ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Middleweight Mike McCallum is called "The Body Snatcher." But his trainer, Eddie Futch, says the nickname does not do him justice.
"Quite simply," said Futch, a veteran of 60 years in boxing, "McCallum is the best fighter nobody knows."
To which McCallum adds, "In boxing, I'm 'The Invisible Man.' "
That might be a slight exaggeration, but McCallum, who challenges James Toney for the International Boxing Federation title at Convention Hall tonight, certainly has not received the recognition due a two-time world champion with a 42-1 professional record, including 34 knockouts.
The Jamaican-born fighter, 34, has been in 12 world championship fights and reigned as junior-middleweight and middleweight king.
It took a recent political move by the World Boxing Association to strip McCallum of his 160-pound title. The WBA ordered him to fight top-ranked Steve Collins rather than Toney, although McCallum had beaten Collins in a championship match last year.
Futch, 80, who has trained former heavyweight champions Joe Frazier, Ken Norton and Larry Holmes, said he understands why McCallum has been ignored by the media.
"Since Mike turned professional in 1981, he has repeatedly changed managers and trainers," said Futch, who became his trainer when McCallum stopped David Braxton in 1985. "For that reason, no one was ever able to mount a publicity campaign in his behalf.
"Mike doesn't think he has to sell himself. He believes his exceptional boxing ability and record is all he needs. He becomes temperamental and surly when reporters aren't quick to recognize his talent, and that probably has hurt him, too.
"He reminds me of great boxers of the past like Holman Williams, who beat Archie Moore in Baltimore, and Billy Graham, who was also an uncrowned champion. You can never relax with Mike in the ring. He's a superior boxer who can also punch, particularly to the body, which has become a lost art.
"Mike was already a gifted fighter when I first began training him. All I've done is sharpen those skills. He doesn't just deliver body punches. He knows the most vulnerable areas, and he can pinpoint his punches to hit those spots."
McCallum pulls no punches in judging himself.
"I consider myself the best middleweight around," he said. "Everyone I fight is supposed to be younger and better than me. Now, it's Toney. He's an excellent fighter, and his time will come. But not now."
Asked to explain his lack of recognition, he said, "That's mostly because my major fights have been overseas -- Paris, Monaco and London. But that's because the top fighters in the States wanted no part of me. They all run when my name is mentioned."
McCallum said his mandatory title defense was not due until January. He asked the WBA for an extension that was rejected.
"I expected it [being stripped of his title], but I didn't feel it was justified," said McCallum.
Promoter Bob Arum was more explicit.
"What the WBA did in stripping Mike's title was like a street mugging," he said. "They're all crooks and robbers, looking to steal money because there aren't a lot of major fights to sanction. They were trying to extort $50,000 from McCallum for an extension. Their guy in Panama [championship chairman Elias Cordova] is worse than [Gen. Manuel] Noriega."
But McCallum, who received a $500,000 guarantee, remains unperturbed.
"I'll take care of Toney, and I'll have a new title. Then, maybe someone will even recognize me," he said, laughing derisively.
NOTES: Tonight's card also has a heavyweight rematch between No. 2-ranked Riddick Bowe of Fort Washington, Md., and Elijah Tillery of Albany, N.Y. Their last encounter in Washington ended in chaos and Tillery's disqualification for repeatedly kicking Bowe when the second round ended. Tillery was flipped out of the ring by Bowe's manager-promoter, Rock Newman. "This time it will be controlled anger, and I'll knock him out clean," said Bowe. . . . Newman said he has been rebuffed in trying to arrange matches with ranking contenders George Foreman, Lennox Lewis and WBO champion Ray Mercer, who has signed to fight Larry Holmes on Feb. 7. He rejected offers for Bowe to fight Razor Ruddock because of Ruddock's ties with promoter Murad Muhammad.
Who: James Toney (28-0-1, 20 KOs), Ann Arbor, Mich., vs. Mike McCallum (42-1, 34 KOs), Las Vegas, 12 rounds.
What: For Toney's International Boxing Federation middleweight title.
Where: Atlantic City (N.J.) Convention Center.
When: Tonight, 10
TV: TVKO, pay-per-view.
Promoter: Bob Arum, Top Rank, Inc.
Under card: Riddick Bowe, Fort Washington, Md., vs. Elijah Tillery, Albany, N.Y., heavyweights, 10 rounds, and Charles Murray, South Orange, N.J., vs. Ras-I Bramble, Passaic, N.J., junior welterweights, 10 rounds.
Tickets: $200, $100, $50 and $25.