Jameel McCline details overcoming prison bid to have respectable heavyweight career

first_img“He looked right at me and said, ‘An indefinite period in solitary confinement.’”Jameel McCline was a tenant in a brutal and torturous environment long before emerging as a heavyweight contender during the talent-laden 1990s. An inmate at New York State’s Attica hellhole, alongside the ‘Son of Sam’ and Mark Chapman, McCline considered the notorious correctional facility, along with Rikers Island, home during his late teens and early twenties. Trapped in darkness with only the beat of his heart and inner-voice keeping him company, McCline was unable to imagine the next day, let alone envisage gruelling ring battles against the likes of Wladimir Klitschko and Shannon Briggs. Join DAZN and watch more than 100 fight nights a year“When the guards told me I was going into solitary, my eyes just went big and this loud-mouthed kid just had nothing to say,” he recalls. Silencing McCline during this turbulent age was an arduous task. A product of 1970s Harlem and raised by a single mother, McCline was afforded independence at an early age when his mum dispatched him to the care of Catholic nuns in a Long Island group home. Fearing her brightest child would be swallowed and digested by Harlem’s streets, McCline’s guardian opted to give Jameel a chance that the stoops of New York City were incapable of providing. Despite the pleasant scenery hosting his adolescence, McCline, a vastly intelligent teenager, nonetheless chose crime.“In the day, you would find me over in Manhattan on West 61st Street at the New York Institute of Technology,” McCline remembers. “At night, I could be anywhere in New York City, either selling drugs or moving guns from one place to another. That’s how crazy life got for Jameel McCline back then. I found the work so easy and it didn’t really challenge me, and who knows where I might’ve ended up if studying was my priority back then, but the money I was making also came easy and that’s the path I decided to take until it landed me in a lot of trouble with the police.”Incarcerated for five years, McCline’s quest for prosperity, a journey that began as a seven-year-old, was threatening to derail at an alarming pace. Boasting a largely happy upbringing combined with a sharp mind to combat the tribulations of education, McCline should have been jockeying for a position of power long before climbing the heavyweight ladder. Instead, his athletic frame was manhandled to the basement of a penal facility housing the vilest creatures the American East Coast had nurtured. The advantages obtained by McCline by escaping inner-city torment were rendered useless for five long years. He vowed to make up for lost time upon his release.“I had a few ideas, but being honest, boxing wasn’t really one of them,” he reveals. “Don Turner came to visit me when I was in prison and I ended up going up to Maine for a training camp with Michael Grant. I was fit and strong, but not much else, and I think after Don got a proper look at me and realized there was a lot of work to do with me, then he wasn’t that interested.”Undeterred by Turner’s rejection, McCline initially focused on weight training. Meeting strength and conditioning expert, Ron Ruether, at the gym he used, McCline took his workouts to another level and after working with Jimmy Glenn, a staple of the New York boxing scene, Jameel dedicated himself to his new craft. After a lengthy period of time spent trying to figure out his destiny, McCline became convinced that boxing was his path to satisfaction.“It took time,” he reflects. “OK, I was strong and fit, but you realize early on that you’re going to need a lot more than that. My first few fights were a mixed bag, but then I went on a decent run and I was in huge demand to become a sparring partner to a lot of good guys. All the contenders and champions from that time wanted me in their camp because I was a big, fit guy who was durable enough to go the rounds. I think I earned my respect as a boxer in those camps and they certainly helped me become a much better boxer in no time.”Loitering on the outskirts of a ridiculously-deep heavyweight league at the turn of the new millennium, McCline’s reputation was largely confined within the walls of New York and New Jersey gyms. Spells inside Lennox Lewis’s luxurious surroundings, as the undisputed champion prepared for the likes of Michael Grant and David Tua, convinced McCline he could achieve more than just the occasional few weeks work with fighters operating near the top of the division. An undercard attraction who hadn’t yet caught fire, McCline witnessed Lewis dismantling the overmatched Grant in April 2000 and that was the pivotal factor that convinced the prospect he had more to offer boxing.“Those sessions with Lennox were the most important of my life,” muses McCline. “Where other sparring partners would just beat me up and work on themselves, Lennox would stop the spar and show me stuff that other fighters wouldn’t even think of sharing. We’d be head-on in the middle of the spar and Lennox would be showing me where my feet should be and what shots I could fire back with from the position I was standing. It’s probably the hardest way you can learn when you’re in there with the heavyweight champion, but it’s experience that you just can’t buy.”He added: “That time with Lennox was right before the Michael Grant fight. If you remember, Grant went into that fight with a lot of backers, but I knew that he had no chance of beating Lennox. I watched Grant’s performance and compared it to how I had been performing against Lennox in sparring and it gave me all the confidence in the world. If someone like Grant could get all the way to the heavyweight title and be considered a threat to someone like Lennox then I thought I had a good chance of doing something.”McCline’s belief that he had the beating of Grant would be tested when he was chosen for the former hopeful to build his comeback against. Grant’s disastrous outing against Lewis saw him decimated in two painfully one-sided rounds and his trail to redemption would begin, and end, with McCline, as Michael was halted in the first round, enduring an ankle injury after being floored by the thickset New Yorker. McCline was now an established contender.Further victories over Lance Whittaker and Briggs demonstrated McCline’s potential as the three-fight winning streak over superior opposition paved the way for his first world title shot. Opposing Wladimir Klitschko for the WBO gong in 2002, McCline gave a fantastic account of himself before being kept on his school following a heavy knockdown at the end of the 10th round. Blessed at the time to receive such a shot, McCline’s prolonged chase of heavyweight glory was only just beginning. He would fight for the honor on three more occasions, coming up short every time with losses against Chris Byrd, Nikolay Valuev, and Samuel Peter.“On a different day, I could’ve been a two-time heavyweight champion of the world,” McCline insists. “I always promised myself that I wouldn’t have regrets when my career was done, but the only thing I wish for is that I would’ve had a lot of amateur experience. That stuff helped so many of my opponents and from day one I was playing catch-up with these guys. I came into boxing a novice and I fought for the world title on four occasions. Come on, I must’ve been one hell of a fighter to get four opportunities to fight for the heavyweight title. There are guys who don’t even get that chance or only get it once. Four times tells me that I was a good fighter.”He added: “The fight with Byrd was probably my best chance. I dropped him and hurt him, but he was just too good to nail again, and he ended up getting it on the cards. I think that fight could’ve gone either way. Sam Peter was another fight where I let him off the hook. If I would’ve let my hands go a little more in that one then things could’ve been different. Valuev and Klitschko were just too good for me. Wladimir was something else back then. You just knew he was going to go and do a lot in the sport. Fighting him was a huge wake-up call for me.” Join DAZN and watch more than 100 fight nights a yearToday, McCline is a prominent figure in corporate America, working diligently in the healthcare industry and obtaining the type of success that cruelly evaded him in the squared circle. Since retiring in 2012, McCline has worked in a gym, campaigned for Congress, and has recently moved into his new Florida home. Boxing is very much in his dark and troubled past, but now a successful businessman, the New York giant is happy for it to stay there.“Every now and then it pops up when I’m with a client or new company, but I don’t want it to be the reason why I become a success in such a demanding world,” he points out. “You meet people today and they can go on Google and find out whatever they want about you so here I am meeting new people and all they want to talk about is boxing. That chapter of my life is well and truly over and now I want people to recognize the work that I’m doing today and give me my dues for that. Boxing was fun, it gave me some great nights, but most importantly, it gave me the discipline needed to succeed in other areas and that’s what I’m doing today.”last_img

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