Years later, and still can’t
pull trigger on hunch!

Mar 6, 2007 3:01 AM

We’ve all got our favorite woulda, coulda, shoulda gambling stories. One of mine took place in London where the unwashed set had gathered in 1994 for Lennox Lewis’s defense against the longtime Mike Tyson sparring partner, Oliver McCall.

Two of my colleagues, Ron Borges of the Boston Globe and Wallace Matthews of wherever he was working that week (currently New York Post), and I had a certain lack of faith in Mr. Lewis. It developed especially after he seemed to tire badly and was rocked by Tony Tucker in a previous defense.

The Atomic Bull, we knew, could punch and had one of the best chins in the game. We smelled major upset and planned to bet McCall by knockout in every round except the first. The fight we thought would be a feeling-out process and that if Lewis was still standing by the 12th round, he’d be running.

The odds on a second-round KO by McCall were 35/1. Alas. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. I had trumped our logic with one fleeting thought: I just could not imagine anyone saying, "The winner, and new heavyweight champion, Oliver McCall”¦."

Borges and Matthews have never forgiven me. Of course, I did not put their money in my safe deposit box. They could have bet without me. But in some way, they agreed with how outlandish "new heavyweight champion, Oliver McCall" sounded.

This is all by way of introduction to the March 10 heavyweight title fight in Mannheim, Germany, that will be shown by HBO. Favorite son, Wladimir Klitschko, defends his share of the division’s confusion, against 36-year-old Ray Austin.

I thought I could see some parallels with the McCall upset. Klitschko, like Lewis, would be fighting at "home" — the Ukrainian is wildly popular in Germany. Like Lewis, Kllitschko as perhaps the best of today’s poor lot looks amazingly vulnerable to another undeserving Don King fighter.

I would imagine if there was a line on this apparent mismatch it would be at least 10/1, maybe even 25/1. Klitschko, since being resurrected by Emanuel Steward, may have established himself last year as the division’s top dog with convincing knockouts of Chris Byrd and previously undefeated Calvin Brock.

Still, it is difficult to have much confidence in a man stopped by Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster. The same man dropped three times by Samuel Peter and wobbled by DaVarryl Williamson. It seems every time an opponent raises a fist in anger, the younger of the Klitschko brothers runs into retreat.

Just when I began to think about untold riches, it dawned on me that while Klitschko may not be a Lennox Lewis, Ray Austin is hardly another Oliver McCall.

"The winner, and new heavyweight champion, Ray Austin”¦"

Very unlikely. McCall first fought Lewis coming off five knockouts in a row, including one over (giggle) former WBOgus champion, Francesco Damiana. But he had beaten such as Bruce Seldon, Jesse Ferguson, Lionel Butler and others of that ilk. His only losses were on points, to such as Tony Tucker (by split decision), Buster Douglas and Orlin Norris. Plus, he had a big right hand and Mr. Steward in his corner that night. (Later, of course, Emanuel jumped to Lewis).

Austin is 36. His last "great" victory was a split decision over Owen Beck. He also won a split decision against Sedreck Fields. His last fight was a lucky draw with Sultan Ibragimov.

A couple of fights ago, he was held to another draw by Larry Donald. The Donald draw is a much better reference than earlier no-decisions with Zuri Lawrence and Lance Whitaker.

In other words, even if you could find someone willing to lay long odds on Klitschko, there should be no rush to judgment. This is an overlay.

Stranger things have happened, but this is one of those fights where any money wagered should be considered a prime example of March Madness.

Save the rent. Just remember, horse racing’s Kentucky Derby is coming up!

Footnote: I did bet on McCall for his rematch with Lewis years later. That was the one where he broke out crying in the ring. I still remember Lewis turning his back and running in the second round when McCall threatened to throw a right hand.