By Jose E. Santiago
On Saturday night Yahya McClain will hope to be one step closer to what he feels is his destiny; a cruiserweight championship at the age of 42. Unlike older fighters that stick around well beyond their best days, McClain’s comeback is different from the run of the mill “old” fighter trying to relive his glory days. After losing a unanimous decision at the hands of Ramon Garbey in ’99 and interested in other things outside of boxing, McClain prematurely decided to hang it up with a decent record of 23-7-2, 17 KOs and walked away from competing. “I got caught with a left hook in the first round of that fight and I just decided to survive and walk away unscathed. At the time I was looking into acting and had an audition lined up. Realizing that a tough fight with Garbey could possibly ruin my opportunity to be in a film I simply decided that night that it was time to stop fighting and pursue other things that I wanted to accomplish in life,” said McClain.
Although the acting ambitions never came into full fruition, McClain found himself back into boxing as he became the trainer, manager, and husband of arguably one of the best female fighters of all time in Laila Ali. It was an encounter in 2003 as Ali was preparing for her mega fight against Christy Martin that McClain started thinking about a comeback. Said McClain “I was in Las Vegas at the time and there was this cat talking junk about how he could whip anybody in the gym that Laila was training in. I got wind of it and went to the gym the next day. The guy made the same claim so I said let’s do it. I was out of boxing shape and sporting some casual linen shorts and still whipped the guy…I never heard from him again”. With the desire to fight again starting to brew within, McClain found himself too busy as Ali’s manager and trainer to re-focus on his career. He continued to work with Ali until her last fight in ’07 as she too decided to hang it up and retire with a perfect record of 24-0 21KO.
Shortly after Ali’s retirement the two divorced and McClain moved back to Atlanta GA and opened his own gym in ’08. Training and managing fighters McClain felt he could satisfy his thirst for competition by helping would be hopefuls fulfill their dreams as boxers. “The gym was running great, but I just had something brewing inside me…something was missing and something about me just wasn’t complete”. McClain continued “I was training and working with guys my size and weight, but they were ten to fifteen years younger. Some were professional fighters, and when I would spar with them I was whipping them.” This is when the comeback in McClain’s mind would be perfect. With regards to the current state of the cruiser-weight division McClain feels its wide open. “The cruiserweight division is in its worst state since its inception. There isn’t one dominant cruise-weight out there, and instead of being the typical retired fighter who watches fights on TV saying that I could whip this guy and that guy I’m actually going to do it.”
The comeback was finally solidified last December when McClain took on tough Kentucky native Shane “Superman” Steele and scored a 3rd round TKO. Six weeks later he took on journeyman Leo Bercier and simply embarrassed the Montana native with a 6 round unanimous decision.
Content with his two victories McClain is wasting no time in attempting to accomplish his goal of being world champion. Originally scheduled to take on former world champion Lou Del Valle who is sidelined with a back injury, McClain will now face tough Chicago native Jason Robinson for the NABF cruiserweight title. McClain is disappointed that the fight with Del Valle did not pan out. “I wanted to fight Del Valle bad, we have some unsettled business that needs to be settled in the ring.” McClain goes on “now I have to fight someone who in my opinion is going to be a tougher fight for me. Robinson is a tough fighter, he’s younger than Lou and like Lou he’s a southpaw.” However McClain was quick to point out that his confidence in himself is higher than ever “let me still let you know that it doesn’t matter who I fight. I’m fighting in my backyard and unfortunately for Robinson I’m in amazing shape, I’m stronger than ever and I’m hungry to sit atop the division.” McClain continued, “Not Robinson or no one can stop me I will be world champion and capturing the NABF title on Saturday night will be step one.”
Should he win on Saturday night McClain wants to jump back into the fray as soon as possible against any of the major title holders. Although not a title holder in the division, there is one man that McClain wants to hold accountable to a promise. “Antonio Tarver was supposed to come to my 1st comeback fight and he couldn’t, but he did however call me and wish me luck.” Apparently the conversation did not stop there as McClain explains it “Tarver then called me back and said, if you mess around and make it to the top fifteen I’m gonna fight you.” A conversation McClain will not forget as he vivaciously put it “knock knock knock, here I come Antonio and all you other cruiser-weights!!”
The fight is scheduled for ten rounds for the vacant NABF cruiserweight title. Wild Bills in Duluth GA (just North of Atlanta) will host the fight.