Reliving The Legend: James Toney v Mike McCallum I

Toney and McCallum Give Their All in an Instant Classic

James Toney fights Mike McCallum
James Toney fights Mike McCallum | Credit: Getty Images

James Toney and Mike McCallum Deliver An Instant Classic in 1991

A significant subplot that can provide additional intrigue to a fight is when a young lion battles an established, highly-accomplished veteran. This was the case when James “Lights Out” Toney and Mike “The Body Snatcher” McCallum faced each other on December 13, 1991, at Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.


Toney (28-0-1, 20 KOs) came into this contest as the reigning IBF middleweight champion. The pride of Ann Arbor, Michigan won the belt with a shocking eleventh-round upset of the previous long-reigning IBF champion, Michael Nunn, in May 1991. Outside the ring, Toney was fiery and combative. But once the bell rang, the then-23-year-old was composed and had a style that reminded observers of a foregone era. However, pundits still questioned how good of a fighter he was.

He faced a McCallum (42-1, 34 KOs) in search of a high-profile showcase fight. The pride of Jamaica came into prominence in the mid-1980s in the era of what was known as the Big Four: Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, and Roberto Duran.

McCallum craved fights with any of those four men. But he was burdened with the label that no boxer wants to have, and that was a fighter who is high-risk/low-reward. As a result, the Big Four conveniently avoided him.

Despite that disappointment, McCallum went on to win world titles at 154 and 160. Pundits at the time viewed the 34-year-old as one of the better fights of the decade. When presented with the opportunity to fight Toney, McCallum jumped on it without hesitation.

As an aside, this fight was to be a middleweight unification contest. McCallum was the WBA middleweight champion. But days before the bout, the WBA stripped McCallum of the title when he refused to pay additional sanctioning fees.


What made this fight special was the quality of the action from beginning to end. McCallum was excellent at establishing the jab, landing with right hands up top, and making Toney miss in the first couple of rounds.

Starting in the third, Toney found his range. Cool as a cucumber, the IBF champ tagged The Body Snatcher with counter right hands and left hooks.

The middle rounds saw McCallum gain some momentum. His experience came into play as he used more side-to-side movement, boxed, and did some countering of his own. Toney landed his pound of flesh, especially the right hand. Entering the championship rounds, this one was up for grabs.

It was at this moment that Toney poured it on. He appeared to be the fresher man and picked up the pace in the final two rounds. The champ threw with more force, landing the cleaner and harder shots. Midway through the final round, a Toney left-hook wobbled McCallum.

Sensing a warrior that was wounded, Lights Out went for the finish. But McCallum’s toughness and experience helped him make it to the final bell. In the end, the bout was scored a split decision draw (116-112 Toney, 115-113 McCallum, 114-114).


Toney and McCallum fought each other two more times. In August 1992, Toney defeated McCallum by a majority decision. Their trilogy bout ended up with Toney winning by a unanimous decision in February 1997. However, their first match was the best of the three, by far. It was the Fight of the Year for 1991.

Due to Toney’s stoppage win over Nunn and performance against McCallum, pundits named him Fighter of the Year for 1991. Toney went on to win world titles at super middleweight and cruiserweight. McCallum went on to win a world title at 175. Both men eventually were inducted into the boxing Hall of Fame, and James Toney – Mike McCallum I was one of the great fights of the 1990s.

By: Michael Wilson Jr.

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Mike is the host of boxing podcast "Pound 4 Pound Boxing Report" and is a Senior Writer for