Thirteen years ago in Barcelona, a brilliant amateur by the name of Wayne McCullough captured Olympic silver. At the time it was considered a noteworthy accomplishment, as his only loss during the Games came at the hands of a young Cuban by the name of Joel Casamayor. Little did he know that the feat would later become symbolic of his overall professional career accomplishments: always fighting his heart out, but forced to settle for second place in the biggest fights of his career.
That line of thinking has become so prevalent throughout the industry that WBC super bantamweight champion Oscar Larios doesn’t seem too concerned in defending his title against “The Pocket Rocket” Thursday night (live from The Palace in Leemore, CA on FoxSports’ The Best Damn Sports Show Period at 8:00 PM/ET). Whereas most prefer to focus solely on their next fight, Larios has already signed on for an April unification bout with undefeated WBO champion Joan Guzman.
That bout is contingent upon Larios pulling out a win against McCullough. McCullough insists that such a bout will never take place – at least not with Larios going in as WBC champion.
“All I can really say about (Larios’) plans for the future is if he’s already looking toward a fight in April, then he’s going to have one hell of a hard time on Thursday night,” McCullough told TheSweetScience.com during an exclusive interview while en route to Leemore with his wife and manager Cheryl. “I keep hearing from all of these people that I’m supposedly done, and that I’m ‘all’ that stands in the way of a unification bout in April. So I guess I will need to apologize after our fight for ruining such plans.”
McCullough has been known to ruin plans and plenty of egos in the past, even if he wasn’t always the winner when all was said and done. Yasuei Yakushiji believed that he was claiming another scalp when McCullough agreed to travel to the then WBC bantamweight champion’s homeland of Japan to fight for the title. When it was over, Yakushiji not only lost his crown to Wayne, but subsequently retired five months later without so much as another fight.
Former phenomenon and knockout artist supreme Naseem Hamed was confident that he would be the first to not only dent the best chin in boxing, but also knock him out - so much so that he went as far as to attempt to predict the exact round and time that he would do so. When that time came and went (2:37 into the third round, give or take a few seconds), so did Hamed’s game plan. McCullough’s chin never went, as he ended Hamed’s four-and-a-half year, 18-fight KO streak, though dropping a unanimous decision in the process.
Erik Morales also found out the hard way that fighting McCullough was no walk in the park. Defending his WBC 122-pound title for the eighth time, Morales was given two things he had yet to receive in his championship reign: a distance fight and an all-out war. Unfortunately, Wayne was once again left playing the role of bridesmaid, as Morales won a unanimous decision in having his nine fight knockout streak come to a halt.
If there was any other consolation prize to be gained, it would be that the fight served as the first of a series of life and death struggles Morales would find himself in over the years. But the fight would be McCullough’s last for the next three years, as the British Boxing Council placed him on medical suspension due to initial discoveries of a congenital cyst on his brain.
Additional tests would provide Wayne with a clean bill of health and he returned to the ring in 2002. However, he found himself in an all too familiar role the following year as he challenged for Scott Harrison’s WBO featherweight crown. Only this time there was no consolation prize for coming in second place. Instead, he received the worst beating of his pro career, with the Scot coming oh so close in the eighth round to be the first person to stop McCullough inside the distance. With his ear seemingly ready to fall off and his senses nearly separated from the rest of his body, Wayne somehow summoned up the strength to not only survive the round, but the fight itself, as he managed to cross the finish line in registering his fourth – and last – defeat.
Admitting afterward that he had no business fighting a featherweight, let alone fighting a lightweight, McCullough took another break before returning last September with the intention of campaigning at junior featherweight. It is at this weight where he feels he can return to glory, despite having twice failed in the past to capture a world title within the division.
“Call it what you want – luck of the Irish, third time’s a charm, whatever. This is my third crack at the WBC super bantamweight title and I know that in my heart that this time will be the one where I come out on top. I’m through with settling for runner-up in these fights. I know good and well that this is my last shot, but I’m more prepared for this fight than any other. I have a different team than was the case in prior fights, post-Eddie Futch, God rest his soul. The team I have now is equipped to win, and I intend to prove so against Larios and everyone else I face after that.”
Freddie Roach, who just a year ago was named Trainer of the Year, leads the new team. A former student of the legendary Eddie Futch himself, the “Roach approach” was one that McCullough felt at ease with the moment he stepped foot into The Wild Card Gym last August. It felt as if he were returning to his roots.
“I remember meeting Freddie over ten years ago, way back in 1993, which was the same time that I met (promoter) Dan Goossen. So, when I came to Freddie last year, we immediately clicked, reflected on old times, and went right to work. It reminded me a lot of the training camps I went through with Mr. Futch, well at least similar to those days. Freddie has his own little niche for making it all work and knowing what works for each fighter. He’s special in that regard, and I was able to feel the difference even with only one fight back. It’s how I knew I was ready for this title shot.”
Though the men in the corner have changed, the people behind the scenes have remained the same. Along for the ride since the beginning of his pro career, Dan Goossen is the one person besides Cheryl with whom Wayne credits for making it even this far.
“I honestly can’t say enough about Dan. I remember my pro debut – I came to America three days before the fight and met with Dan. He saw to it that I was well taken care of, and even gave me some extra money on top of my purse. Third fight, same thing. The only hiccup was when we were all part of America Presents, but with Dan now the one in control and in charge (of Goossen Tutor Boxing), that’s not even a concern. I mean, look what he’s done for James Toney’s career. Two years ago, nobody figured James to be where he is today. Nobody ever figured Glengoffe Johnson to be where he is today. Two years in a row, Dan has promoted the man who was named Fighter of the Year. It’s a long way to go before I can claim to make it three, but I do know that I am ready to become his next world champion.”
And ready to claim boxing gold once and for all.