LONDON -- The lovable loser from London finally became a boxing winner last night.
Bloodied, weeping, yet still standing, Frank Bruno claimed a 12-round unanimous decision against Oliver McCall of Chicago to grab the World Boxing Council heavyweight championship before a frenzied, flag-waving crowd at Wembley Stadium.
On his fourth and presumably final try, the British national hero with a weightlifter's body, sledgehammer jab and glass chin finally won a slice of boxing's greatest prize.
There may be too many title belts to go around a lackluster division, but don't tell that to the Britons who danced in the aisles and sang "Land of Hope and Glory" in the tumultuous moments after the decision.
And don't tell it to Bruno, 33, who was knocked silly in three previous championship fights, but who dished out enough punishment in the early rounds to pile up enough points and withstand McCall's late rally. Bruno became the fourth Briton to hold a world heavyweight title, although the last Brit to win an undisputed heavyweight championship was Bob Fitzsimmons in 1897.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," Bruno said while sitting on the ring apron, alternately talking and weeping after the victory.
"I'm just glad I won," said Bruno (40-4). "All of the years I've been dreaming of this. Everyone who stood behind me, I thank them. It was tough, but I've done it."
McCall, 30, who beat Lennox Lewis to take the crown in September 1994, saw his championship reign end after two fights. Judge Malcolm Bulner gave Bruno a 115-113 victory. Newton Campos and Fay Solis each had Bruno the winner by 117-111.
"Give Bruno credit for fighting a courageous fight," said McCall (26-6).
There was enough ridiculous talk in the fight buildup to create an ugly atmosphere at Wembley. McCall challenged Bruno's manhood. Americans weren't exactly the most popular people at Wembley. Fans even booed a Bruce Springsteen tape of "Born in the USA."
But when Bruno made a lonely trek down a 30-yard ramp onto the field, the crowd roared and sang his name. In England, they absolutely love athletes who lose with dignity. Bruno has become a modern-day hero for getting cuffed by Mike Tyson, Lewis and even Tim Witherspoon.
In the opening rounds, Bruno unloaded a barrage of left jabs that left McCall stunned. McCall absorbed the punishment, put up little defense and waited until the fifth round to throw a meaningful punch. But by then, the challenger was confident and ahead on points.
Still, McCall came awfully close to putting Bruno away. Midway through the 11th round, McCall smashed a left uppercut into Bruno's chin, and the challenger staggered away. For a few moments, it appeared that Bruno would buckle as he had in the past. But he judiciously grabbed hold of McCall and clinched and stalled.
In the 12th, the crowd was frantic as McCall shoved the local hero around the ring and unloaded a hard right to Bruno's head. McCall banged Bruno with another body shot and a left-right combination. Bruno hanging on desperately, turned the final minute into a dance of attrition. As the fight ended, the crowd screamed and Bruno was lifted atop the shoulders of his cornermen.
"The last round was very hard," Bruno said. "I took some shots. I persevered. I proved all the critics wrong."
Within an hour of winning, Bruno was asked about his future. "I would like to fight Mike Tyson," he said. "And call a taxi."
(On the same card, Virgil Hill gained a unanimous decision over Drake Thadzi to retain his World Boxing Association light heavyweight title, and Nigel Benn knocked out Danny Ray Perez to defend his WBC super middleweight title.)
Don King started the night in McCall's corner and ended the evening with his arm around Bruno. As usual, the promoter was (( the real winner, squeezing one more payday out of a cheerless champion, cozying up to his new meal ticket and setting the table for a big showdown between Bruno and Tyson early next year.
No wonder King was screaming about Churchill, King Arthur and Queen Elizabeth.
What a night. Bruno got a title. Britain got a victorious hero. And King got the last word.