Fantasy Fights: Mike McCallum vs. Oscar De La Hoya

By Cain Bradley on February 28, 2017
Fantasy Fights: Mike McCallum vs. Oscar De La Hoya
The so-called fabulous four stayed away from the impressive and dangerous McCallum.

De La Hoya is very difficult to evaluate. He had a very weird way of being good and often looks like he does not really excel at anything…

A dream fight between two boxers at any stage of their career. This time we clash two light middleweights [1][2] and see which one comes out greater.

Mike McCallum was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1956. He has stated that as a youth, he would rather box instead of being interested in football or cricket like his contemporaries. From the age of nine he would box in makeshift rings in the street. It was there he was noticed by Jamaican legend, Errol Corinthian. Errol believed he saw a natural talent in Mike McCallum so he took him to the gym. Trained with two of the island’s greatest in Bunny Grant and Percy Hayles, his talents were nurtured. At 16 he was the amateur champion of Jamaica having barely been in the gym a couple of months. At only 17 and very inexperienced compared to some of the Americans and Cubans he entered the World Championships. He lost by stoppage to Clint Jackson, a defeat he would avenge. At 19 he was an Olympic quarterfinalist losing to Reinhard Skricek on a split decision. He was American Golden Gloves champion the next couple of years with impressive wins over Roger Leonard and Marlon Starling. Then in 1978 he won the Commonwealth Games. His impressive international performances continued with the 1979 Pan American Games where he got to the final only to lose to impressive Cuban Andres Aldama who stopped him via left hook. Aldama would go on to win gold at the Olympics but McCallum missed out due to acute appendicitis.

Oscar De La Hoya was a third generation boxer coming from Los Angeles, California. At 17 he was a national champion and would win gold at the Goodwill Games. When his Mother died of breast cancer later that year, he would use it as inspiration for the 1992 Olympics. He tore through the Olympics at Lightweight and beat world champion Marco Rudolph 7-2 in the final. He was dubbed Golden Boy by the American media, a moniker that would stay with him throughout his career. His debut would come in November of that year. He made a blistering start to his career and in his twelfth bout won the WBO super featherweight title, stopping the unbeaten Jimmi Bredahl. He would make one successful defense before moving up to lightweight.

McCallum would turn professional not long after missing the Olympics. He was soon training at the Kronk gym, where he engaged in some of the best sparring known to man. “Mighty Mike” as he was known would win his first fourteen bouts all by stoppage, before his first big test. It was Kevin Perry, with a similar résumé. McCallum punished him throughout the whole fight with his jab on his way to a victory. A couple of fights later he took on Ayub Kalule, a former world champion. He was once again dominant, with the uppercut being the key shot this time. A few more victories took him to the precipice of a title shot. He was the mandatory for Roberto Duran but the Panamanian chose to fight stablemate Thomas Hearns. As part of the agreement Duran did have to give up his WBA title. He would win the championship with a unanimous victory over Sean Mannion, a solid victory to become Jamaica’s first world champion. With new trainer George Benson he would travel to Italy, one of the few times he fought outside the US, to box the strong Luigi Manchillio. He was out skilled by David Braxton but damaged him with cutting blows that saw the referee stop the fight in round eight. A third defense took place against Julian Jackson. The power punching Hawk came out all guns blazing against McCallum. He doled out some early punishment but McCallum would come back with an overhand right-left hook combination to an open opponent to stop Jackson in round two. In a revenge bout against Kronk boxer Milton McCrory he would trail early and the two would spend the late rounds engaging in exciting combat. His precise punches would open up facial injuries and stop McCrory after a punishing combination on the ropes in round ten. His final defense would come against Donald Curry who he would trail on the scorecards but finish with a perfect right uppercut-left hook combination in round five. McCallum expressed that it came because he had noticed Curry was mechanical in throwing certain combinations.

