If Chins Could Bill: Wilson’s ability to take a punch still brings him regular paydays.
If Chins Could Bill: Wilson’s ability to take a punch still brings him regular paydays. Credit: (Photograph by Charles Steck)

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Boxing is full of guys making comebacks later than they should or sticking around too long in hopes of recapturing old ring glories. But when Marion “Mo” Wilson looks back at his career, he doesn’t have a glory-days phase to dwell on.

According to his boxing bio, Wilson is 50 years old. He’s never held a belt or even fought for the title of any major sanctioning body. The product of Southeast—he’s the youngest of 15 children—has posted only one win in the last nine years. His loss last month to Oliver McCall at the ABC Sports Complex in Springfield put his record at 12–41–4. It was a unanimous decision that nobody disputed.

“I’m always ready if the phone rings,” he says.

In his two-decade career, when he’s not patrolling malls as a security guard or driving a limousine around D.C., he’s been in the ring piling up losses. And quietly becoming a legend in fight circles.

Wilson, in fact, ranks right up there with the best losers the heavyweight division has ever seen.

Last year, boxing writer James Slater threw Wilson into a mix that included Ali, Marciano, Dempsey, Foreman, and Tex Cobb in his poll of heavyweight boxing’s 10 greatest chins. Even a quick look at his ring résumé shows this designation is no joke. Wilson hasn’t just been showing up on fight nights all these years—he stays around until the final bell. He’s never been knocked out. According to one boxing digest, Wilson was knocked down once, back in 1992 during a fight in Philly, but he swears that didn’t happen.

“I’ve never even been given an eight-count,” he says. (Two of his losses have been in fights that went to judges’ cards early because of cuts from inadvertent headbutts, and another fight was stopped for excessive holding by Wilson.)

The McCall fight, while adding another loss to the heap, did nothing to tarnish Wilson’s rep. When the bell rang to end the fight, he was still standing, so his career-long streak remained intact.

“Every loss ain’t a loss,” he says.

Wilson’s standing streak hasn’t been built against club fighters, either. McCall, though well past his prime these days, is still a Top 10 heavyweight in the World Boxing Council rankings. He knocked out Lennox Lewis in 1994 and is one of only two men to ever beat Lewis. And McCall is just one of seven former world champions Wilson’s faced in the ring—and he’s stayed to hear the final bell against all of ’em. The others: Oleg Maskaev, Orlin Norris, Shannon Briggs, Ray Mercer, Greg Page, and Hasim Rahman—the only other fighter to ever beat Lewis, KO’ing him in 2001.

Wilson has also lasted in losses to title sniffers François Botha, Tyrell Biggs, Samuel Peter, and Andrew Golota, whom he fought twice back when the brutal and apparently deranged Polish banger (nickname: the Foul Pole) was at the top of his game. He’s gone long distances to go the distance, too: He’s lost in Le Cannet, France, in Recife, Brazil, and in Bushkill, Pa. And just about everywhere in between.

There’s no Elias Sports Bureau for boxing, but it’s quite likely that nobody in the history of boxing has fought more heavyweight champions without ever getting a title shot of his own, let alone without getting KO’d at least a couple times.

“Marion Wilson’s got a reputation, a mystique about him by now,” says Gary “Digital” Williams, a local boxing watchdog who is among those in awe of Wilson’s staying power. “This guy has fought the Who’s Who of the heavyweight division of the past 20 years. It’s amazing. And he does not go down. It’s sad that the reputation is all he’s got to hang onto.”

So after a day spent driving a limousine around town, that’s what keeps Wilson motivated to put in his road work and hit the heavy bag a few thousand more times.

Ham Johnson, Wilson’s longtime trainer, is another admirer. He says Wilson has always had a champion’s heart, if not a belt-worthy jab.

“His specialty might be losing,” says Johnson. “But [trainers] want their fighters to go against this guy because if you get by Marion Wilson, you’ve got something. He’s the last of the brawlers, I tell you. He throws punches nobody else throws, comes at you from all over. I saw the guy throw two upper cuts at the same time once. But he won’t quit.”

Tony Thompson, a Silver Spring heavyweight and the No. 7 contender in the WBC rankings, has put up a 29-1 record with 17 knockouts. Among the victories, but not the KO’s, is Thompson’s decision over Wilson in 2002.

“I look at a guy like Mo Wilson, and I shake my head,” says Thompson. “I watched films of the guy going into [the 2002 fight], and see a tough guy who never got knocked down and never got knocked out. Then you look at that record, and I just don’t know why things turned out like they did. He’s been in this game so long, and I think he’s in survival mode now. But, I know from watching him, that guy had some skills. I’d have liked to see his career turn out better.”

Wilson admits the money keeps him in training, too. He estimates that for all his fights, he’s made only $100,000. He never took in a big purse for fighting Lewis or Riddick Bowe, two of the heaviest hitters and top draws of his generation, but only because both employed him as a sparring partner for years. He left Bowe’s camp and jumped to Lewis’, he says, after finding out that Lewis paid his workers in pounds, not dollars. And Wilson says he still has plenty of earning power in the ring.

“I know there’s another payday out there,” he says. “A big payday for Mo Wilson. And I need it.”

If the government really cared about athletes’ health, boxing would have been banned a long time ago. But it remains among the most regulated sports, and Wilson is a lot older than some boxing commissions would like to see when approving promoters’ fight cards.

But for whatever pounding he’s received in the ring, he’s obviously taken good care of himself. He’s got the physique of a man much younger than his boxing bio indicates.

“Nobody believes I’m 50,” says Wilson. “I don’t even believe it.”

Before the McCall fight, Virginia officials refused to sign off on letting Wilson in the ring until he showed up for a personal inspection. “Sugar” Han Kim, who promoted the fight, says Wilson’s record also raised questions with the regulators.

“The commissioner wasn’t sure he was going to let this go on before he got a look at [Wilson],” says Kim. “He told me he didn’t want to let somebody with that age and record come in to fight against a former world champion like McCall. I thought there was a chance we would have to cancel it. But at the weigh-in, he took his shirt off, and the guy says, ‘You’re not 50 years old!’ And he said we could fight.”

Boxing’s littered with folks who want to take fights within an inch of being brain-dead. Wilson, who says he was paid $5,000 for his recent fight with McCall, insists his head’s in as fine of shape as his body. At least for now.

“They didn’t beat all my brains out,” he says with a laugh. “Not yet.”