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Sumbu Kalambay-Italian Ali from Congo


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Although he was from Congo, Sumbu Kalambay lived and boxed out of Italy his entire career and he was affectionately known by two nicknames there: "Patrizio" and "Ali". Kalambay was one of the slickest and most clever boxers to come out of Africa and in general. He had great movement and threw punches from different angles. Not a really big puncher, he did score an impressive ko against Doug De Witt and stopped a few other solid fighters. He won the WBA middleweight title and made 3 defences of it before he had to vacate it. This is the story of "Italian Ali from Congo".

Born in Lubumbashi, in what was then known as Belgian Congo, 10 April 1956, Kalambay moved to Italy in his youth, settling in Chiaravalle, Marche region, where he learned to box. He changed his first name to Patrizio out of admiration for the Italian boxer Patrizio Oliva. As amateur, he won 90 fights and lost 5, before embarking on a pro career in 1980. He lost his third fight on points against Aldo Buzetti and then went on a 33-fight streak without a loss, with 32 wins and 1 draw. On 6 April 1985, he fought for the first time in America, in Atlantic City and fought the Kronk-protege Duane Thomas, losing a 10-round decision. On 26 September that year, he won the Italian middle title by SD12 against Giovanni De Marco in Caserta, Italy. At the end of the year, on 19 December, he fought the former WBA light middle champion Ayub Kalule, a fellow African who was also a slick guy, for the European title. Kalambay dropped Kalule in rounds 5 and 11, but was himself dropped in the 12th and last round, ultimately losing by split decision.

After this, his success era would start. He again beat Giovanni De Marco, this time by RTD11, in his first and only defence of the Italian title, before fighting for the European title again, this time against another very slick guy, Herol Graham. The fight was at Wembley, 26 May 1987, and the underdog Kalambay surprised everyone by beating Graham by a rather close but unanimous decision. Graham was 38-0 coming in and had defeated Kalule by a late TKO to win the title. This then landed him a shot at the WBA title against Iran Barkley, 23 October that year, and this time he didn't have to go across the pond, Barkley came to Livorno to fight him. The title had been stripped from Marvin Hagler for fighting Sugar Ray Leonard instead of (ironically) Herol Graham. Barkley at 6'1 was taller than the 5'9 Kalambay and a heavy hitter, but not a slick guy, so Kalambay outboxed him to win convincingly on all scorecards and finally become a world champion!

His best performance though probably came in his first defence, when he took on the unbeaten 32-0 former WBA light middle champion Mike McCallum. It was in Pesaro on 5 March 1988 that Kalambay proved to the world he didn't become the champion by accident, when he managed to outbox the slick and clever McCallum-even though two of the scorecards were closer than the fight really was, Kalambay was a clear winner. This was considered a great upset, and it was. His second defence was against Robbie Sims, the half-brother of Marvin Hagler himself, 12 June in Ravenna and Sumbu clearly won on all scorecards again. For his third defence, which was on 8 November, he had to go to Monaco to fight the American toughman Doug DeWitt. Kalambay totally outclassed DeWitt and tagged him at will, before he nailed him with a perfect left hook in round 7 that put him down and out. He was then stripped of his title and again, Herol Graham was the reason-Kalambay refused to fight him again in favor of the new star, Michael Nunn. 

He fought the much taller Nunn (6'2) 25 March 1989 at Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas and he would wish he had never taken this fight, as he was caught by a perfect left hook on the chin and knocked out after only 1 minute and 29 seconds of the fight! It remained his only knockout loss. It even made the KO of the Year award. He rebounded on 24 January next year by recapturing the European title against Francesco Dell'Aquila; after being dropped in the first round, "Patrizio" wore the challenger down and finally stopped him in the ninth by TKO. He defended the title with the same result against Frederic Seillier. On 1 April 1991, he rematched McCallum for his old WBA title, now held by The Bodysnatcher. The fight was held in Monaco and it was a very close one, but McCallum managed to snatch a close split decision victory. Kalambay stated he was very disappointed because he thought he had won.  

He went back to defending his European title and first stopped the unknown John Ashton by corner retirement 6 after coming off the deck in the first round, then beat Miodrag Perunovic of Montenegro by TKO4, before fighting Herol Graham again on 12 March 1992 and again beating him by UD. He made his fifth and final defence of this title against the young Irishman and future champion Steve Collins on 22 October that year, winning by a MD. In 1993, after winning one easy fight by KO1, he fought against Chris Pyatt of Leicester for the vacant WBO title, 19 May in Leicester, and put on a good fight, being ahead until the last 3 rounds, when he faded and ended up losing a close UD. He took this as a sign that it was time to retire and he did, at 37 years of age and with a record of 57 wins, 33 by ko, 6 losses and 1 draw. 

In retirement, he became a respectable trainer in Italy and has trained Michele Piccirillo (a world champion at 147 for a while), Vincenzo Cantatore (a European cruiser champion) and Paolo Vidoz (European heavy champion). In July 1988, while still a WBA champion, he was awarded The Ring Magazine version of the world title. KO Magazine named him their sixth best middleweight of the 1980's, though I personally would've ranked him higher. Sumbu Kalambay was simply one of the most clever technical boxers to enter the ring and had a very good career, in his prime only losing to Nunn and by a sudden knockout. Besides his technical and defensive ability, he also had good stamina and chin and moved very well. Sadly, he gets overlooked too often today when people talk about the best boxers of the 1980's, but true experts and fans of the "old time fighters" know him and appreciate him very much. 


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