McCall can do the right thing

Harry Mullan says Frank Bruno's title victory may yet go untarnished
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WHEN Chris Finnegan, a drinking man of legendary capacity, won his Olympic middleweight gold medal in Mexico City in 1968, he was so dehydrated by the effort that he could not produce the required urine specimen in the dressing-room. Instead, he set off on a celebratory tour of the city's bars accompanied by a nervous IOC official, test-tube in pocket, who had to wait until four o'clock the following bleary morning before the Finnegan bladder finally cried "enough".

Had the individuals charged with extracting a sample from Oliver McCall at Wembley last weekend shown similar humour and understanding, Frank Bruno's triumph would not now be tarnished by the suspicion that McCall had something to hide. McCall, of course, denies any impropriety and says he was told that having produced what urine he could, he was free to leave. However, that begs the question of why he broke the agreement reached by both camps that the pair would be tested before the fight as well as taking the mandatory test afterwards.

Bruno complied with both requests, McCall with neither, and an industry which loves rumour-mongering and gossip suddenly had the makings of a juicy tale. There had been much talk in the weeks before the fight that McCall, whose history of drug abuse is well known, had not been preparing with the dedication expected of a heavyweight champion, and his performance in the Wembley ring gave the rumours the aura of truth. If he was on anything, though, it was certainly not performance-enhancing: he fought the first seven or eight rounds like a man who had been training on a staple diet of Mogadon and Valium, and the desperate straits in which the exhausted Bruno found himself in the last round made you wonder how different the outcome might have been had McCall got down to serious business earlier.

One has to sympathise with Bruno, whose greatest and bravest triumph will henceforth be recalled with a "yeah, but . . ." caveat. He won beyond argument, using survival techniques so effective he could have been champion in 1986 if he had used them on Tim Witherspoon in the first of his four tries for the title. We had thought it beyond him to learn new tricks at almost 34, but someone - maybe his trainer George Francis, maybe even his hypnotist friend Paul McKenna - taught him how to react when hurt or fatigued. The old Bruno would drop his arms and stand against the ropes taking punches until the referee intervened, which was the pattern in his three failures, but this time the missing piece of the jigsaw slotted in and made the difference between being champion or perennial contender.

Bruno might well have won anyway, even had McCall been training with Spartan intensity instead of having his wife and six children with him. Bruno, as always, had shut himself away from his family and home comforts to prepare for his last chance, and the difference in attitude carried over into the ring. McCall had made his living for years as Mike Tyson's chief sparring partner, and he fought as if that was still his role. A few sparring partners - notably Larry Holmes - made the transition from human punchbag to quality performer, but it seems now that McCall achieved it for one night only, when he wrecked Lennox Lewis in two rounds to become champion.

His dreary and laboured points win over the now-ancient Holmes in his only other defence was, as we suspected , the truer measure of his abilities. There was no technique or craft about his performance at Wembley. He seemed to think that all he had to do was stand there for seven or eight rounds and wait for Bruno's inevitable unravelling, and when that didn't happen he had no Plan B.

Ring historians will not remember McCall kindly, but he has a chance to make amends. Drugs stay in the system for six weeks or more, so if he is "clean" then he has nothing to fear from taking a test now. If it showed positive we would not be any further ahead, as he could argue that he had taken drugs since the fight, when he was no longer bound by World Boxing Council regulations, but if it was negative then Bruno, a decent man and a worthy winner, could enjoy an unblemished triumph.