Six years ago, Kevin McBride stood in front of a pack of skeptical reporters and promised to hit Mike Tyson so hard the former undisputed heavyweight champion would feel like he was hit by the “whole of Ireland.”
Fans and experts scoffed, but McBride delivered, ending Tyson’s career with a sixth-round knockout that remains one of the biggest upsets in boxing history.
As he prepares for his latest test July 29th, 2011 against undefeated Polish heavyweight Mariusz Wach, McBride – now 38 – is channeling the same swagger he brought to the ring six years ago Tyson, again looking to land a blow powerful enough to reverberate through the streets of his native Clones, Ireland.
“Hopefully, I can connect,” McBride said, “and the Irish will be singing again.”
Three months removed from a unanimous decision loss to former cruiserweight champion Tomasz Adamek, McBride (35-9-1, 29 KOs) will face Wach (24-0, 12 KOs) for the vacant World Boxing Council (WBC) International heavyweight title in the 12-round main event of “Heat Wave,” presented by Jimmy Burchfield’s Classic Entertainment & Sports at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. McBride’s bout against Wach is one of two title fights on July 29th; Elvin Ayala (23-5-1, 11 KOs) of New Haven, Conn., will battle former two-time world champion Israel “Pito” Cardona (36-10, 28 KOs) of Hartford in the 10-round co-feature for the vacant WBC U.S. National Boxing Council (USNBC) middleweight title, a belt once held by former world champions Paul Williams and Lamont Peterson.
Once again, McBride faces long odds; Wach is a shade taller at 6-foot-7 ½ and is also seven years younger than his opponent. Originally from Krakow, Poland, Wach now trains in North Bergen, N.J., under the tutelage of Juan and Carlos De Leon, who are famous for their work with undefeated heavyweight “Baby” Joe Mesi.
Though he’s admittedly unfamiliar with the WBC International title and its illustrious history – Wladimir Klitschko, Oliver McCall and John Ruiz are among a prestigious list of former champions – McBride is well aware of what a victory could mean as his career draws to a close. More than half of the fighters who’ve won this belt have gone on to win a major world title, and the winner on July 29th might get an opportunity to add to that list.
For McBride, it’s now or never; despite beating Tyson, he’s never fought for a major world title. After getting knocked out by Andrew Golota in 2007, he took three years off before returning to the ring last summer against journeyman Zack Page. McBride hasn’t had much success in his comeback, winning only once in four tries within the past year, but he knows it only takes one punch to shock the world and take his career to new heights.
“Every fighter has a dream,” McBride said. “I want to be the second Cinderella story of this century. Everyone counted out [former two-time world heavyweight champion] George Foreman [against Michael Moorer in 1994] and he came back and won a world title when he was 45 years old.
“Foreman proved the last thing that leaves you is your power. I don’t have any particular strategy; I’m just trying to catch him on his chin and prove I’m a better fighter. Don’t leave your seat too quickly, because anything can happen at any given second.”
Ranked No. 13 in the WBC, Wach – who recently signed a multi-year promotional agreement with CES in association with Global Boxing Promotions – began working with the De Leon brothers six weeks ago in hopes of becoming a more versatile boxer, not just a puncher with exceptional power.
“The De Leon brothers have been a great addition to my team,” Wach said. “The experience they have between them has given me a new dimension to my arsenal. Juan has helped improve my power by getting me to commit more to my punches. Carlos [a former four-time cruiserweight champion] has fought so many great fighters and has a world of wisdom to impart; it’s a great honor to have him with me. It’s also comforting to know that whatever situation arises, both men in my corner will have the answers waiting for me.”
“He’s learned a lot,” Juan De Leon said. “Whoever has seen him in the past, he looks nothing like he did eight weeks ago. What I’ve been doing is making sure he uses his distance. He’s tall, has a good jab, has tremendous power, footwork, flexibility – he has everything. My job is to put it all together.
“He was built to throw punches,” he added, “but now we’ve taught him how to move and how to cut off the ring. We’ve taught him to use every inch of the ring. He knows when to push and when to step back.
He knows what to do when feels a little tired. When either my brother or I say something, he delivers right away. We’ve got a great team here and we’re excited about the opportunity of having a future world champion on our hands.”
Before he focuses on a world title, Wach must first deal with McBride, who has proven he can excel in the underdog role. The 6-foot-6 slugger became the youngest super heavyweight in Olympic history when he represented Ireland in the 1992 Summer Games, competing amongst a field that included former world-title contender Larry Donald and semifinalist Brian Nielson, who won the International Boxing Organization (IBO) heavyweight title in 1996.
“McBride isn’t the fastest fighter, but he’s very tough and smart,” Wach said. “I'm used to facing tall opponents, but what makes this fight different is that McBride has a lot of experience and doesn't give up easily. He took very strong punches from Mike Tyson and never gave up and never quit when Tomasz Adamek was out-boxing him, so I know I'm in for a good challenge.”
Unlike McBride, Wach understands the significance of the WBC International title and has one eye toward the future as he prepares for July 29th. The Klitschkos – both Wladimir and WBC heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko – are waiting in the wings for whichever contender dares to challenge them next.
“It is an honor to have the opportunity to fight for this title, because it brings me one step closer to a fight with one of the Klitschko brothers for the world title,” Wach said.
“I want the opportunity to fight the best in the world, but I know I must earn it first, and this is part of that. This belt is essential to my heavyweight championship dreams coming true. All the great fighters have won belts like this one before facing the legends of their day. The legends of my day have won this belt, and so will I.”
Whether or not Wach succeeds depends on McBride’s ability to land his trademark knockout punch. McBride isn’t interested in trying to outbox the taller, rangier Wach on July 29th; his goal is to connect squarely on the chin, perhaps with a blow strong enough to make an entire country feel the aftershock.
“He better watch out,” McBride said. “I’m going to go in there and take care of business. I fight with no fear. This guy is undefeated – God bless him – but I’m not here to lose. I’ve got 29 knockouts, so I must be doing something right.
“This is a great opportunity, and wherever there’s an opportunity, there’s a chance.”