Oscar stopped Jorge Paez to become WBO champion at lightweight. He made three comfortable defenses before attempting to unify against Rafael Ruelas, the IBF champion. De La Hoya would dominate, stopping Ruelas in round two after twice dropping him. He made two more defenses of his title, winning both by stoppage. He would take on Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez for the WBC light-welterweight title. After Chavez suffered a bad cut, he was stopped in the fourth. He defeated an unbeaten Miguel Angel Gonzalez to set up a pound-for-pound clash for Pernell Whitaker. De La Hoya would win a unanimous decision, although many observers believe he was fortunate. Then he defeated and old Hector Camacho and after a couple of defenses would stop Chavez for the second time. Building up to a mega fight with Felix Trinidad he would defeat Ike Quartey by a split decision and stopped Oba Carr. He would look to unify the IBF belt held by Felix Trinidad instead coming up the wrong side of a controversial decision. De La Hoya was instructed to make sure he did not get knocked out in the last few rounds as he already had a strong lead on the cards. It turned out, he did not have that lead. Unable to come to terms on a rematch with Trinidad he agreed a fight with Shane Mosley. Mosley would defeat De La Hoya as he came on strong in the second half of the fight. De La Hoya would take time out of the ring whilst he engaged in a court case with Bob Arum. His return to would see him stop the tough Arturo Gatti in the fifth. He would move up again, this time to take on Javier Castillejo for the WBC light-middleweight crown. De La Hoya was dominant, including a knockdown in the twelfth round. After fifteen months of injury and negotiations, he stepped in the ring with rival Fernando Vargas. It was a close bout as both fighters took rounds up until the tenth where De La Hoya stunned Vargas. The eleventh would see De La Hoya sustain his assault, dropping Vargas and when he returned to his feet, he stopped him in the corner with a flurry.

McCallum would move to middleweight after the Curry victory. Against WBA champion Sumbu Kalambay, he again travelled to Europe. He appeared listless that day and McCallum suggested that not knowing his opponent really hindered him for this bout. It was a close bout but a clear loss. After three wins he would take on Herol Graham for the WBA middleweight belt. He won on a split decision with points deducted for low blows costing Graham. Steve Collins and Michael Watson were superb wins, in different manners. Watson was the young prospect systematically taken apart for an 11th round stoppage. The rematch against Kalambay saw him win a split decision. Two fights against a hungry James Toney saw a draw and a majority decision despite being past his prime. James Toney described him as the best he ever fought. His third world title came up at light heavyweight where he beat Jeff Harding before losing three of his last four against Fabrice Tiozzo, Roy Jones Jr. and James Toney.

Oscar would defend his light middleweight title with a stoppage of Yuri Boy Campas. In a rematch with Shane Mosley, De La Hoya would use the jab more. Despite CompuBox stats suggesting he deserved the win this time, he was again defeated. Mosley later admitted to using performance enhancing drugs prior to the bout. Following this, Oscar would step up to middleweight, getting a gift of a decision against Felix Sturm to win the WBO belt. In a big unification, Bernard Hopkins stopped him with a body shot in the ninth. It was another fifteen months before Oscar was back in the ring, this time against Ricardo Mayorga. The mouthy Nicaraguan was dropped in the first round and finally stopped in the sixth. He would meet Floyd Mayweather in a huge contest. De La Hoya controlled some rounds when using his jab but did not do enough work to be given the decision, losing a split. When Mayweather retired, De La Hoya would angle himself for another big fight with a win over Steve Forbes. It was Manny Pacquiao, and his youth along with weight restrictions proved too much for De La Hoya to overcome. With that he retired and would concentrate on his promotional company, Golden Boy.

McCallum was one of the most impressive boxers in an era that contained the so-called fabulous four, all of whom stayed away from the dangerous McCallum. He was versatile, a technician who could box on the outside of a boxer punching who could box at close range and land powerful shots. He is most known for his power to the body, but so often these were neat counter punches were he created openings. He was slick and hard to hit. He used his smarts to disrupt opponents and use any trick possible. His defense was basic, using blocks and slips to create openings for his counters. He had an ability to fight at any range but was at his best at the mid range where he could shift angles comfortably. He was tall at just over 5’11 and it made his jab a terrifying weapon. Usefully, he also had an iron chin which stood up to power punchers including Toney and Jackson with incredible toughness. Kalambay gave him troubles with an intelligent style with quick lateral movement and timing.

Perhaps something underrated about De La Hoya was his ability to adapt and we see different versions throughout his career. [3] This fight also takes place at light middleweight—a weight De La Hoya reached when 28. By that point he had significant mileage on the clock. As a converted southpaw he had a superb jab. Emanuel Steward called it one of the “top two or three jabs ever.” [4] The jab was intelligent and often came with a really good feint. The powerful shot was the lead hook, often following an overhand right. His defense also changed his throughout his career. At points he would mainly use blocks and party while other times showing a more fluid style with rolls and slips. For a brief time under Floyd Mayweather Sr. he even utilized the shoulder roll. His defense was never superb but he had a great chin and along with his quick reactions, this mainly kept him out of trouble. His speed and reactions were always impressive and as evidence by his Olympic gold, he was a good boxer who put clever combinations together. He mainly fought in a drowning pressure style but could also box slightly as a counterpuncher. While he was not a one-punch knockout artist, he stopped his fair share of opposition with well placed, fierce combinations.

