one more fight.

In 2001 Page, a man who held the real world heavyweight title, suffered a head injury after a fight for the Kentucky heavyweight title at a lap- dancing club in a remote outpost called Erlanger. Page was due to receive just $1,500 for his work in the makeshift ring. His purse was useless when he had a massive clot scraped from the surface of his brain and he never fully recovered; last year he fell out of bed and was strangled by the same tubes that helped him breathe. The death hit McCall hard.

In Las Vegas the day after the macabre spectacle of the Lewis fight there was a truly bizarre attempt by McCall and his people to claim that "acting crazy" was part of the tactic to beat the stoic Brit. Even McCall laughed at the end of the half-hearted excuse. It is claimed that Lewis has reached out on several occasions since that night to help McCall, but the reality is that only McCall can help McCall and he has repeatedly fallen deeper into his addiction since that disturbing day.

It is amazing that in the shocking fallout from the Lewis defeat McCall was still able to put together enough meaningful wins to get right back into world title contention in 2007. It is possibly even more remarkable to think that a win against Lawrence could have seen the "Atomic Bull", as McCall is known, just a fight away from another world title at the age of 44. "I keep forgetting that everybody who shakes my hand is not my friend," McCall said one night in London before losing his world title to Bruno. In the build-up to the Bruno fight McCall, who was never far from his last rehab visit, was under constant scrutiny; it had been the same in the weeks before beating Lewis the previous year: he needed to be protected from his addictions.

There is a very real chance that McCall will receive a long custodial sentence – in which case he will have fought his last.

A spokesman for the centre was unable to confirm whether McCall had watched his son fight last month. Hopefully, he was denied access because Elijah lost for the first time in six fights when he was knocked out without his father in his corner. It's impossible to imagine the despair McCall must be feeling.

The day before he went to the zoo McCall insisted that this was his last chance to work his way back towards another world title fight. "I will quit if I lose and put it all into my son, but right now I'm a fighter first, then I'm a dad, then I'm a trainer." Now, he's a prisoner again – and still an addict.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant

£12024: Randstad Education Leeds: Teaching Assistant September 2014 start - te...

Physics Teacher

£130 - £162 per day + UPS: Randstad Education Hull: Physics Teacher Long Term ...

IT Technician (1st/2nd line support) - Leatherhead, Surrey

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Technician (1st/2nd line support)...

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn