McCline Approaches “Big Time” Challenge, Meets Valuev for WBA Heavyweight Crown in ’07

By Francis Walker
Updated: December 21, 2006

NEW YORK — Jameel “Big Time” McCline will receive a third opportunity to become a world champion when he challenges undefeated WBA heavyweight titlist Nikolai Valuev. The bout will occur on January 20th in Basel, Switzerland.

McCline (38-6-3, 23 KOs) is a 6-foot-6, 270-pounder from Harlem. However, the 36-year-old, now living in West Palm Beach, will be at a rare height and weight disadvantage when he meets Valuev (45-0, 33 KOs) the 7-foot-3, 325-pound champion.
By fight time, both Valuev, 33, St. Petersburg, Russia, and McCline would weigh as much as 600 pounds. McCline’s first opportunity to win a heavyweight title was against Wladimir Klitschko for the WBO title in December 2002.
The bout was the biggest fight for both men at the time. McCline surprisingly had difficulty landing his left jab and straight-right against Klitschko. The champion neutralized McCline’s aggressiveness by throwing left jabs and overhand shots that forced McCline to cover up.
Neither fighter was in danger of being seriously hurt until McCline suddenly stooped to his knees and covered up into a corner while Klitschko hit hi repeatedly. McCline suffered a surprising 10th round TKO stoppage.
McCline would press for another world title shot against Chris Byrd for the IBF title in November 2004. McCline was four inches taller and weighed at least 50 pounds more than the 6-foot-2, 213-pound Byrd. McCline landed a solid right on Byrd’s chin that dropped him flat on the mat in the second round.
With the heavyweight championship within his grasp, McCline amazingly tired after the fourth round. McCline allowed the much faster, but lighter hitting Byrd to literally outland and out hustle him for the remainder of the fight. Byrd momentarily stunned and staggered McCline late the fight.
Byrd went on to win a close 12-round split decision (114-112, and 113-114, 112-115). McCline’s biggest enemy could be his conditioning. McCline is a very boxing-wise and strategic person.
McCline has defeated some recognizable heavyweight contenders that include Mount Whitaker, Cedric Boswell, Charles Shufford, Michael Grant (once HBO’s idea of the future of the heavyweight division) and current WBO heavyweight champion Shannon Briggs.
McCline has a tendency to fade in the later rounds. That could play into Valuev’s hands when the two fighters meet.
Valuev is big and has a lot of punching power because of his tremendous size. He has been criticized for being slow puncher, but he is conditioned to go twelve rounds.
“I think Niko is a great fighter,” McCline said at a recent press conference to announce his third world title challenge. “I have seen lots of his fights on tape. He has set new standards in the heavyweight division. It will be difficult for me to find sparring partners that match his height and weight.”
Valuev was not close to punching himself out when he defeated John Ruiz to win the WBA title in December 2005. In Valuev’s recent defense against Monte Barrett, the champion was able to apply increasing pressure and maintained a consistent attack without running out of steam.
Throughout Valuev’s career, he has fought guys that punch themselves out very quickly in fights because, Valuev is solid. Valuev has been stunned before, but he has a good chin.
Not every fighter has the reach or even the skill to topple Valuev with one solid shot to his chin. It will take more than one shot to topple Valuev. It will take constant hustle from a fighter that is well conditioned.
Conditioning will be an important asset for McCline if he wishes to make history next year.
Valuev is steadily approaching Rocky Marciano’s undefeated streak. The late Marciano retired in 1955 having the longest undefeated streak for a heavyweight with a record of 49-0.
In September 1985, IBF heavyweight champion Larry Holmes (48-0) at was on the verge of tying that record. Holmes lost a controversial unanimous 15-round decision to Michael Spinks, who became the first light-heavyweight champion to win a heavyweight championship.
Valuev’s a perfect 45-0 (33 KOs) and needs only four consecutive victories without a single defeat to tie Marciano’s mark. Five will bring the Russian to a record breaking 50-0.
Champions Must Unify
As dominant as Valuev has been throughout his career which began in October 1993, the feat would mean little. Valuev is not recognized as the best heavyweight.
That distinction currently belongs to IBF champion Wladimir Klitschko. If you add WBA champion Oleg Maskaev and WBO kingpin Shannon Briggs to the mix, the heavyweight division is overwhelmed with four different fighters calling themselves “the world heavyweight champion.”
There is only one way to settle the confusion – unify the world heavyweight championship.
Klitschko, Maskeav, and Briggs each overcame a pair of devastating knockouts throughout their careers and worked hard to become better fighters. They are battle-tested.
Although Valuev received solid tests from John Ruiz and Monte Barrett, the giant Russian has never been pushed to the limit the way Klitschko, Briggs, and Maskaev were in recent years.
There are questions as to whether Valuev, who is strong, can withstand pressure from the other heavyweight champions. Klitschko, at 6-feet-6, 245, is perhaps the hardest hitter in the heavyweight division and Briggs, 6-feet-2, 270 pounds has a rare combination of speed and power for a heavyweight.