McCall's earlier reputation as an idler and delinquent was deserved. A father of six, he admits he took up boxing because he was too lazy to get a steady job, and in 1988 he was jailed for 60 days and given five years' probation after trying to supplement his ring earnings with a little burglary. But his behavior over four months of dedicated training for the Lewis fight is proof of the cleansing power of opportunity. Not only did McCall sweat himself into a state of hard and shining fitness, but under Steward's tutelage, he began to throw recognizable hooks, which gave his attack a new dimension.
Above all, he developed an almost maniacal commitment to winning. By the time he reached the Wembley ring, weighing 231 pounds against Lewis's 238 (the heaviest Lewis had ever scaled), McCall had worked himself into such a wild-eyed frenzy that it looked as if his head might explode. With the muscles of his clenched jaw sticking out like rivets, he paced around the ring like a man possessed as Page spoke urgently at his ear.
Lewis's appearance made a contrast with McCall's. What his face suggested was not so much calm as a kind of passive detachment, as if not all of his spirit had turned up. Such impressions can, of course, come from the spectator's imagination, but there was nothing imaginary about the problems that arose for Lewis in the first round. Though he won it with a couple of decent jabs, he did nothing to discourage McCall from storming him.
Throughout the accumulation of his perfect record, Lewis's use of his impressive physical resources in the ring—his 6'5" height and 83-inch reach, his athletic strength and exceptional reflexes—had remained stubbornly amateurish. Some admirers pointed out that Muhammad Ali's style made him the eternal, if divine, amateur. But the hopeful comparison did not help Lewis in that extraordinary second round, which began with Steward counseling McCall to relax. Lewis said later that his disaster was precipitated by efforts to load up with his own right, which was reckoned the heaviest punch in the division. All that ringside observers saw was Lewis's tentative attempt to throw two punches, a left and a right whose soft arcs were never completed as McCall stepped inside with a left hook to the jaw. That hook was real enough, but its main function was to give McCall the rhythmic shoulder movement that helped ensure that the driving right that followed was nothing less than the punch of a lifetime.
There is no doubt that in ending the fight after only one knockdown and 31 seconds of the second round, Lupe Garcia, who was refereeing his 12th title fight but first in the heavyweight division, was breaking with tradition. Had he been on hand to apply the same standards, Larry Holmes would certainly never have come back from the twilight zone to beat Earnie Shavers or Renaldo Snipes, and a lot of other celebrated recoveries would not have occurred. Yet, remembering Lewis's teetering vulnerability, it is impossible to regret Garcia's intervention.
The loser talked afterward about a flash knockdown. There was definitely a hint of lightning about it, and of a thunderclap. And, as Don King might say, it split the boxing firmament asunder.