Feel the fire
Stay hungry, you’re alone
– Twisted Sister
There was a time in heavyweight Jameel “Big Time” McCline’s career when many in the industry thought he’d have a title belt around his waist by now. Upset wins against Michael Grant and Lance Whitaker (who McCline still refers to as Goofi) had boxing connoisseurs excited about a big heavyweight with a blistering jab, power, and boxing skills normally not seen in a 6’6” fighter.
But in 2002, flaws began to emerge. Although he pitched a near shutout against Shannon Briggs, McCline appeared tentative in the early rounds, before finally getting aggressive and dominating the imposing Briggs.
In late 2002, McCline stepped in against Wladimir Klitschko (who at the time was considered the heir apparent) and performed dreadfully en route to being stopped in the tenth round. “Big Time” claimed he over-trained for the bout, his body exhausted before the first bell rang.
After a solid win against Charles Shufford, McCline put in another subpar performance against undefeated prospect Cedric Boswell. Trailing on points, McCline rallied to stop Boswell with less than one minute remaining in the contest.
But now the Port Jefferson, NY native is coming off of two consecutive losses – a razor thin split decision against Chris Byrd for the IBF championship, and a ten round unanimous decision loss to contender Calvin Brock.
The knock on McCline, ever since the Briggs fight, is that he lacks confidence and is sometimes afraid to let his hands fly.
After two straight losses, the 35-year-old McCline knew that if he was ever going to achieve his dream and become heavyweight champion, some drastic changes needed to be made.
“I’ve been pretty much alone in this camp. This is the first camp in many many years that I’ve done things by myself.” He paused as a look of disappointment streaked across his face. After a deep breath McCline continued. “After being who I was and losing twice in pretty significant fights that would have put me in a different realm, I had to sit down and reevaluate who I was and make some serious changes and go back to what I did to get me here. I was by myself back then.”
So Jameel and his wife/manager/publicist Tina packed up the house, their two daughters (they have three now) and relocated to West Palm Beach, Florida. The move helped get him away from people who McCline said was draining his energy. While “Big Time” wasn’t necessarily known as a big partier, leaving New York helped him focus on the more important things in life. “I changed my lifestyle completely. I hung out. You know, New York is New York and when you get a big name you forget where you came from,” he admitted. “I had some heart-felt conversations with myself, about what I wanted from my career. And what I want is success.”
The move to Florida meant separation from his longtime trainer Jimmy Glenn. The New York based Glenn will still be in Jameel’s corner on August 26th when he fights a tune-up/confidence builder against 34-8 Steve Pannell. The fight will be televised on pay-per-view along with three other bouts. While Jameel trains at David Lewter’s Gym in West Palm, much of his workout takes place in solitude. But he is not a solitary figure. “Big Time” is one of the most personable athletes in the sport. He’s neither loud nor brash, and seems genuinely appreciative of the opportunities and success he’s had in life. He’s always willing to talk with other fighters, fans, or even boxing writers – and usually with a big smile on his face.
But when talking about the setbacks in his career, the smile quickly fades. The thoughtful McCline doesn’t put up a wall and play the denial game or shift blame like so many other athletes. Again, the pain of disappointment is evident, after which his eyes burn with determination. “If I’m going to achieve my dream and win the heavyweight title, I have to keep everything real simple. We left New York to get away from all the people, the hangers-on, you know, all the stuff that goes on in New York. I’ve got Tina who handles everything. It’s just me and Tina,” he said, “the way it was in the beginning.”
On the day that TheSweetScience.com visited McCline at Lewter’s Gym, he sparred five rounds with veteran Sherman Williams and two hard rounds with undefeated prospect Kevin Johnson. McCline’s jab was as effective as ever, punishing Williams and keeping him on the outside. When Williams was able to get close to mix it up, McCline’s body punches thundered throughout the gym. His solid defense ensured that he didn’t take any big blows in return.
Kevin Johnson (7-0, 4 KOs), who is a little greener and has a lot more to prove, took it to McCline from the get-go. The two engaged in a heated six minutes of sparring, in which both boxers utilized strong jabs, effective technique, and a few good power shots to boot. When it was over, the two boxers, arms around each other’s shoulders, discussed the previous two rounds, smiling. Pats on the back were abundant from both parties.
Johnson assessed McCline’s progress. “He has improved so much in the past three and a half weeks. By next week, he’s going to be scary,” the sparring partner professed.
And how will Jameel McCline combat his critics and, more importantly, his own psychology, which has held him back in the past? “Just let my hands go,” he said. “Then there’s no talk about being tentative, about being cerebral. That’s what I plan on doing for the rest of my career. If I just let my hands go, no one can beat me.”
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• Keep your eye on Kevin Johnson, McCline’s sparring partner mentioned above. He has a sensational jab, power, a chin, and a big set of stones. If he gets the right trainer, he could develop into something special.
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