By Christopher Johnson (Originally Posted June 16, 2006)
Publisher’s Note: I first met Biff Cline when he walked into my office in 2003. I looked up and he was just walking around. I asked if I could help him and he introduced himself and explained that he used to work in the building as a bouncer when it was a nightclub about 30 years ago. He just wanted to look around and rekindle some old memories.
To be honest, I had my doubts that this small yet well built man was a former light heavyweight contender. One day I decided to check with some local boxing historians and see what I could learn about Biff Cline.
I learned that Donald “Biff” Cline was a contender for the light heavyweight boxing crown who was managed by his father for most of his career. In fact, next to Sugar Ray Leonard, Biff Cline is arguably Prince George’s County Maryland’s greatest boxer of all time. He was also a star full back at Suitland High School.
He fought on ABC’s Wide World of Sports and was a contender for the light heavyweight U.S. title as part of a boxing tournament. He was also trained by the legendary Angelo Dundee and was inducted in the Washington, D.C. Boxing Hall of Fame. Biff Cline was a real life Rocky Balboa. Biff knows the seamy side of the sport firsthand and wants to clean up the sport. Boxing was good to Biff, but it also left him blind in one eye.
After his boxing career ended Biff joined the ranks of the Capitol Police as a uniform officer. He held a series of odd jobs such as bouncer and maintenance worker. Biff Cline has a unique story. He suffers from pugilistic dementia. This form of dementia is a neurological disorder, which affects career boxers, and others who receive multiple punches to the head. Biff’s short-term memory is not good. He can’t remember what he told you 5 minutes ago, but he can remember every detail from an event 30 years ago.
At the time of this interview Biff was 60-years old and looked 15 years younger. He’s still in great shape and looks like he could kick your ass right now at the drop of a hat.
Biff Cline is one of the most sensitive people I’ve ever met. If you judge Biff by his attitude, you would never know that he’s fallen on hard times. He’s one of those guys who respects and gets along with everyone. He grew up around black people and over time adopted enough elements of the culture that he just blends in with everyone.
Thirty some years after his career ended, Biff has assembled his memoirs in hopes of landing a book or movie deal. Life has been hard for Biff. He’s been divorced twice and lives in a room at a house with friends in a Maryland suburb outside of Washington, D.C.
Biff served in Vietnam in 1968 during the TET Offensive, was a bouncer, construction worker, U.S. Capitol Police officer and bodyguard. He is one of the many boxers who have been exploited by the sport of boxing. He says he’s been drugged by crooked ring handlers, told to take dives and had his record “beefed up” to falsify the number of wins. Like most boxers, Biff quit boxing and then made a comeback a few years later.
In 1974, he quit the police force to come back as a light heavyweight, under the management of his now-deceased father, Chris Cline. Biff soon had a string of first-round knockouts and a spot in Ring magazine’s national rankings. “I missed wanting to be world champion,” says Cline.
Cline’s training finally seemed to pay off in 1977, when ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” televised his fight against Ray Elson, an equally fierce puncher. Howard Cosell, the legendary sportscaster who was announcing the fight, called Cline a “rough, rugged youngster.” Biff gave me a tape of that fight to watch. The fight was brutal. As both men threw “haymakers,” Cline’s father mysteriously jumped into the ring and stopped the fight. To this day, Biff claims that he did not lose that fight. “I never lost,” Cline recalled. “I had my TV fight, and my father stopped it. He shouldn’t have.” In 1992, Biff Cline’s dream of being a boxing champion ended. He suffered a detached retina in his left eye in a fight. He took to wearing a black patch that he still wears today.
With a young daughter to help care for, he needed extra money. He was hired as a bouncer at area nightclubs where he put his boxing skills to work. Instead of bouncing guys out, he would knock them out. “I was scared. I didn’t want to do it. I’m very nonviolent, believe it or not.”
In 1979, Cline returned to the Capitol Police but later returned to boxing in yet another comeback attempt. By that time his skills had eroded and a cloud later known as the Ring Magazine Scandal tainted his career.
In 1976, Ring Magazine fabricated records of selected boxers, to elevate them, thereby securing them lucrative fights on the American ABC television network, as part of the United States Championship Tournament. The United States Championship Tournament was a promotional effort by promoter Don King to capitalize on the patriotism surrounding the United States Bicentennial and the American amateur success at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. Cline’s record is listed as 14-3-1 included 11 knockouts. During his ring career, Biff he met the likes of Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Dwight Braxton and Marvin Hagler. Speaking of Dwight Braxton, who later became Dwight Muhammad Qwai, Biff fought Qwai in 1979 and claims that he was drugged before the fight. He lost that fight which was for the Light Heavyweight title. This as well as other “cliff hangers” are an important part of his story.
