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Quick Win Lifts Nunn to the Top of His Class

Times Staff Writer

A superstar was born here Saturday night.

Once the best-kept secret in the Valley, Michael Nunn, with one devastating punch, has become a world-wide commodity.

Suddenly, Nunn, who was mocked by both the media and early opponents like Mike Tinley and Darnell Knox, has Sugar Ray Leonard squirming.

Suddenly, promoter Bob Arum, who has been preoccupied hyping the Legends of Boxing--Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran--talks about seeing the future. And the future is Michael Nunn.

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To many, it is future shock to see Nunn, long hampered by a reputation as a slapper rather than a puncher, looming over the middleweight division.

But his devastating first-round knockout of Sumbu Kalambay at the Las Vegas Hilton left Nunn--who began his career far from the spotlight, fighting primarily at The Country Club in Reseda--knocking on the door to boxing’s penthouse.

Make that banging on the door.

Here is Leonard, set to meet Hearns in a June blockbuster with Duran awaiting the winner, and all people wanted to know Saturday was when would Leonard meet Nunn?

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Leonard, on hand as a television commentator, played down talk of a Leonard-Nunn fight, calling it “speculation” at this point.

Arum did not, however.

“If whichever one of the Legends,” said Arum, referring to Leonard, Hearns and Duran, “who is left standing at the end of the year wants to fight Nunn, it’ll be great. If not, we’ll just keep Michael fighting other people. There are plenty of great fighters out there. But I think the last one standing is going to come to me and demand, ‘Get me Michael Nunn.’ ”

Arum, of course, is in the business of creating such situations, but another spectator at Saturday’s fight already is already asking for Nunn, and is willing to put up the money to get him. Jerry Buss, owner of the Forum, wants Nunn’s next fight to be in his Inglewood facility.

“We could never compete for a number of big fights,” said Buss, who stages monthly cards at the Forum, “but occasionally we’d like to get a big fight and I think the town is ready for this one. There’s a feeling that this would be the fight for our city.

“I think the Lakers have shown that Los Angeles will respond to quality events. I really think we have the market for this fight.”

It will not come cheap. One report Saturday speculated that Nunn’s next fight will be in Paris in July against former World Boxing Council middleweight champion Iran Barkley, but that talk was cooled by all sides.

Barkley would seem to be Nunn’s next logical opponent. Leonard is set to fight Hearns on June 12th, with the winner to meet Duran later in the year.

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That leaves Nunn on the outside for about 12 months.

But the possibilities are endless.

Having stripped Kalambay of his World Boxing Assn. middleweight title several weeks ago, WBA officials are now planning to give that title to the winner of a proposed bout between Mike McCallum and Herol Graham.

John Reetz, Barkley’s manager, said he would prefer to see his fighter go against the winner of McCallum-Graham before setting his sights on Nunn.

“We’d be in a better position,” Reetz said, “if we had a title going in against Nunn.”

No way, said Arum when Reetz’s statement was relayed to him.

“If Iran Barkley fights the winner of McCallum-Graham,” Arum said, “he will never fight Michael Nunn. Never. We are boycotting the WBA because of what they did to Kalambay, stripping him of his title.”

And what does Dan Goossen, Nunn’s manager and the man who will ultimately make the decision on Nunn’s next fight, say?

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“We can’t hang around waiting on somebody else,” Goossen said. “If we fight one of the legends, that’s fine. If not, Michael Nunn will be a superstar by himself. If the deal is right, we’ll fight anybody in the world. We have never ducked anybody.”

Nunn, who was already guaranteed $1.2 million for his next fight but now figures to make a lot more, just beamed a magnetic smile when asked about his future.

“I’d just like to tip my hat to those legends of boxing,” he said. “They made it possible for guys like myself, Barkley and Kalambay to fight.

“Hopefully, by April or May of 1990, I’ll be fighting Ray Leonard. He’s the old legend of boxing. But I’m the new legend.”

Who can argue that now?


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