At 6’ 2” and nearly 230lbs, Elijah McCall (10-1-1, 9 KOs), son of former heavyweight champion Oliver McCall, is a rising prospect with athleticism and dynamic punching power looking to make a name for himself in the heavyweight division. In The following interview that took place on June 30, 2012 at the Chicago Park District Boxing Gym at 39 West 47th Street, Chicago, IL 60609 McCall discusses his unique family background, his competitive nature, the transition from football to boxing, and his goal of ten fights in twelve months.
Elijah, thanks for taking the time to sit down and discuss yourself and your career.
SG: I know you were born in Chicago and are making it your home nowadays, but where did you grow up?
EM: I grew up in Basset, Virginia and went to school there for grammar school, high school, and college. But for the last four years since I started fighting, I’ve been all over: South Florida, Vegas, Texas, and now Chicago where we are giving the fans what they want.
SG: Going a little more into your background, what kind of lifestyle did you have growing up as the son of a heavyweight champion in Basset, Virginia?
EM: Oh, shoot. It was a very small town. Everybody knows everybody’s business. Back then my dad was heavyweight champion of the world, and he was very popular around the area, so with that came the good and the bad. So I learned at a very early age how to overcome what other people say and read about you. Unfortunately, that kinda pushed me away from boxing at first. I always wanted to be a boxer and would try to sneak away with my dad whenever I could, but the negative aspects that I experienced as a child kept me away.
SG: Do you think those tough times strengthened your relationship with your dad?
EM: Oh, yes. They most definitely did. Going through what we went through can either make you or break you. It really shaped me into the man I am today. I look up to my dad. I want to be just like him. I want to avoid the bad things he’s done but follow the good things he’s done like becoming heavyweight champion of the world.
SG: As a family that traveled a lot, how were the relationships among your family members while growing up?
EM: Even though we had some hard times, we were all like best friends: my sisters, brothers, parents, cousins, all of us. We were always there for each other by helping each other out and pushing each other to do better.
SG: You have a family of terrific athletes with two of your sisters having played college basketball, one of your sisters competing at the Olympic level, and one of your brothers playing college football. Just how competitive was the household?
EM: The household was very competitive on a daily basis. Everyday we played basketball. My dad loves to play basketball, and everyday we had to compete to play. I wasn’t a great basketball player, so I was a little more on the sidelines trying to earn my way into the game. That was more the sport of my older sisters but everyday was competitive—from playing videogames to cooking to running to the car after leaving the store. Everything was about being first and being the best. It was always about winning.
SG: What was the biggest sport for you growing up then?
EM: Like I said, I always tried to sneak away to the gym with my dad, but it was like a top-secret thing. I didn’t want to let anyone know I was into it. I always loved it, but my first love was basketball and then I found football which I was much better at and then I ended up getting a scholarship to James Madison University to play.
SG: Why didn’t you choose to pursue football? Why boxing?
EM: I always loved boxing even though I played football for two years in college. I also have to say that the BS with recruiting kinda turned me off from football during my senior year in high school. After high school I made up my mind and told my dad I wanted to box. He told me he wanted to watch me on Sundays so I stuck it out for a couple more years before leaving school to box.
SG: What about your mom? Was she okay with you boxing?
EM: Oh yeah. It goes back to the whole competitive thing. She tells me to move my head, but you learn to move your head because it hurts to get hit (laughs).
SG: What about your dad? I read somewhere that your dad wanted you to have an amateur career first and he only agreed for you to go pro after the two of you sparred? Is any of that true?
EM: That is true. When I went down to Florida to workout with him, I had just come from college football and I was all big and bad (laughs). I had no problems with going amateur but it was 2008. To me, at the time, there was nowhere I could really go with the amateurs unless I waited another four years. Me, being naïve, couldn’t wait four years because I didn’t have the patience at the time even though my dad was telling me to wait. It goes back to the competitive thing. Whatever my dad told me, I was going to do it sooner. If he said I’d be ready in a year, I’d shoot for six months. That’s how it happened. One day, I told him I was going to fight on the undercard of the Abraham-Miranda II fight and we fought and then he said if I could pass the test with him then he’d give me the okay. He was throwing bombs and then because of that competitiveness I pushed myself because I don’t want to get beat by anyone, especially my dad. I passed and he said I was ready to be a fighter.
SG: Recently, many football players are trying to make the switch. What is the biggest transition from football to boxing?