In 2006, Biff Cline was shopping his manuscript about his life called “Fighting Blind: The Biff Cline Story.” He was looking for an agent to help him get a movie deal and to help him protect his intellectual property.
Boxer Biff Cline as he looks today.
Boxing has not been kind to Biff Cline. He is blind in one eye and has a degenerative back disease that has left him unable to work. He currently is living with a family in a Maryland suburb. Although he has little material wealth, Biff Cline has a mountain of pride and a love for people of all races and cultures.
My youngest son Christopher (C.J.) is a boxing fan. I introduced him to Biff and Biff has always taken the opportunity to encourage C.J. to perform well in school and to be a good citizen. The Biff Cline that I’ve come to know is a very sensitive man with a very gentle spirit. He appears to be more concerned about others than he is about himself at times.
Christopher sat down with Biff and conducted an exclusive interview for Black Men In America.com. Portions of the interview were challenging for young Christopher. This was his first experience with a sports celebrity and someone who suffers from memory loss. At times he had to remind Biff that he had already shared some things and at other times he had to gently get him back on track when it came to answering specific questions. The great thing about Biff is that he makes you feel comfortable. He knows that he suffers from dementia and gives you license to stop and correct him.
If Biff Cline says he’s your friend, you can go to your grave knowing that you’ve got a friend for life.
Here we are in June 2018. I’ve lost touch with Biff. I don’t know if he’s dead or alive. Biff was a vibrant character who left a lasting impression on me and on my young son Christopher. Biff Cline was C. J.’s first major interview. Let’s look back down memory lane and read C.J.’s interview with former light heavyweight boxer Bill Cline at the Black Men In America.com office in Temple Hills, MD on June 16, 2006.
Where is Biff Cline? The last I heard, Biff is living in Pensacola, Florida. He would be 70-years old. Biff, if you or someone you know is reading this column, get in touch with me and let me know that you’re OK.
Gary Johnson – Founder and Publisher, Black Men In America.com
Fighting Blind: The Biff Cline Interview
By Christopher Johnson, Black Men In America.com
BMIA.com: Biff, thank you for coming to the office for this interview. Please tell our visitors what division you fought in and what was your final ring record?
Biff Cline: Thank you for having me Christopher. I was a professional fighter from 1971 to 1981. I had my first bout as a heavyweight. I was 185 lbs., which seems terribly light these days. Heavyweights now are typically over 230 lbs. I turned pro when I was 24 years old. By the time of my 8th professional fight I was fighting on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. My fights up to that point were all first round knockouts against mostly mediocre opponents. I had everything going against me for this 8th fight. I was 30 years old. My opponent was highly ranked and I knew that I was in over my head, but I thought that I could go in and knock this guy out like I had done the others. At that time many people considered me the hardest puncher in boxing pound for pound.
BMIA.com: What happened?
Biff Cline: My father, who was my manager stopped the fight in the 8th round. I was taking some punishment the last few rounds but I was ahead on all the scorecards. My dad later lost his manager’s license because he was found guilty of beefing up my record and doing some other crooked things. He also mismanaged my money. He bought a carryout restaurant in District Height, Maryland (Chris and Biff’s) and paid cash for it. As a result of my father being banned from boxing I formed a corporation called Biff Cline Enterprises with Fred Burke and 20 other investors to try and provide income.
BMIA.com: How did you feel about yourself as a boxer?
Biff Cline: Before my television fight I wasn’t sure whether or not I had all of the stuff to be a heavyweight champion. After I saw my TV fight I knew positively that I could be a world champion and one of the hardest punchers in boxing. I was still working a job and trying to train and be world champion. The newly formed corporation afforded me money ($200.00 a week) and all I had to do was just train. I had a lot going on. In 1973, I had a wife and a new daughter and my focus was on taking care of them and trying to fight.
BMIA.com: How did that work out?
Biff Cline: I realized that I needed a manager, so I called the legendary Angelo Dundee who was Muhammad Ali’s trainer. Angelo also trained Sugar Ray Leonard. Angelo thought I was good enough to fight for the title. In 1978, I had a fight with Dave Ditmars and knocked him out in the 6th round at the D.C. Armory. Did I mention why I formed the corporation?
Biff Cline: OK, you know I have trouble with my short-term memory.
