Michael Nunn

Iowa – Michael Nunn: In the Ring and In the Prison

The tale of Michael Nunn

Boxing has been apart of the American sports scene since the 1700s by way of England. It started by infiltrating the larger port towns before eventually working its way into the lexicon of America. Now it showcases some of the most talented combat sports athletes in the world. We will embark on a 50 part saga exploring the best boxers representing the United States. Some states will have more athletes to choose from than others but the journey will be quite the ride. Let’s embark on the journey looking at an interesting fighter or bout from each state. Our 15th entry is the state of Iowa.

Check out the 14 states we have covered by clicking below:

Alabama-Life of Joe Louis

Alaska-Hector Camacho vs John Montes Card

Arizona-Hall of Famer Michael Carbajal

Arkansas-The Tragic Story of Sonny Liston

California-The Underappreciated Career of Andre Ward

Colorado-Boxing’s First Mega Star Jack Dempsey

Connecticut-Boxing’s Wins Leader Willie Pep

Delaware-The Night Dave Tiberi Almost Shocked the World

Florida-Pryor vs Arguello Showered In Controversy

Georgia-The Tragic Story of Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams

Hawaii-“The Hawaiian Punch” Brian Viloria

Idaho-The Sad Tale of Ed Sanders

Illinois-“The Drunken Master” Emanuel Augustus

Indiana-The Life and Antics of Kid McCoy


Ranked 31st in population among the 50 states of the Union, Iowa was the 29th state to earn statehood in the United States. With no professional sports teams, Iowa is not the first state to come to find when you talk about sports in America. In the combat sports world, Iowa is no stranger to standing at the front of the line. Home to UFC Hall of Famer and the UFC’s first welterweight champion, Pat Miletich, there are also a handful of boxers to make their name from the Hawkeye State. The one that stands above the rest as arguably one of the greatest athletes ever born in the state, is the 2021 Indiana Boxing Hall of Fame’s new inductee, Michael Nunn. There may also have never been an Iowa-born superstar with as much personal-life turmoil as well.

Early Life of Davenport’s Own Future Champion

Michael Nunn was born on Sunday, April 14, 1963, in one of Iowa’s biggest cities, Davenport. Nearly situated on the Iowa/Illinois border, the city is home to other popular members of society like WWE star Seth Rollins and UFC hall of fame welterweight Pat Miletich. Nunn’s brother-in-law falls on this list as well. His sister is married to Roger Craig, Super Bowl-winning running back. Unfortunately, April 14th is also the day the Titanic struck an iceberg and began to sink. Nunn’s career and life would share a similar fate, though Nunn is on the path to recovering his life.

Amateur Career

As with many future hall of fame boxers, it started with a very impressive amateur career. Michael Nunn was no different earning an impressive record of 168-8. Chief among Nunn’s boxing homes growing up was the Davenport Boxing Club, owned and operated by Alvino Pena. Practically every successful professional boxer to come out of the state of Iowa has trained to some extent at this location. Along the way also came three Iowa Golden Glove championships.

The biggest accomplishment an amateur boxer can obtain is Olympic gold. In 1984, Nunn was not quite able to reach that ultimate goal, though have major roadblocks to overcome. Nunn, who competed at 156lbs, was asked to move all the way up to 165lbs in order to make way for Frank Tate, who the American boxing team expected to be the country’s next biggest boxing star. As predicted, Tate would go on to win the gold medal in his weight class. Nunn was forced into a box-off with eventually silver medalist Virgil Hill. With nothing left to try and accomplish at the amateur ranks, Nunn made the decision to turn professional.

Kicking Off Professional Career at Middleweight Ranks

On December 20, 1984, Michael Nunn kicked off his successful professional career with a first-round knockout in Las Vegas. This would start off a winning streak that would last nearly six years. After going 19-0 leading up to November 1986, Nunn met Alex Ramos for the California State Middleweight Championship, where Nunn would secure his first professional title. His march up the ranks would continue to October 1987 where he carried in a 27-0 record and would be victorious in his battle with Darnell Knox, walking out of the ring with the vacant NABF middleweight championship. A handful of defenses would come before a massive showdown would take place between Nunn and the man he was forced to step aside for all those years ago during the Olympic trials.

Massive Showdown With the Man He Was Forced to Step Aside For

July 28, 1988, saw Nunn earn his shot at redemption. Several years prior, Nunn was forced to step out of his comfort zone of 156lbs to make way for Frank Tate to earn the spot at the Olympics. Tate would later go on to win the Gold medal, but now the two were meeting for something more important, Tate’s IBF middleweight championship. To add to the suspense of the battle, both fighters were undefeated with Nunn sitting at 30-0 and Tate at 23-0. Fans packed the Caesars Palace in Las Vegas to see these two middleweight mega-stars clash. Getting the best of the exchanges, Nunn earned the TKO stoppage in round nine after Tate was unable to continue per referee Mills Lane.