EM: The bulkiness is the difference. In football you have to big. I was much more bulky. Now, I am more lean. That loose muscle is the key, so you can move around and be more athletic in the ring. You have to get that boxer’s shape.
SG: Do you think you have the boxer’s build now?
EM: I definitely think I have it now. It is much easier to move, throw punches, and keep my stamina now.
SG: You’re off to a solid start and you clearly have the athleticism to be a contender, especially compared to other young Americans. Unlike most prospects, however, because of your father and the individuals who have surrounded your life, you know what it’s like to be in the fight game—the ups and the downs. What stands out as the lowest point in your life as far as boxing is concerned and what is the highest?
EM: The lowest point that I experienced in boxing was when I was in London for my dad’s fight with Frank Bruno. My whole family was there and a lot of bad things were done to him and us so Bruno could get the advantage. That all comes with sport, but as a kid it really hurt. I mean the British fans were throwing stuff at us and calling us all kinds of names and mooning us. Then my dad lost, and as a kid that was a lot. I’d never seen my dad beat up. He had a couple of knots on him, and I’d say that was the lowest point.
SG: What was the highest?
EM: I would say boxing at the Horseshoe in Hammond last month because it was a big event, and a lot of family showed up. Both of my grandmothers were there, and it was also the first time I fought in Chicago so it was like a homecoming. It was also the first time I fought with Nate Jones as my trainer and I overcame a little adversity and won by knockout against a tough opponent who came to fight. It was a good fight and not just some easy fight and that’s why I took it even though I wasn’t in the best shape because all I was doing was running at the time. The only sparring I did was months before the fight with a good prospect named Rafael Murphy back in Texas. It was a good test.
SG: As a young fighter without amateur experience, how is learning and developing as a pro? You can’t move too fast but you don’t want to move too slow?
EM: It’s tough because you have to balance learning and developing with keeping a great record. You know, back in the old days in the 60s ad 70s, great fighters had five or six losses and were still top contenders and you didn’t want to fight them because event though he got six or seven losses he’s a bad dude. Today, it’s different but I think I am progressing the right way.
SG: What does the next year hold? How many fights do you want in the next twelve months?
EM: I want to get ten fights. Around next year during the fall or wintertime I will be ready for the top contenders. My skills are only getting better. I have only been boxing for four years—no amateur only pro. I got the punch and I’ll take the risk to throw that punch.
SG: How many in Chicago?
EM: I like to get six in Chicago. I would also like to gain more experience by going back to Vegas to fight. I would like fight in Atlantic City and New York, and I would definitely love to go back to fight in Harlingen, Texas.
SG: What do you need to improve on most?
EM: I think I can be so confident with my punch that I can get caught posing at times, and I need to remember to stay active in the ring and not just look for the big punch.
SG: What is your greatest strength?
EM: My power and speed are definitely my greatest strengths. I am also very athletic and light on my feet for my size so I can get in and out of danger when necessary.
SG: Who are your favorite fighters?
EM: My dad, of course (laughs) and Julio Cesar Chavez the original, I love Mike McCallum, and of course Joe Louis.
SG: What about today?
EM: I like Andre Ward, Carl Froch, and number one, Floyd Mayweather.
SG: Which heavyweights do you want to be like?
EM: We ain’t talking about today are we? (laughs) I want to be like Joe Louis. I liked the way he approached his opponents with calmness and how he set up the right hand and was able to deliver the hook. He was always smooth. He was never out of position. I like Joe Walcott’s footwork. I love his footwork.
SG: Do you watch a lot of the old fighters? Do you watch them with your dad?
EM: Yeah, I watch a lot of the old fighters. I watch them on my own. Oh, I like Larry Holmes a lot too.
SG: What about for your family life? Any goals? I mean, you come from a huge family.
EM: Well, I do want a big family but that’s part of the sacrifices of boxing and I have to watch it and wait.
SG: Elijah, thanks for the time. Is there anything else you want to add?
EM: Well, I pretty much want to thank everybody. I want to thank the fight world for even giving me the opportunity to show who I am as a person. I am not here to make any excuses and I don’t want any handicaps because I am the son of a champion. Treat me the same way you would treat someone off the street. Let me show you how to become champ.
Sam Geraci is a sports writer for The Sports Blitz Network and can be contacted at SGeraci@TheSportsBlitz.com