BMIA.com: That’s OK. What was your workout routine like?
Biff Cline: I did roadwork and did concentration curls to build my arm muscles to help me become a devastating puncher. I trained all day.
BMIA.com: I remember watching the fight and George Foreman said you had the body of a bodybuilder.
Biff Cline: That’s right. I worked hard and sparred hard in the gym. I was never considered a gym fighter. I sparred with anyone who would fight me. I sparred only to learn. I’ve never been knocked out. I was stunned a few times but never knocked out. I fought wars in the gym. I sparred with a guy fighter Irish Mike Baker who was one of the greatest fighters to ever step in the ring. I trained against quality competition.
BMIA.com: So this helped you?
Biff Cline: Yeah, but then I started having trouble with the corporation. They wanted too much of my money. I had a lot of problems and left the corporation.
BMIA.com: What was it like to fight on ABC’s Wide World of Sports?
Biff Cline: It was kind of scary. The person that I fought had a lot more experience than me. I felt better after I saw the tape of the fight.
BMIA.com: You were inducted into the Washington, D.C. Boxing Hall of Fame. How did that feel?
Biff Cline: It made my whole career worth it. I didn’t win the heavyweight title so getting inducted was the next best thing.
BMIA.com: What did you like most about boxing?
Biff Cline: I didn’t like boxing. I had two football scholarships offers as a fullback. I played for Columbia Prep School. I had a football injury (pinched nerve in my neck and vertebrae). I was getting a hot pain down my arm and my hand was shaking, but I still wanted to pay my way. I got a job in construction and later got a draft notice and served in Vietnam. I’m very patriotic. I wanted to serve. I ended up serving 2 years and 11 months and got out in 1969.
BMIA.com: What did you do when you came home?
Biff Cline: Smoking pot and doing drugs. I was trying to use drugs to escape the horrors of the war. I was sprayed with Agent Orange and I had a liver disorder and other complications as a result of being in combat. I also got a “Dear John” letter from my girlfriend. So in 1971, I quit the drugs and I knew I had to do something to keep away from the drugs, so I turned to sports. I wanted to play fullback for the Washington Redskins but that didn’t work out.
BMIA.com: Do you follow the sport of boxing today?
Biff Cline: No. I don’t like boxing. I have enough trouble forgetting the past, so boxing is a reminder of some bad times. Don’t get me wrong. Boxing is a great sport. It’s the ultimate in one-on-one competition. Football is my first love when it comes to sports.
BMIA.com: Do you follow any other sport?
Biff Cline: Not really. I’m more focused on trying to get my house back that I loss in 2004. I’m shopping my life story called: “Fighting Blind: The Biff Cline Story.”
BMIA.com: What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in boxing?
Biff Cline: If you want to get into boxing, don’t do it unless you want to be the best. If you want to learn how to defend yourself you might want to consider karate. You can learn how to box to defend yourself. Be careful of sparring because it causes brain damage. That’s what I suffer from. I have a friend of mine named Buddy Harrison who has a school on Alexander Ferry Road, in Clinton, Maryland. That’s a good place to learn. He was one of the best boxers around at that time and his son is good boxer too.
BMIA.com: If people reading this article want to help you, how can they help you?
Biff Cline: People can help me sell my life story in the form of a book and a movie. I need a publisher or someone who can advance me some money. I’m just trying to get stable. From 1986-1990 my only job was as a bouncer. My marriage was breaking up so things were just rough.
BMIA.com: Biff we’re going to conduct a word association exercise where I call out a name or a phrase and you respond with the first thing that comes to your mind. OK?
Left to Right: Dad, Chris Cline, Biff and Muhammad Ali in 1974 at the Capital Center Arena in Landover, MD.
Biff Cline: OK. Let’s do it.
- BMIA.com: Don King
- Biff Cline: Promoter
- BMIA.com: Muhammad Ali.
- Biff Cline: The Greatest Of All Time
- BMIA.com: Sugar Ray Leonard
- Biff Cline: One of the greatest of all time
- BMIA.com: Angelo Dundee
- Biff Cline: The greatest manager of all time
- BMIA.com: Mike Tyson
- Biff Cline: Greatest puncher of all time
- BMIA.com: George Foreman
- Biff Cline: The other greatest puncher of all time
BMIA.com: Biff, thank you for taking the time to come to our office for this interview.
Biff Cline: Thank you Chris. If you need anything, you call me.
Left to Right: Christopher Johnson and former heavyweight contender Biff Cline at the Black Men In America.com office.