In 1 minute 28 seconds, with one explosive punch, Michael Nunn made all his skeptics vanish Saturday night, almost as fast as he made Italy’s Sumbu Kalambay disappear at the Las Vegas Hilton.
Nunn knocked out the former World Boxing Assn. middleweight champion with a short left hand that caught Kalambay on the right side of his face, dropping him flat on his back.
It was as stunning as it was quick. Nunn was executing victory leaps in a neutral corner even before referee Richard Steele had counted out Kalambay.
Nunn knew it was a once-in-a-career punch, the kind that makes a world-class fighter look like a guy who’s just been hit by a bus.
This one goes on the “Great Knockouts” video. It was like Sugar Ray Robinson, in 1957, knocking out Gene Fullmer in Chicago with that memorable left hook. Or Max Schmeling, in 1936, using that right-hand shot to turn Joe Louis into a sleepwalker.
“That was the best punch I ever landed,” Nunn said after earning $1.1 million, improving his record to 33-0, retaining his International Boxing Federation championship and positioning himself to take on a legend or two.
By anyone’s account--even Nunn’s--this was a stunning result. It ended three seconds faster than Mike Tyson-Michael Spinks. The Zaire-born Kalambay didn’t even break a sweat.
Nunn was the aggressor from the opening bell, and Kalambay, now 46-4-1, chose to back up. Until the knockout blow, neither man landed a punch worthy of the name, but Nunn quickly spotted an error in Kalambay’s style.
When throwing a left jab at Nunn, Kalambay was dropping his fist instead of retracting it quickly into a defensive position. A lazy jab, trainers call it. It was only a matter of time, and Kalambay’s time came in his own corner, not halfway through the opening round. As he came out of the corner, Nunn hit him with a couple of harmless jabs. Kalambay then threw his final punch--the lazy jab.
Worse yet, he dropped his right hand, too.
Given the opening, Nunn delivered a short, straight left whose impact could be heard in the ringside rows. Kalambay seemed frozen for an instant, then he fell, almost in slow motion, onto his back. As Steele counted, Kalambay rolled over onto his right side, got up, then collapsed again, this time into Steele’s arms.
Nunn was a 4-1 favorite, but few were prepared for this. Kalambay, a pro since 1980, had never been knocked out.
Bob Surkein, the man who developed Nunn in the amateurs in Davenport, Iowa, seemed stunned himself.
“I don’t think anyone in this room can believe what they saw tonight,” he said. “He’ll go down in history as one of the great superstars in boxing . . . and let’s see what the (Sugar Ray) Leonards and the (Thomas) Hearnses can do about it.”
In Nunn, promoter Bob Arum would seem to have a golden jackpot at the end of the Leonard-Hearns and Leonard- Roberto Duran fights.
Arum even used the giddy aftermath to take a shot at Tyson.
“I think Michael is going to develop into a bigger attraction than Mike Tyson,” he said. “He projects better, he has a better image.”
Even though the WBA had stripped Kalambay of his world championship earlier this month, Arum had his ring announcer, Mike Buffer, introduce Kalambay to the 4,253 present as the WBA champion.
To Joe Goossen, Nunn’s trainer, it didn’t matter much that Kalambay was dropping his jab.
“It didn’t matter, Michael was going to dominate the guy anyway,” Goossen said.
At the postfight news conference, Nunn sat at a table with his son, Michael Jr., on his lap, and daughter, Shanta, next to him.
“I want to fight the legends now, the guys like Leonard, Duran, Hearns,” he said. “I figure by April or May 1990, one of them will be left for me.”
On the undercard, two U.S. Olympic gold medalists remained unbeaten as pros, as did Kenyan gold medalist Robert Wangila.
Most impressive was super-bantamweight Kennedy McKinney, the Seoul Games’ bantamweight gold medalist. He had his opponent, Charles Hawkins, out on his feet halfway through the first round and stopped him at 2:37. McKinney is 2-0.
Andrew Maynard, the Olympic light-heavyweight Olympic champion, stopped Rodney Brown in the second round.
Wangila, a welterweight, who looked like a sure-fire pro champion-to-be in Seoul, was unimpressive for the second time in his two pro outings. He couldn’t put away an outclassed opponent, Luis Saucedo of Albuquerque. Instead, he stumbled his way to a decision in a four-rounder.
Actually, the undercard highlight was the second round of the Al Cole-Lorenzo Thomas light-heavyweight bout, when Cole pounded Thomas through the ropes. Thomas landed on top of Sugar Ray Leonard. Amazingly, Thomas climbed back into the ring and beat the count, only to be stopped in the third round by Cole.
Marlon Starling, the World Boxing Council welterweight champion, will not fight Mark Breland, the World Boxing Assn. champion, April 15 at Atlantic City, N.J., as scheduled, because of an injured hand. The announcement of the injury was made after the main event.