Protective match-making and relentless lobbying finally paid off when Bruno, who challenges Oliver McCall for the World Boxing Council title at Wembley Stadium tonight, was worked into contention for the World Boxing Association title through an easy victory over a former title-holder, Gerrie Coetzee, the South African so undertrained that he was rolled over in one round. "This is the best heavyweight we've ever had," Bruno's former manager, Terry Lawless, said, excitedly. "Maybe the best in the world."
In the nine years since Bruno was led glassy-eyed to his corner after being stopped by Tim Witherspoon when challenging for the WBA belt, the public's perception of him has altered considerably. After three failed championship attempts, each ending with him stricken, Bruno is no longer seen to be the genuine article but a fighter who deserves to be rewarded for doughty efforts.
Despite being limited technically, suspect in stamina and short on survival instinct, Bruno has had difficulties in finding gainful employment. He is ponderous in execution but in respecting his great strength and power nobody in the heavyweight division thinks him to be a pushover. Dangerous for five or six rounds is the word on him.
In preparing McCall for a second defence of the title he took violently from Lennox Lewis, the American's advisors have understandably stressed the manner of Bruno's defeats - only four in 43 professional contests. "You see one and you see them all," George Benton said this week. "The guy gets full marks for bringing trouble to the ring, then bingo, he gets hit and the lights go out on him. He was ahead against `Bonecrusher' Smith, ahead against Witherspoon, ahead against Lewis, but when a crisis came along he couldn't handle it. That ain't something you can put into a fighter. That's something he's gotta be born with."
Bruno has never been knocked flat but a grotesque memory is of him slumped on the ropes in Las Vegas, senses scrambled by the punches Mike Tyson had poured into him. "He just don't know how to react," Benton added.
In a crisis the natural fighter employs manoeuvres that fall outside the rules of competition. He grabs, he holds, he wrestles. Experience brings the realisation that there is no sense in bravado. Better to take a count on one knee than a battering.
Reports that Bruno has been practising survival techniques at his training camp in Leicestershire are not encouraging for his supporters. As a famous trainer, the late Freddie Brown, used to say: "Don't think about what the other guy can do to you, think about what you're going to do to him."
As all Bruno's opponents since the loss to Lewis in Cardiff two years ago proved to be dedicated pacifists, it is difficult to assess his chances against a champion who has a history of drug abuse and cannot be relied upon to be the same man two days running.
It is possible that the determined McCall who struck Lewis out of the championship picture in September last year, responding perfectly to instruction, may never again be seen in the ring. If so, and taking a laboured first defence against one of boxing's ancients, Larry Holmes, into account, Bruno could justify parity in the betting.
Nobody goes to the ring in better condition or more committed than the British challenger and it has latterly entered his head that etiquette has little relevance in the fight game. He can be as rough as the next man. Another Bruno plus is the stiff if predictable left jab he employs in prelude to clubbing rights.
At 16st 4lb, his weight for the Lewis fight, McCall is lighter by more than a stone but has advantages in stamina, durability and punch speed, and can match Bruno's right-hand power. As Bruno proved when shaking Tyson with a left hook and giving Lewis all sorts of trouble until caught by a counter, he can be a handful for anyone in the early rounds, which is probably when the American will be most at risk.
But if there is no substance to rumours that McCall has been less than spartan in preparation, especially in the mileage department, he has to be fancied. He may even succeed in getting to Bruno early. "Oliver acted on what Manny [Emanuel Steward] told him about Lewis and he obeyed the instructions he was given during the Holmes fight," Benton said this week. "But nothing surprises me about this guy."
In boxing most things are relative. Preceding Tyson's comeback two weeks ago, Bruce Seldon's defence of the WBA title against Joe Hipp did not raise a flicker of interest in the audience. Today's contest will be seen in the United States by subscribers to the Showtime cable network but was not considered attractive enough to justify pay-per-view pricing. No American newspaper has bothered to assign a reporter and all thoughts of a sell-out at Wembley can be discounted.
Of course, this of no consequence to the protagonists. However much the idea of being known as a heavyweight champion appeals to Bruno there is much more at stake than the WBC title. There is a share in the fortune guaranteed by Tyson's renewed presence in the division. It should be enough to ensure that McCall leaves the ring a winner.
n Nigel Benn, who defends his WBC super-middleweight title on the undercard, weighed in at 11st 12 1/4lbs, last night. His American opponent, Danny Perez, weighed 11st 13lb.
TALE OF THE TAPE
OLIVER McCALL v FRANK BRUNO
WBC heavyweight title contest
(Wembley Stadium, today)
30 AGE 33
N Carolina BORN Hammersmith
6ft 1ins HEIGHT 6ft 3ins
16st 10lb 12oz WEIGHT 17st 9lb 10oz
17ins NECK 18ins
48ins/49ins CHEST 47ins/52ins
79ins REACH 82ins
17ins BICEP 17ins
14ins FOREARM 14ins
10ins WRIST 10ins
14ins FIST 14ins
34ins WAIST 34ins
26ins THIGH 24ins
9ins CALF 10ins
9ins ANKLE 9ins
157 ROUNDS BOXED 156
31 FIGHTS 43
26/5 WINS/LOSSES 39/4
18 STOPPAGES 38
7 1ST RD WINS 13
7 2ND RD WINS 10
14 INSIDE 6RDS 34
2 12RD DISTANCE 0
2 WORLD TITLE FIGHTS 3
14 WORLD TITLE RDS 23
Referee: Tony Perez (P Rico). Judges: Malcolm Bulner (Aus), Newton Campos (Bra), Ray Solis (Mex).Reuse content