Nikolay Valuev vs. Jameel McCline: Is McCline Being Underestimated?

16.01.07 - By Matt Stein: In a bout that will match up two of the largest heavyweights in boxing, Nicolay Valuev (45-0, 33 KO's) will defend his WBA heavyweight title on Saturday, January 20th, against Jameel McCline (38-6-3, 23 KO's) in St. Jakob-Halle, Basel, in Switzerland. Unfortunately, the bout will not be shown in the United States, which is surprising since it would seem to me be a fight that many Americans would like to see, even though itís expected to be a mismatch. However, unlike a lot of people, Iím giving McCline, 36, an excellent shot of an upset. Donít get me wrong, Iím no apologist for McCline, whose had his share of bad luck in recent years, I just think heís the better fighter of the two, and has the most to lose if he gets beaten.

With both the size and speed to match the giant Russian, McCline may, in fact, be the better of the two going into the fight. While many people seem to point to Valuevís 45-0 record as indication of how good he is, itís hard to tell, as most of those wins have come against less than stellar fighters.

Since winning the WBA heavyweight title over John Ruiz on May 2005, Valuev has been less than impressive, in his two carefully selected title defenses against Own Beck and Monte Barrett, both of whom Valuev knocked out. The fact that Valuev won, matters little, under the circumstances, since he was fighting less than top level opposition in each case. More than that, Beck & Barrett were are what you would consider average size heavyweights, which meant that they were badly outsized by the huge, seven foot, 320 pound Valuev, who clearly took advantage of his tremensous size to overwhelm his terribly undersized opponents.

However, with Jameel McCline, a 6í6Ē 270 lb. fighter, Valuev is finally picking on someone who is marginally close to him in size, hence taking away much of Valuevís main advantage. With his size advantage gone, it will be interesting to see how Valuev reacts to having someone in front of him that he canít simply bully around as is his custom when facing his much smaller opponents during his career. McCline, though, will have to perform better than he has in recent years, in which he has lost to Wladimir Klitschko, Chris Byrd, Calvin Brock and Zuri Lawrence. Of course, thereís no shame in losing to those kinds of fighters, excluding Lawrence, yet McCline had bigger things expected of him earlier in his career, in particular, after his win over Michael Grant, Lance Whitaker and Shannon Briggs in 2001 and 2002. No doubt, those were easily McClineís best years as a fighter, but he still appears to fighting on that level, despite his recent string of bad luck. His main problems appear to be a combination of nerves, bad fight strategy and poor endurance.

These are things that are not impossible fix, especially the endurance part, which can be taken care of using more cardiovascular exercises. However, this is a bout that McCline cannot afford to lose, because this will be his 3rd shot at a heavyweight title, and at age 36, itís not likely he will get another shot. Of the four heavyweight champions, McCline seems to match up the best with Valuev, whom he will have a speed advantage over. Against other large heavyweights, like Briggs, Whitaker and Grant, McCline fought very well and showed good power that heís rarely been able to duplicate against smaller heavyweights.

Earlier in his career, McCline was a sparring partner for Lennox Lewis, another large heavyweight, whom McCline learned a great deal about boxing from. From their sparring battles, it would seem, McCline developed into a fighter that did better against larger heavyweights, ones that he could stand eye to eye with. Of course, people will point out that McCline was beaten by Wladimir Klitschko, am opponent that was more or less the same size as McCline. However, I donít count that fight, since McCline appeared absolutely terrified of Wladimir for the entire fight, and seldom threw any meaningful punches. Since then, McCline has become a much more confident a fighter, a fact that is plain to see when watching his recent fights against Marcus Rhode and Terry Smith, both decent journeymen fighters.

However, the big question is whether McCline can do this when faced with a real threat, something that Valuev represents. I donít anticipate McCline crumbling mentally as he has in the past, which tells me that Valuev will be in for the fight of his life against McCline. The truth of it is, all McCline has to do to win is to stay busy, and try to throw more punches than Valuev, itís as simple as that. I canít see Valuev knocking out McCline, either, because he has an excellent chin, which means Valuev will have to out work him for the full 12-rounds. Look for McCline to start out strong early in the bout, setting a fast pace for which Valuev will have trouble keeping up with. By the 9th round, Valuev will likely be very tired, and will br dropping his hands more and more, creating openings for McCline's huge right hands to find their targets on Valuev's unguarded face. By the 12th round, Valuev will be a pitiful mess, being stunned over and over by McCline's piecing shots.

Prediction: McCline by 12-round decision.

Article posted on 17.01.2007

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