Former world champion, Wayne McCullough is remembered with great fondness by boxing fans throughout the world for the fearless courage that he showed during his distinguished amateur and professional career.
The man who is now known legally as Wayne Pocket Rocket McCullough grew up in the Highfield estate in Belfast in the 1970s. He came through the amateur ranks at the Albert Foundry boxing club, where his defeats in a career of more than 300 contests could be counted on the fingers of both hands.
18-year old McCullough got his first taste of Olympic action at the 1988 Seoul Games, where he lost in the third round of the light flyweight category to Canada’s Scotty ‘The Bulldog’ Olson.
Two years later, at the Commonwealth Games in New Zealand, McCullough struck gold with a points win in the flyweight final. That same year he won the bronze medal at the World Championships in Bombay where his power proved decisive against Fred Mutuweta, the Ugandan boxer he had previously defeated in Seoul.
As McCullough grew stronger and heavier he had moved up to bantamweight by the time the 1992 Barcelona Olympics came around, and bowed off the amateur stage with a silver medal when he lost on points to Cuba’s Joel Casamayor in the final.
With that medal under his belt, McCullough was courted by managers and promoters from the pro circuit. The legendary Eddie Futch - who had worked with Joe Frazier and Larry Holmes - took him under his wing and his rise to the top continued. Within days of arriving in Las Vegas, McCullough had his first professional fight.
'I would not have been the fighter I am today without Eddie,' McCullough told East Side Boxing. 'Eddie was a fantastic person in and out of the boxing business. He could analyse a fighter and tell you exactly what to do to beat them.
'He had a great memory and we could sit for hours talking about my fights or fights he had been through with his old time fighters. There never will be another Eddie Futch, but someday I hope to follow in his footsteps and train fighters as well.'
In July 1995, McCullough took the WBC bantamweight crown from the defending champion, Yasuei Yakushiji in Nagoya, Japan. 'I have never heard anyone announcing me as the new champ, because the announcement was in Japanese,' he joked at the time. 'The only moment I realized I had won was when they said my last name.'
After two successful defences, Pocket Rocket was on the move again as he vacated the WBC bantamweight belt only to lose his challenge for the super bantamweight crown of Daniel Zaragoza on a slit decision.
In 1988 McCullough lost on points to featherweight champions Naseem Hamed and then Eric Morales a year later. His plans to fight in Britain had to be put on hold when the British Boxing Board of Control refused to grant him a licence because of a failed medical.
Eventually he was sanctioned to fight, but lost a very bloody contest against Scott Harrison in Glasgow in 2004. There followed two defeats to Mexico’s Oscar Larios with McCullough suffering his first ever stoppage in the rematch in Las Vegas in 2005.
Supporters of the Belfast man were concerned that his attacking style and apparent ability to soak up enormous poundings would take its toll on his health, but his determination to remain in some variation of the sport saw him become involved with the promotion of mixed martial arts.
McCullough has also graduated to the ranks of training younger boxers, and from his base in Las Vegas he is showing them that hard honest graft is the way to earn the respect of your fellow peers. That’s something else that the great Eddie Futch taught him.