By Sam Geraci
Photos: JoeyHill.com for HITZ Boxing
At 6’2″ and nearly 230 pounds, twenty-four year-old Elijah McCall (11-1-1, 10 KOs), son of former heavyweight champion Oliver McCall, is a rising prospect with athleticism and dynamic punching power who is looking to make a name for himself on December 7th when he takes on top heavyweight prospect Andy Ruiz, Jr. (16-0, 10 KOs) at the Texas Station in Las Vegas, NV. McCall, a former division-1 defensive end at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, made the transition to professional boxing nearly five years ago after giving his father all he could handle in an impromptu sparring session. Since then, under the guidance of his father and with the training of Nate Jones, a 1996 heavyweight bronze medalist and member of the Mayweather training camp, McCall has risen in the ranks and developed into a legitimate prospect. Before the most important fight of his career, McCall discussed his growth as a fighter, the matchup, his transition to boxing, and his relationship with his father.
How does it feel to be fighting on your first televised card?
It feels great. A win over Ruiz puts me one step closer to becoming world champ.
How familiar are you with Ruiz?
I’ve seen him fight a few times. He has really good head movement, and he has quick hands.
How do you intend to offset Ruiz’s strengths and his experience?
I plan to use a lot of jabs, angles, lateral movement, and my athleticism and defense.
What is your greatest asset as a fighter?
My greatest asset is my offense. I can come at you with any angle and I can throw every punch. As I’ve shown, I also have knockout power in both hands.
When we spoke in June, you said you were hoping to get five or six fights in by the end of the year before challenging a top ten fighter. While Ruiz is not a top ten fighter, he has an extensive amateur background and has looked really good at times. What has changed to encourage you to take this step up?
My trainer Nate Jones is just teaching me a lot, and I’ve really grown. After five years of training and studying boxing everyday, it is starting to become like second nature to me. Overall, my jab has really improved and I am getting much better at using angles and cutting off the ring. I’m ready for the next step, and on December 7th everyone is going to see it.
How has it been working with Nate Jones as your trainer?
This is going to be our fourth fight together, and it has been great. I think he is one of the best trainers out there. He has a great understanding of how to throw punches, how to go to the body, how to turn over your shots to get more power, and how to defend yourself before, during, and after punching. I’m looking forward to continuing to grow and moving up the ranks with Nate.
How have your preparations been going for this fight?
I’ve been doing a lot of running and a lot of sprints because I know I have to be in great shape because Ruiz is an active fighter and I know he comes in and throws a lot of punches. I’ve already sparred like 50 rounds, which is the most I’ve ever had before a fight. I’m getting very sharp, and I think I’ll peak at the right time. I just have to make sure I don’t over train because I can overdo it at times.
I know some of those rounds of sparring have been with your father. How has that been and who is getting the better of it?
I am. Of course, I am (laughs). Sparring with my dad is tough; he just keeps coming like a bear (laughs). You can’t find a better sparring partner, especially for this fight because Ruiz just keeps bringing the pressure.
Have you and your father grown closer through your boxing career?
I don’t think so. We’ve always been really close, and we both have a strong will to win whether it’s in boxing, basketball, running, or chess. I’ve always wanted to be better than my dad in everything that I do. In the ring I am getting the better of him, but in chess he’s still able to draw me out to set me up for the checkmate (laughs).
As someone who has already experienced the highs and lows of the sport, what brought you to the ring at the age of 20?
I always wanted to box, but at one point I had a fear of going into boxing because of all of the things my dad went through, especially with the media. Eventually, I realized that this is what I am and this is what I am meant to do. My great grandfather was a boxer; my father was a boxer; I’m a boxer; and if I have a son he’s going to be a boxer. We are going to keep rolling; boxing is what the McCalls do.
In recent years, many Division-I football players have tried to make the transition to boxing and have failed. Most recently Seth Mitchel failed when Jonathon Banks knocked him out on November 17th. What will be different in your fight?
I’m not Seth Mitchel, and I’ve had the best and most qualified trainers and mentors along the way. For each step and misstep I’ve made, I have been lucky to have my dad, Nate Jones, Jeff Mason, or “Doc” Nicholson there to help me grow. They’ve guided me in the right direction. I understand that boxing is a craft and I am doing everything to learn it.
What has been the most difficult part about transitioning from football to boxing?
In boxing you have to remember that you can’t just be aggressive all of the time. In football I was on defense and you have to attack at all times. Boxing isn’t like that; you have to know when to turn on the attack and when to draw it back to set things up. I think that takes a lot of time and practice to pick it up, and I think that’s why a lot of football players struggle to make the transition to boxing.
What about being a football player, if anything, has made you a better fighter?
I’m not really sure. Boxing is way different and way more difficult because you are on offense and defense at the same time and you have to remain much more focused. In football each play is only a few seconds and then there is a break. Boxing doesn’t have breaks like that; you have to remain focused at all times against someone who is just as focused as you.
As the son of a heavyweight champion, what have you learned about aspects of boxing outside of the ring that will help you handle the pressures of being a professional boxer?
Shoot, the most important thing it has taught me is that you have to win (laughs). At the end of the day, everything is good when you win. Everybody likes a winner.
Everyone knows your father, but what should the world know about Elijah McCall in and out of the ring?
In the ring, everyone should know that boxing is not a fallback for me. I’m not some football player trying to become a boxer; I am a boxer who tried to become a football player. I can still play football if I wanted to. Out of the ring, I like to do a lot of outdoor activities with my family like hiking and fishing. I grew up in Virginia and I used to go hiking and fishing with my dad and my family a lot.
One more question: win, lose, or draw, would you be interested in taking on Seth Mitchel in a battle of former D-1 football players turned pro boxers? I think it’d sell.
Win or lose? (Laughs) When I win, I’ll be more than happy to take on Seth Mitchell or any of the top fighters. I’m not scared of any man. I am ready for the best in the world, and on December 7th I am going to show it.