"This is my destiny...The judging is my only concern."
Jameel McCline is one hungry fighter. Don King discovered this after his insulting $100,000 offer to ‘Big Time’ for a title fight with IBF champ Chris Byrd was eagerly accepted by the 6’6”, New Jersey native. While Jameel will actually be making $300,000 for the bout, thanks to some crafty negotiating on the part of Cedric Kushner, it is shocking to find a top-ten heavyweight so determined as to take a title fight in 2004 for 1950’s prize money. After all, we are not talking about some journeyman pushover. Just ask Michael Grant, Lance Whitaker, Shannon Briggs, Cedric Boswell or Charles Shufford and they will all tell you that ‘Big Time’ has a nasty little habit of ending careers. Even Vladimir Klitschko, despite getting the better of an over-trained McCline in December 2002, has never been the same fighter since that night. Now, coming off three consecutive knockout victories, the 34 year old is ready to end another career for the opportunity he has always dreamed of. The fact that the man standing in the way is a close friend and boxing idol doesn’t faze him in the least. Remember, Jameel is hungry. He has the appetite of a man who came out of prison ten years ago, had one amateur bout and then learned how to fight in the pros. On November 13th at Madison Square Garden ‘Big Time’ will have a chance to show the world what he’s learned over the past few years, and if all goes according to plan then next time Mr. King may have to add another zero to that paycheck.AL: How’s training going Jameel?
JM: I’m exhausted right now, working so hard. I’m in it. I’m about to start my seventh week.AL: You said you over-trained for the Klitschko fight, are you being more careful about that now?
JM: Very careful about that right now.AL: How excited are you to be fighting for the title?
JM: Very, very excited to be fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world. It’s a dream come true.AL: How does it feel to be fighting one of your good friends and also one of your boxing idols?
JM: A couple years ago I was asked who my boxing idols were and I named two. Riddick Bowe, because for a big man he was one of the first guys to show athleticism, and Chris Byrd because he’s a little guy who will fight anybody, anywhere anytime. He’s shows a lot of heart and wonderful skill and he’s just someone I look up to. When I got to know him as a person he was even better than what I thought of him before. So here I am fighting a great person, a great fighter and a great man at Madison Square Garden and it’s ten years to the date since I got released from prison. So it’s all destiny. It’s a beautiful thing to be involved in right now.AL: Did you ever think when you got out of the pen that you’d be fighting for the heavyweight title ten years later?
JM: I actually thought I would be. It was a dream of mine, but it was only a dream.AL: Being such good friends with Byrd as you are, do you think you will be able to employ the aggression that you’ll need to beat him?
JM: Of course I will.AL: Considering how crafty Byrd is, have you trained any differently for this fight?
JM: No.AL: You’ll have a big height advantage and probably a 50-pound weight advantage. Will you use that to impose your will against Byrd?
JM: Yes.AL: Well in some of your past fights, particularly against Kltischko, in the early rounds against Briggs and a little bit against Boswell, it just seemed like you were a bit tentative to use your size. Have you changed anything regarding that aspect of your game?
JM: I’ll be coming forward the entire time.AL: I know you said you over-trained for the Klitschko fight, but what were the specific things that you were unable to execute in that bout?
JM: This is how I’m gonna answer that question for you. First of all he didn’t even knock me out. I didn’t come out for the eleventh because I was completely exhausted. Since I fought him he’s been knocked out twice, he’s been knocked down another time and he barely made it out of his fight with DeVarryl Williamson. I destroyed his career, completely and utterly and I was completely over-trained. So enough with the Klitschko fight. I mean I won my next three fights by knockout. It’s just enough with the Klitschko thing, enough. AL: Well the thing that I saw in the Klitschko fight which has bothered me before is that you’re a really big, strong guy and sometimes I see tentativeness in the ring. If you came out in other fights like you did against Llewelyn, I don’t know too many guys who could stand up to that pressure.
JM: The way I came out against Llewelyn was very amateurish. I would never do that again. I just wanted him out of there and I knew I could get him out of there by just street brawling him like that. You see he would make me look bad if I was in there with him for five or six minutes. So I chose to look bad and get him out of there in two or three minutes. Either way I was going to look bad, I just wanted him out of there. But people like yourself refer to my tentativeness and I hear it so much so I’m sure you must be right. But you know I only started boxing nine years ago. I’m not saying please give me a break, but I didn’t have that amateur experience where so much of what is necessary to be a fighter is learned. Actually I’m doing it against guys like Briggs or like Shufford. I’m still learning. So if I look a little tentative its because I’m still learning and I’m still unsure at times of what next to do. So we came up with a game plan. If you don’t know what to do, just let your hands go. I’m big enough and strong enough and fast enough to be effective in that.AL: How difficult was it to set up this fight?
JM: It was very, very, very hard. For some reason the powers that be did not want us to fight Chris Byrd. Chris Byrd didn’t really care who he fought from what I understand which is what I suspected all along, but the powers that be did not want us to get together. It took a lot of legal wrangling but we ended up getting it.AL: Do you see yourself willingly going into negotiations with King again?
JM: I’m focused right now on just becoming heavyweight champion of the world.AL: If you beat Byrd in November would you try to take one of the other belts right away?
JM: Right now my only goal is to beat Chris Byrd. AL: You had a fight set up with Toney before he injured his Achilles. How upset were you about that turn of events?
JM: Oh, I was very upset about that, because there was no way he could have beat me. I’m just too big. Yes, he’s a great fighter, but he’s not a heavyweight and there was no way he was going to beat me. He proved that in his last outing against some guy I never even heard of who was overweight and he went the distance with the guy. He wouldn’t have been able to stand there with me. Even if he’s so good like people say, he was just too small to get past my jab.AL: Tell me a bit about what gave you so much trouble with Cedric Boswell.
