Leon McKenzie

It is one week away from the biggest fight and largest challenge of Leon McKenzie’s boxing career.  He meets John McCallum – two undefeated super middleweights that are looking to cement their place at the top of the domestic rankings and place themselves in a position to challenge the winner of Callum Smith and Rocky Fielding in November for the British title.
 
There has been genuine bad blood between the two – a heated head-to-head lead to footage being cut and questions left unanswered between the two.  McCallum for his part made comments regarding the depression that McKenzie has suffered from (read our piece with him here ) without knowing the full facts and tragedy that sit behind it.  A throwaway remark at the time which has escalated the tension heading in to the October 17th showdown between the two. 
 
“He took it to a place where it shouldn’t have gone – he took it away from boxing a little bit but in three weeks time we will be meeting in the ring and may the best man win on the night” says McKenzie.  “The topic has been worn out.  He can’t now back up what he said in the first place and try and come over as an educated nice humble man that he is – because he’s not.”
 
Speaking with the former Premier League footballer he has mettle in his demeanour – it is clear that now is all about business.  In a few days he will headline the ‘We Never Stop’ Goodwin Promotions show that features a number of title fights.  Certainly handling pressure is something that McKenzie is accustomed to after his days of playing from Carrow Road to Old Trafford – it could be a decisive factor come fight night.  His opponent, travelling from North of the borer, carries a record of seven wins, none of which by knockout, and no defeats.  Mckenzie has six wins, no defeats and a single draw – but would appear to hold more power at the weight as he has two knockout victories.  So how has preparation been going for this pivotal clash?
 
“Training has been fantastic.  My dad has been really influential – Richard Williams has been a big part in this camp as well and my Uncle Duke I speak to on a regular basis.  I’m way ahead of where I need to be – I’m in a really good place.  I’ve been confident from the day I laced up my gloves.  There’s always going to be criticism and people underestimating me, including opponents.”
 
McKenzie is alluding to comments made by McCallum, suggesting that the footballer turned professional boxer is not up to the task at this level, ‘playing’ at being a boxer.  But this isn’t the first case of a sportsman going from lacing boots to gloves – famously back in 2006 Curtis Woodhouse swapped the pitch for the ring and reached the level of British light middleweight champion - he defeated Darren Hamilton in February 2014 to capture the title.  Does the success of Woodhouse and the similar paths trodden inspire McKenzie that he can achieve the same levels?
 
“I do take inspiration from Curtis Woodhouse but listen, he did his thing and it’s written in the book.  It’s been done.  The difference between me and Curtis is he was 26 and I was 35 so that’s a big age gap.  He had a good three or four years in the game before he started warming up and then took him a good few years to get to that dream he wanted and fair play to him for it.”
 
Leon McKenzie
There is an obvious respect when speaking about the transition that Woodhouse made – clearly McKenzie is familiar with the steps taken and the dedication and sacrifices required to achieve in the sport.  At 35 years of age he is also realistic that his window of opportunity isn’t as large as those that enter the sport earlier.  But it doesn’t quell his excitement at the opportunities that lay ahead if he is successful next week.  When we talk about the potential of taking on the winner of Callum Smith and Rocky Fielding there is no fear or trepidation – just focus and steely confidence.  “There’s no denying age comes into it” he confesses.  “I don’t have loads and loads of time but I’m doing everything I can to push and get as far as I can get.  That’s all I can do from my end, I train hard and do what I’ve got to do and if that opportunity comes around I will grab it with both hands. 

So if the opportunity presents itself after November to step in with the winner of the all Liverpool showdown and challenge for the British belt will it be taken by McKenzie?  “Why wouldn’t I fancy it?  It’s another dream that we’ve always had and something from an honours point of view it’s a fantastic achievement to win.  Not many 35 year old men can jump in to a professional boxing ring and start getting to these levels and it would eclipse all my other successes.”

You get the impression talking to him that McKenzie sees his age not as a hindrance but as a help.  The focus that he displays is that of someone with experience, a person who has tackled not just international footballers but personal challenges – and overcome them.  What lies ahead on October 17th is another opponent, someone who he has become personal with but subjectively is an object blocking his path to success.  The talking has been done by both parties and the feud has simmered to the point where talking has now become superfluous to this fight.  Of course it has helped to raise the profile and perhaps sell some tickets, but it is in the ring where the issue will be settled.  McKenzie has prepared meticulously for the event – at 37 years of age he realises the opportunities may be limited but on October 17th he aims to ensure the window doesn’t slam shut.  McCallum is just his obstacle.