I have to believe Oscar comes into this fight as the betting favorite. In the first couple of rounds he shows why as his jab is the dominant weapon. Both are tentative and the CompuBox numbers would be especially low. Oscar peppers his jab upstairs and down but does not really manage to do any major damage. Kalambay managed to cause McCallum trouble with the jab variation and Oscar has a similar arsenal. Against the power of McCallum he would not be so fluid with his movements like the Chavez and Whitaker but rather more robotic and upright, looking to block shots. McCallum would at this point probably believe he has a better chance of success making it a battle on the inside. Vargas showed that if you managed to push De La Hoya onto the ropes you could experience success. He also showed it was not easy to do and you needed to do it with cleverness. McCallum could do that and was also clever enough to look to the body in order to slow Oscar down from early. He would also grow into the matchup as he worked out the timing of the De La Hoya jab. You have to think McCallum would gradually slow De La Hoya down. Hopkins finished Oscar off with a shot to the body and against the famed ‘body snatcher’ that is a definite factor. I think after a few rounds in it becomes a 50/50 fight with each pinching rounds. The game changer is the body punch and I think McCallum lands it.

Official Result: Mike McCallum KOs Oscar De La Hoya in Round 9 at 2:17

Footnote 1: I tried so many combinations of light middleweights here. Such a strong division of intriguing matchups but this one, for me, worked best with McCallum
Footnote 2: Thomas Hearns, Michael Nunn, Terry Norris, Wilfred Benitez and Winky Wright were basically the list I considered here
Footnote 3: Oscar De La Hoya is very difficult to evaluate. He had a very weird way of being good and often looks like he does not really excel at anything
Footnote 4: Emanuel Steward had a tendency to over-exaggerate

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  1. tuxtucis 01:34am, 03/05/2017

    De La Hoya started as superfeather and peaked at 135, not 147. I think he was helped by judges both with Whitaker and Quartey. He was never exceptional at 160 or over that weight. He clearly lost vs Sturm, a far lesser fighter than Kalambay. McCallum was maybe the best 154 lbs born fighter of all time. He was good, although unexceptional, even at 160. I think pound for pound he was maybe better than Trinidad.

  2. tuxtucis 01:22am, 03/05/2017

    @Irish Frank Crawford: De La Hoya iron chin? He was floored at superfeather by the likes of Valenzuela and Campanella…and no way, at 154 I see him not winning with a peaking McCallum…

  3. tetumbo 09:44pm, 03/01/2017

    not a good match-up for DLH whose optimal fighting-weight was always 147lbs. he was maxed-out at 154lbs. i also don’t agree with the premise of DLH being particularly ring-smart. on the contrary, he displayed a stubborn dedication to the fight-plan no matter what actually unfolded in the ring (e.g., Shane I, Sturm, Mayweather) but that was usually enough, incompetent scorecards notwithstanding. McCallum (was his actual age ever verified?) was a full-fledged middle who could be outslicked but not outpunched or necessarily outboxed. prime Toney was a tough draw for any fighter but the Kalambay fights exposed a certain degree of discomfort facing fluid or elusive opponents but not game boxer-punchers like DLH who could be lured into a shootout v. McCallum that he wouldn’t win above 147lbs. McCallum just too big, tough, and indomitable at middle for DLH to subdue over 12 rounds and i don’t think we hear the final bell for this one.

  4. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 12:46pm, 02/28/2017

    Actually a well crafted and high quality article based on a false premise….Oscar would have found a way to win….he had no real weaknesses….to the body or otherwise!

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 11:50am, 02/28/2017

    This is what Oscar gets…..all these years later articles are contributed to with the conclusion that his body is there for the snatching!

  6. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 11:35am, 02/28/2017

    It was not a shot to the liver… was not a punch to the solar plexus….hell it was not even a kidney punch….and it for sure was not a KO punch. It was just time for Oscar to put on his act! With his iron chin, a head shot would not have been believable and would have been way beyond his acting ability!

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