In 1994, heavyweight boxer Oliver McCall stunned Lennox Lewis in the second round to capture the WBC heavyweight title. Nearly three years later, the two fought again and McCall stunned everyone. In one of the most bizarre scenes in the boxing world, the fight was called off in the fifth round when McCall suffered a mental breakdown.
Oliver McCall’s boxing career
Oliver McCall was a talented high school basketball player but decided to pursue boxing after winning a pair of Chicago Golden Gloves titles. McCall, known as the Atomic Bull, began his professional boxing career in 1985. He made his pro debut on Nov. 2, 1985, when he knocked out Lou Bailey in the first round.
In the early stages of his career. McCall was being trained by the legendary Joe Frazier. McCall faced Lennox Lewis for the first time on Sept. 24, 1994, when McCall came into the bout with a 24-5 record as a pro. After an even Round 1, the aggressive McCall came out swinging in the second round and knocked down Lewis. The fight was stopped as Lewis staggered while trying to get up. The win secured the WBC heavyweight title for McCall.
McCall then faced former champ, Larry Holmes, on April 8, 1995, and defended his title with a 12-round unanimous decision. Later that year, McCall lost his title when Frank Bruno outlasted him in another 12-round unanimous decision. McCall had 74 professional fights, winning 58 of them. He won 37 of them by knockout. He had a pair of no contests.
The bizarre rematch with Lennox Lewis
On Feb. 7, 1997, Oliver McCall and Lennox Lewis met in a rematch for the vacant WBC heavyweight title. Through two rounds, the fight seemed relatively normal with Lennox having a slight advantage. Then came Round 3. Beginning with the third round, McCall was lifeless. He wasn’t throwing punches, nor was he defending himself.
Between rounds, McCall wouldn’t return to his corner. Instead, he wandered around the ring as if he was lost. Referee Mills Lane called a timeout during the fourth round to ask if McCall was OK and then left the fight resume. After the fourth round, McCall was seen weeping. In the fifth, Mills stopped the fight.
After the fight, McCall’s explanation was just as strange as the fight itself. ”My strategy was — and I know it sounds kind of absurd — was a kind of rope-a-dope,” McCall said in The New York Times. He was referring to a tactic Muhammad Ali once used on George Foreman when Ali leaned on the ropes and made Foreman tire himself out with punches. ”I didn’t quit. I came to win.”
McCall eventually sent to a mental hospital
Immediately after the fight, Marc Shatz, a Beverly Hills clinical psychiatrist, insisted it was a mental breakdown that Oliver McCall suffered. “(McCall) had a nervous breakdown,” Shatz told the Los Angeles Times. “The mind fragments, falls to pieces. In today’s drug world, we always point first to drugs as the cause. It could be stress, anxiety or many other causes. It was an emotional breakdown. I observed all the symptoms first-hand. He walked around the ring. He ignored his corner. His eyes had a glazed look, as if he were in a disassociative state, as if he were not there at all, detached. All that indicates a breakdown. This was someone clearly in mental trouble.”
Two months after the fight, Shatz was proven to be right as Oliver McCall was detained in a mental hospital. According to The Independent, McCall’s wife took out an emergency custody order against him. Documents involving the case said McCall, “presents an imminent danger to (him)self or others as a result of mental illness or is so seriously mentally ill as to be substantially unable to care for (him)self.”
In a 2019 article by BBC Sport, McCall was still fighting at age 54 and said he has what it takes to become the oldest champion ever. “The trials and obstacles I have been through and overcome… I want to be able to finish the sport better than when I started,” he said.