By Boxing Bob Newman
Photo: Boxing Bob Newman
Troy, New York light heavyweight Shawn Miller comes from a boxing family. The sport’s history is replete with tales of boxing families, father-son relationships in and out of the ring. There was Joe Frazier and his clan in Philly, the boxing Byrd family from Flint, Michigan, the Hiltons up outside of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Shawn Miller resides in Troy, New York, just outside of the state capital of Albany. Father Bob, mother Lorraine, brother Shannon and even step-mom Linda have all led the way before the “baby” of the Miller family hopped on board the pugilistic train.
This Friday night at “The Egg” in Albany’s Empire Convention Center, the latest Miller will defend his WBF North American light heavyweight title against experienced Kevin Engel in front of a partisan crowd. Shawn took time out of his training schedule to talk about his boxing family, and of course, his upcoming fight- on paper his toughest to date.
Shawn, thanks for taking the time to talk with Fightnews about your upcoming fight. What do you know about your opponent Kevin Engel, other than the fact that he has twice as many fights as you?
Kevin’s a tough guy. He went the distance with Blake Caperello. He fought Marcus Browne who stopped him. He’s a tough guy. He’s a guy that’s been in the UFC. Obviously he’s a fighter. He comes to win and that’s what we want. You don’t want a guy to lay down. Nobody wants that. As much as I’d like to say, “Sure, I’d like a five second win,” that’s pretty much unrealistic. It’s rare to go in there and not break a sweat. Kevin has probably had twenty five MMA fights, twenty five kick boxing fights and thirty or thirty one boxing matches. Obviously he’s looking to beat me. I’ve prepared as well as I could. I’m in tip-top shape. I’m strong and I’m ready to get another win and move on to bigger and better things.
Seven of Engel’s nine losses are by K.O., as are sixteen of his twenty wins. Four of your twelve wins are via knockout. Are you looking to stop him or are you prepared to go the distance if need be?
Oh absolutely. When you look at things on paper, you can say, “he’s not a puncher, or he’s this or that.” It’s all about who you’ve fought, your experience, how your technique has been. It’s a lot of things. In my case, I’m a boxer-puncher. In my last fight, I knocked the guy down three times, who’s beat a lot of top guys and actually hasn’t been stopped by guys. So you can look and say, “Oh Shawn’s not a big puncher,” but I know I have the capability of stopping anybody, but that’s easier said than done. With a guy like Kevin Engel, he’s been stopped by top guys. I mean Thomas Williams, Jr. (who stopped Engel in three), is ranked what- #8 in the WBC now? Marcus Browne was an Olympian. But Engel is a guy who you can never take lightly. The way I look at it is this- I’m prepared to go ten hard war rounds. If I expect anything less, I’m gonna be kidding myself. I’ve only lost one time in my amateur or pro career and one thing I’ve learned is, anybody with two hands can hurt you. I’m telling myself he’s coming to be the greatest he’s ever been, and I’m gonna have to be better than that.
Now switching gears to your family. Your older brother Shannon was a heavyweight of note- fought in ESPN’s 2005 fight of the year against Vinny Maddalone. Your father Bob is an all around boxing guy, in the capital area as well as Montreal. He’s been a promoter, cutman, advisor. How valuable has that been to your career, growing up in a boxing family?
It was great. Obviously, I was young when Mike Tyson was around, (Bob Miller and first wife Lorraine promoted many of Tyson’s early fights in the area before he won the title). I grew up around the likes of Kevin Pompey, Tony Marshall, Verno Phillips, my brother. I can name you a hundred more who were top amateurs, sparring partners- Eric Lucas, Lucian Bute, Jean Pascal. I had the luxury of being around these guys because of my father and him having the connections that he’s had. I don’t even know what to pinpoint my father as other than a boxing life-man, you know what I mean? It’s helped me more on the mental side, not the physical. The physical, you have to do on your own. Nobody’s gonna tell me, “listen dude, you have to run.” I know I have to run. Whether I do it or not is another thing. As far as my father, brother and mother being in the sport, I’ve learned a lot of the business aspects. I’ve learned a lot of the little things that most fighters don’t know.
But in knowing all that, do you try not to let it distract you from your concentration and preparation?
That’s correct. It’s funny because there are lot of times that I’ll hear my father, brother or trainer talk about another fight that I wasn’t even involved with and I’ll say, “Aha, now I see,” or “I get it..”