JM: I guess what gave me trouble with Boswell was that I wasn’t aggressive enough early enough. When I saw the fight slipping away from me I got more aggressive and the more aggressive I got the easier the fight became for me.AL: Knowing that Chris Byrd probably can’t really hurt you and you could conceivably walk through him, are you going to try for the knockout or will you box with him?
JM: I am going to fight the fight plan that we are putting together and if that fight plan takes me to the twelfth round or the first round then that’s what we’ll do. I’m just going to be stepping forward using my jab and my size. He’s too small to beat me. I’ll come into this fight at 260. When I’m fighting at that weight I’m awesome. No one can stop me. I fight my ass off for every second of every round and I’m looking forward to showing the world how wrong they are. You know I don’t read too much press anymore and I have a rule at camp that no one reports to me what’s written anymore. But before I started camp I saw how a lot of the writers are writing me off which is the strangest thing, and I feel that I have so much to prove because of that. I mean I lose one fight in eight years to a really good fighter at the time. It’s just the strangest thing. But hey listen I’m here and I’m very happy to be here and I try not to use that negative energy to drive me but I can’t help it. It does drive me. I can’t wait to prove it to these people. I don’t know who they think I am.AL: What is your biggest concern regarding the fight?
JM: Being that it was so hard for me to get the fight, my biggest concern is not beating Chris Byrd cause I can take care of that with proper training and my desire and will to win. My biggest concern is the judging. I have a lot of faith in Ron Scott Stevens over there at the commission but some things slip through the cracks. As a matter of fact it happened about five years ago at Madison Square Garden when Lennox Lewis kicked the shit out of Holyfield and got a draw. The judging is my only concern. Not that I plan on going the distance but just in case I do. The reason why I’m mentioned this is that I just want it out there. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve stayed out of the press because when I did get out there and said something I wanted people to actually listen as opposed to saying oh another article from Jameel McCline.AL: Switching gears for a second, I was at the Hammerstein Ballroom to watch you fight to a draw with Sherman Williams. Since then you’ve improved so dramatically. What do you attribute to your rapid improvement over the last four years?
JM: I changed a lot of training techniques and a lot of my trainers. I realized that in order for me to survive in this game I realized that I had to fight. I couldn’t just show up. Remember, even though I was much bigger than Williams, he had a lot of experience and I didn’t. I don’t want to make any excuses, but it was just a lack of experience. After that I got with the great Jimmy Glenn and we made a difference and I think it showed in the fights following that.AL: What do you think is the best weapon now in your arsenal?
JM: Definitely my conditioning and my jab. I only ran out of gas in the Klitschko fight because I was out of gas before I got into the ring. Also I have the ability to crush careers. It goes back to the King Ipitan fight in Vegas. At the time he was 19-2 and I beat him and I haven’t seen him since. The next guy I fought was Al Cole. I fight Al Cole and he’s a sparring partner of mine now. No disrespect to him cause he’s a great, great person and an important part of my team now. The next person I fight was Michael Grant and you saw what happened to him. The next person I fought was Goofi and after I fought him you don’t see him anywhere. I completely destroyed his resolve. Then I fought Shannon Briggs and now he’s done. Then even though I lost to Klitschko, he’s done nothing since. Then I fought Shufford and he hasn’t won since he fought me. Then I fought undefeated Cedric Boswell, who hasn’t fought since. I think what happens is when guys fight me I just take their resolve to continue to fight. That’s another reason why my confidence is so high and it’s another reason why I’m realizing who I am in this game. I am a major force. If I can inadvertently end guy’s careers that says a lot about who I am as an athlete.AL: You and Bernard Hopkins have a similar background, both coming out of prison to learn how to box in the pros. Bernard Hopkins is on top of the world right now and you may be in a similar position next month. Could you briefly take me through the events leading up to your jail time, your experience in prison and how that experience affected your career in the sport?
JM: Well I’ve always lived n the edge and I still live on the edge to this day. I’ve always taken chances and I still take chances to this day. But what happened basically was that I was a young kid, impressionable, hanging out with the wrong crowd and I just fell into it. It wasn’t like it was something I aspired to be involved in. It wasn’t something I wanted to be involved in. I just sort of fell into the whole underworld scene. You know drugs and money and guns and that whole thing and it landed me in prison. AL: Where were you incarcerated?
JM: New York City. I was in like Attica and Sing-Sing and those types of prisons. It gave me a lot of time to reflect on who I was and gave me a great opportunity to remain who I was because I didn’t come out jaded. Cause you know prison is a university to higher crime and I vowed never to go back and deal with that situation again and it’s worked out well for me. Boxing wasn’t my only goal. My goal was to get a job and become a good citizen. So I went to Kevin Rooney’s gym in the Catskills and I hooked up with some good people and I thought it would work out well right from the beginning and it didn’t work out. So I let it go for a short time and then I was in the gym one day jumping rope and someone approached me and asked me if I wanted to be a boxer and I said sure.AL: So you never boxed in prison?
JM: No. AL: Were you involved in a lot of street fights or prison fights as a young man?
JM: Listen I took care of myself before during and after prison. I wasn’t necessarily a crazy guy fighting people all the time. But sure I definitely got into scrapes. It wasn’t like I was always just starting fights though.AL: So when you decided to get into boxing you probably did so partly because you felt like you had some good fighting instincts.
JM: Yes, because I did fight a lot. I did get into scrapes and I did well. I never really got hurt until I got into the ring, and then I got my ass kicked regularly for the first five or six years.AL: So any predictions for November 13th?
JM: I am going to win this fight. This is my destiny. This is what I was born to do. I know nothing else. I want nothing else. I am nothing else.
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