In the Matter of Michael Nunn

"If I never fight again in my life, I’m the happiest man in the world…I’m a two-time world champion. You can’t ever take that from me." —Michael Nunn

Here we go again but I have a Dec. 7 deadline to make. Over the past few weeks I have done related articles on Myung-Woo Yuh, Yoko Gushiken, Masamori Tokuyama, Dariusz Michalczewski, Maseo Ohba, and several others. Now it’s time to look at Michael "Second To" Nunn.


"As a boxer, a pure boxer…he was almost perfect." —Al Bernstein

"There were times, earlier in his career; you couldn’t hit him with the backside of buckshot."—Bert Sugar

When you think of Nunn, you think of words like articulate, affable, good looking, tall, left-handed, stylist, speed, sharp reflexes, fantastic foot movement, great technique, and solid defensive skills. He also had an unappreciated ability to take out his opponents with power punching and the record bears this out. He was a rangy and slick southpaw who gave his opponents fits and was a master of the slip and slide move. His jab was a punishing jackhammer. These were his trademarks in the ring and provided great entertainment. Unfortunately, his career defining fight ended by a sudden and brutal knockout at the hands of James Toney in a fight that affirmed Toney’s nickname "Lights Out."

Let’s look more closely at his chronology and see how his body of work stacks up insofar as his being a prospective inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.


Nunn won three Iowa Golden Gloves titles and posted an amateur record of 168-8. He turned professional in 1984.and ended wioth an outstanding 58-4 with 37 KOs and a surprisingly impressive high KO percentage of 60%. He became the IBF middleweight champion by icing Frank Tate in 1988. Tate was undefeated at the time. In 1989, he defeated former world titleholder Sumbu Kalambay via a one-punch left hand knockout that was named the first ever Ring magazine KO of the Year. He followed this win with successful title defenses against rugged Iran "The Blade" Barkley, Marlon "Magic Man" Starling, and Donald "The Cobra" Curry, all former world champions. He was considered one of boxing’s best pound-for-pound fighters and would go on to earn a total of $6 million.

Early on, he had beaten tough fighters like Alex Ramos (for the California State Middleweight Title), porcelain chin but heavy handed Marcos Geraldo, Mike Tinley, Willie Harris, Cecil Pettigrew, Dale Jackson and Kevin Watts…all of whom had outstanding won-lost slates.

He won the NABF middleweight title by stopping Darnell Knox, 25-1 coming in, in 1987 in perhaps what was his peak performance. A year later, he stopped the aforementioned Tate for the IBF middleweight title at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. He then knocked out and retired tough Juan Domingo Roldan, 67-4 at the time.

As an aside, Michael had a knack for ending and/or negatively impacting the careers of many of his opponents and this "opponents post-fight" statistic, though an arduous one to compute is, in my view, a valuable one in evaluating a fighter’s worth.

His fateful fight with James Toney in May 1991 took place at the unlikely location of the John O’Donnell Stadium in Nunn’s hometown of Davenport, Iowa. Leading on the cards by 97-93, 99-91 and 98-92, he got caught by a left hook from hell in the 11th round and just like that, it was lights out. It was a huge upset. "My God, he was kicking the snot out of the guy," Angelo Dundee said. "And he got hit with an inside left hook. He didn’t see it."


Regrouping, he won the NABF super middleweight title with a solid TKO over Randall Yonker (23-1) in 1991. Then in Sept. 1992, he won the WBA super middleweight title with a decision over Panamanian Victor Cordoba, 23-3. With a record of 42-1, he met Steve Little in London in 1994 and lost his crown by a razor thin upset SD. Shortly after, he lost a bid to regaining his title when Frankie Liles, 25-1, beat him by a close decision in Ecuador

Nunn then put together a nine-fight win streak including nods over contenders John Scully (35-4) and Booker T. Word (23-4-2). He also KO’d and sent into retirement Lonnie Horn (26-3). This positioned him for a shot at the vacant WBC light heavyweight title against Graciano Rocchigiani in Germany. Unfortunately, he lost a SD with a scoring disparity that could only happen in Berlin, or so it seemed. After this disappointment, Nunn closed out his fine career with six straight wins including victories over Glen Thomas (26-4), and former world champion William Guthrie (24-1), by KO. His last fight was in Jan. 2002 at age 39. It is noteworthy that of his four defeats, only one was decisive and his record could well have been 61-1. It is also noteworthy that a long anticipated fight with Roy Jones was never made.

The End Game

"It’s not that Michael Nunn blew through double-digit millions…It’s not a tragedy because he may not go to the Hall of Fame. He just was too good of a man to put himself in that position, where he’s not there to be able to touch people and touch their lives and make them feel special. That’s the tragedy."—Dan Goossen

The rest of the story is, of course, history, but this is about Michael’s boxing career. Suffice it to say that as he now sits in prison serving a 24-year prison term, his path must now be one of redemption. But that part of the story warrants separate and lengthy treatment. In fact, it begs for a book or movie.

Whether Michael Nunn gets into the International Boxing Hall of Fame remains to be seen, but if he fails, it will not be because of his lack of providing indelible memories for serious boxing fans throughout the world. He was an outstanding fighter who possessed a rare combination of size, speed, punching power and technical boxing. Heck, he was poetry in motion. He should not be forgotten by boxing aficionados and purists.

What do you think?

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