So in the end, I pay it no mind. I’ve gotta concentrate on an opponent that is trying not to get hit, trying to hit me and do everything in his power to win. So as much as a promoter might try to tell you, “your opponent is easy to hit, he’s been knocked out this many times, blah, blah blah…” You don’t know that! You’ve never been in the ring with this guy! Styles make fights, so it doesn’t matter that Joe fought Jim, and now Jim’s gonna fight Shawn. So I don’t take any of these guys lightly. To me, this guy is Roy Jones, Jr., Muhammad Ali all rolled into one. When the bell rings, I just have find a way to win- whether it’s to be faster, to be more powerful, to blast him out. What ever it takes to win, I’m gonna find a way to do.
You spoke about the physical aspect of this sport and training falling on your shoulders. You have quite an athletic background outside of boxing. Talk about that a little bit.
Oh yeah. I played Division I football, Division I baseball and I played professional football in the Arena Football League.
At what point did boxing take over from the other sports?
I had my first amateur fight when I was thirteen. I fought sparingly. In high school I was an all-state football, basketball and baseball player. On the side, I would always be at the gym whenever I could.
Boxing was always there. My father said education first, then the other sports. He knew that I could always box. With him being in the business, he knew he could always help me. With the other sports, he wasn’t involved like that. But I had the luxury to do very well in these other sports and get a Division I scholarship and get a free education at West Virginia University and then come back to boxing. I ended up coming back to boxing once I stopped playing professional football.
Was there every any expectation from your dad or other family members that boxing was what you’d end up doing, or did they leave it up to you?
100% it was up to me without a doubt. My father probably didn’t want me to get into it. Not probably- DEFINITELY. He knew the difficult path that lie ahead. So me being his youngest, having a Masters degree, he knew it wasn’t something I HAVE to do. But I love competition. I love fighting. I love when people tell me you can’t do something. Talk about pressure- coming into my pro debut, I had never lost. I’ve only lost once between amateur and pro. I had won some tournaments, I won an Empire State Games gold medal. I got injured before the Super regionals in the amateurs- a broken rib. My brother had a show he was in coming up here in Albany and we knew my name would help with ticket sales, so I did that (turned pro). With everyone knowing my brother, they think everything is an exciting, bing bing bing, knockdown, drag out heavyweight fight. With me being such an athlete, I can do all of that. I can stand there, I can move, I can box, I can punch. But I don’t need to sit there and be a dummy. I’m not saying my brother was, because he wasn’t. But as you know, most heavyweights- they don’t move a lot.
That being said, with you presumably looking up to your brother in boxing, how did you NOT end up emulating his style?
To me, I thought, I can dunk a basketball, I can run a 4.4-40, I can do all these different things. Not that any of that matters, but I thought if I wanna come forward, I can do that. If I wanna box, I can do that. So that’s what it was for me. If I wanna win a boxing clinic, a jab and move fight, I’m going to. The objective is to win. I’ve always looked up to my brother. The one thing he always did was put it all out there. When he fought- at the end of the day, you knew that Shannon Miller fought his heart out and fought to the best of his ability. There’s a lot of people that watched when he lost to Hasim Rahman, or to Vinny Maddalone and criticized. But you don’t know it until you’re in there. Getting hit by grown men does not feel good! So that’s the one thing that I learned. Watching my brother I admired him so much because of what he put out there. At the same time I said, “Lemme watch Roy Jones, Jr., lemme watch Floyd Mayweather. Lemme see the guys who are the best and see if I’m capable of doing that.” I believe athletically I can do that.
We’ve talked in the past before about the marketing and business side of boxing- fights having to make sense in order to be made. Do you look at your fellow Upstate, New York light heavies Ryon McKenzie and Lionell Thompson and think of future matchups?
Absolutely. I’ve seen those guys fight. Ryon is tall, has a good jab. I’ve fought on the same card as him and my father has worked his corner before. Lionell is fast, very good fighter, great amateur background. The only downside of him was the loss to Kovalev. They may not have known anything about him. He’s (Kovalev) probably one of the best punchers in the sport, at least top three. So no shame in that loss. There’s gonna be a time if everything’s right, we’re gonna fight. I don’t hold any grudges against these guys. I shake their hands, give them a hug. They’re not my enemies. I wish them nothing but the best.
So your preparations for this fight on Friday went well- the weight, the sparring?
Absolutely. Kevin Engel- Mike Tyson, Roy Jones, Jr. I’m prepared for the best on Friday. I worked out three times a day, six days a week, sometimes seven. I’m a gym rat. I love being in the gym. I love working hard and only getting better and that’s what I’ve been doing!