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Boxing:

McCall says faith powered him back to the top

IBA champ’s next test comes in Franklin Lawrence tonight at the Orleans

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Steve Marcus

Heavyweight boxers Oliver McCall, left, and Franklin Lawrence pose with boxing promoter Frank Luca during a news conference at the Orleans hotel-casino Wednesday, August 19, 2009. The boxers will meet for a heavyweight bout at the Orleans on Friday.

McCall-Lawrence

Heavyweight boxer Oliver McCall, left, and Franklin Lawrence during an official weigh-in at the Orleans hotel-casino Thursday, August 20, 2009. The boxers will face each other in a 10-round heavyweight bout at at the Orleans Friday. Launch slideshow »

FIGHT FACTS

  • Who: Oliver McCall vs. Franklin Lawrence
  • At Stake: IBA heavyweight title
  • Undercard: Demark Scott vs. Isiah McFadden, Brian Battease vs. Robert Guillen, Christopher Spang vs. Stephen McCray, Jeff Watkins vs. Abram Young, Elijah McCall vs. Chad Davis, Lawrence Hughes vs. Marcos Mendias.
  • When: 7 p.m.
  • Where: Mardi Gras Ballroom at the Orleans
  • Tickets: $50 ringside, $25 reserve (Can be purchased at the Orleans box office at 702-365-7075)
  • TV: iBN Sports Al Bernstein Boxing Channel

Beyond the Sun

It was one of the most bizarre scenes in boxing history — heavyweight Oliver McCall sobbing uncontrollably in his corner during a rematch with Lennox Lewis.

It also was the moment McCall knew he needed help.

“No problem I’ve taken the mockery from the world,” McCall said as he gets set for tonight’s fight with Franklin Lawrence at the Orleans. “But as the word says, if they hated me, they’re gonna hate you too.”

“The Atomic Bull” was the first of two men to defeat Lewis, knocking him out in the second round in London in 1994 and taking the World Boxing Council heavyweight title.

But during the rematch at the Las Vegas Hilton in 1997, McCall refused to box in the fourth and fifth rounds and began to cry in the ring. That’s when referee Mills Lane stopped the fight.

McCall battled drug abuse for years and had several run-ins with the law from 1999 through 2006. He credits his faith with helping him through those years.

"I give all the glory to God. He's helped me battle my demons and my past and steered me down the right path," said McCall, who kept a constant smile on his face even as he talked about his much-publicized past.

In May, a rejuvenated McCall (52-9, 37 KOs) returned to the ring for the first time in 19 months. He knocked out John Hopoate in the second round to claim the International Boxing Association world heavyweight title.

Now the 44-year-old champ is dreaming of even bigger titles, like the WBC crown he claimed over Lewis.

“People never thought we would be in a recession either, but here we are,” McCall said to any detractors out there. “Why not me? I’m in great shape, I’m mentally strong and I feel like I did when I was champ.”

First things first. McCall must get through Lawrence tonight at the Mardi Gras Ballroom at the Orleans. Lawrence has a record of 12-1-2 with seven knockouts and hasn’t lost in three years.

“I’m not really leery of nothing,” McCall said. “The only thing about Franklin that is going to make it exciting for me is that I think he’s got a lot of confidence that he can beat me because of our past sparring sessions.

“I believe he’s going to take risks that he shouldn’t take and that’s when he’s going to pay.”

Boxing analyst Al Bernstein said he isn’t surprised by McCall’s comeback.

“The thing I like about Oliver is he is a fellow who lays it all out on the line,” Bernstein said. “He basically tells you everything that’s in his mind and heart. You have to respect a guy that does that.

“He’s working very hard for boxing redemption. He has that one moment that unfortunately, for many people, defines him. He’s been trying for a long time to get past it, and I think he is going to make this one last run and lay it all on the line.”

No matter what happens in the ring, McCall already has the respect of his 21-year-old son, Elijah.

“I’m proud of him. He’s battled a lot of demons in his life and that constant fight showed me how to live my life,” Elijah McCall said. “I think he’s been an inspiration for not only me but several fighters.

“It’s been a tough fight, but he’s already won the biggest fight (cleaning up his life) with his heart and courage.”

Andy Samuelson can be reached at [email protected] or 702-948-7837.

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