McCullough absorbed a systematic onslaught from World Boxing Organization titlist Scott Harrison over 12 frequently brutal rounds at the Braehead Arena to see his third attempt at winning a featherweight crown thwarted.
Harrison, at 25 seven years younger than his more seasoned challenger, fought a calm and coldly calculating fight to score a unanimous points decision over one of the most durable featherweights of the last decade.
He won all 12 rounds on judge Ruben Garcia’s card, and dropped just one round, according to Mickey Vann (119-108) and Andre van Grootenbreul (119-109).
For the first time in his career, McCullough, whose three previous losses were closer in scoring, found himself comprehensively outworked by the champion he’d called third rate in the bad tempered buildup to the fight.
According to Showtime, which televised the bout on tape delay in the United States, Harrison landed 398 of the 1,079 punches he threw, while McCullough connected on 209 of 789 shots.
Yet despite the bad blood between the two fighters going into bout, there was nothing but respect from both, as first McCullough planted a kiss on his vanquisher’s cheek at the final bell, and then Harrison tipped his hat off to the Irishman.
“He had a terrific chin,” Harrison said, echoing sentiments of other reputed bangers like Prince Nassem Hamed who’ve tangled with McCullough. “I threw some hard combinations and he kept coming back. He’s tougher than I thought.”
An inch taller and even more brawnier than the 5-foot-6 McCullough, the champion threw the gauntlet down to his challenger in the first round when he landed a straight right flush on the chin.
McCullough was typically unmoved but still got caught by a followup left-right combination that basically set the pattern for the fight.
Thereafter as he probed and searched for openings, McCullough was left vulnerable to Harrison’s sharp punching.
Still, the challenger had a good fourth stanza during which he seemed to close the gap and managed to both outwork and outpunch Harrison, who appeared to fade a bit. But the hometown hero, with most of the 6,000 fans in the arena behind him, came back to land some solid shots late in the fifth.
Then came the brutal sixth round. McCullough took probably as bad a beating as he’s ever taken his boxing career. It started with a right hand that stung him during a fierce exchange. Harrison opened up, forcing him into the ropes, where they slugged it out.
It was clear after the eighth stanza, another violent one for the challenger, who was mauled from pillar to post, that only a knockout could save McCullough.
It was not to be, even as Harrison slowed down his attack in the last round.
At 32 and with only one victory — back in July 1995 when he lifted the WBC bantamweight crown from Yaseui Yakushiji in Japan — in four title matches, McCullough may now have to reassess his ring career.
He was rushed to a hospital immediately after the fight and spent two nights under observation after complaining of fatigue.
In a statement released by his camp on Monday, the Las Vegas resident said: “I am grateful to staff and doctors at the Southern General Hospital who treated me after the fight. I will take a few days’ rest before returning home to Las Vegas.”
He also praised his fans saying: “The atmosphere in the arena and my passion for the sport definitely got me through the later rounds. I thank God we both came through safely. I respect Scott Harrison and agree that he is a true world champion.”
A silver medallist at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, his professional record falls to 26-4 (17 KOs).
Harrison improved to 19-1-1 (9 KOs).