Vacant Lineal Middleweight Championship

After a successful first title defense against Juan Domingo Roldan, Nunn took to the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas for his second title defense against former WBA middleweight champion, Sumbu Kalambay. The reason Kalambay entered the bout as the “former” champion is because the WBA stripped him of the title for not facing their mandatory challenger. The IBF crown was still on the line along with the vacant lineal middleweight title. Earning the 1989 Knockout of the Year from The Ring Magazine, Nunn delivered a one-punch knockout to Kalambay at 1:28 of the very first round. Another big note for Nunn was he also earned $1.1 million for the title defense, as opposed to the $100,000 he earned in the fight to win the title. Prior to his move to the super middleweight division, Nunn would have a bout that would change the career of his opponent.

Sixth Title Defense and Career-Changing Bout

Things could not have been better for Nunn, currently 36-0 heading into his sixth title defense. He was finally returning home to put on a huge show at the John O’Donnell Stadium in Davenport, Iowa. “The Rumble on the Riverbank” was set for May 10, 1991, with Nunn ready to defend his title against a brash, loud-mouth rising star underdog, who was a 20-1 underdog, James Toney. Toney, the fifth-ranked IBF middleweight, was undefeated at the time with a record of 25-0-1. Nunn was ahead on all scorecards heading into the 11th of 12 rounds. Toney continued to press forward and caught Nunn with a big right uppercut. The right hands continued to flood in, leading to the end of the contest. This would be the last time Nunn would compete at middleweight.

The Move up To Super Middleweight and Its Title-Run

Nunn began his super middleweight run with a “tune-up” fight against NABF super middleweight champion, Randall Yonker. Nunn earned the 10th round TKO along with the new championship. The next task at hand would be much more difficult as Nunn took on the WBA super middleweight champion, Victor Cordoba, on September 12, 1992, by split decision. The rematch was soon to follow in The Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee, on January 30, 1993, where Nunn secured a bit more of a decisive victory, winning by unanimous decision. Nunn was able to successfully defend his title three more times before the “underdog bug” bit again. This time on February 26, 1994, in London, England on the undercard of the Nigel BennHenry Wharton  WBC super middleweight title fight.

Steve Little would play the spoil this time for Nunn in his fifth title defense. With a mediocre record for the majority of his career, Little came in and had the fight of his little, winning the championship via split decision. Nunn may have gone on to win a few more smaller championships, but this would be the last time he went on a solid title-defense winning streak.

Move to Light Heavyweight and Sudden End of Career

Currently sitting at 42-2, Michael Nunn made the decision to move up to light heavyweight after a handful of bouts at super middleweight. On January 17, 1997, would win his first championship at light heavyweight, and his last ever title, defeating Rudy Nix by second-round TKO. With a few more wins under his belt at light heavyweight, Nunn earned a shot at the WBC light heavyweight title on March 21, 1998, but lost a very close split decision to Graciano Rocchigiani. The bout was for the title vacated by Roy Jones Jr when he moved up to heavyweight. Nunn reeled off six more victories after the loss. Nunn’s last win came in January 2002. This would also be the last year of Nunn’s freedom for almost 20 years.

Arrest and Prison Stent

On Tuesday, August 06, 2002, Nunn was arrested in a hotel hallway in his hometown of Davenport, Iowa. Nunn was in possession of $24,000 worth of cocaine, which was stuffed in his pants. The narcotics were purchased inside one of the hotel’s rooms from an undercover police officer. In May 2003, Nunn pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. On Friday, January 30, 2004, Nunn was sentenced to 24-years in prison for the offense. U.S District Judge William Gritzner sentenced on the high side due to Nunn’s allegedly drug use since 1993. The belief a firearm was used during alleged drug transactions also affected the sentence.

6,211 days after his arrest, Nunn was finally released from federal prison. “My mistakes fall only on me so I deserved my punishment,” Nunn said in a January 2021 article with Boxing News. “It was so long ago now that I can’t even begin to remember what my reasons were for getting involved in stuff like that, but it’s all down to myself and I ain’t got no issue admitting that it hurts to let down the amount of people in my life that went out of their way, who sacrificed their own time in trying to make me be the best that I could be.”

Turning His Life Around

Not only has Michael Nunn returned to training, he recently competed in a professional kickboxing bout with fellow Iowa native Pat Miletich in July 2020. About 3,500 fans packed the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds during the COVID-19 times to see the two Iowa sons battle. Though serving almost 200 months of prison time, Nunn won the four-round battle with scores of (39-37, 37-39, 40-36). At age 57, it’s possible we may see Nunn back in action. In the same article with Boxing News, Nunn commented on the current desire to see legends box, citing the recent Mike Tyson vs Roy Jones Jr bout. Though way past his prime, we may get at least one more chance to see one of the era’s best middleweight compete once again.

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