Leon McKenzie - English Title Time

“Clifton Mitchell, who thinks he’s a bit of a comedian, even he comes with ‘this ain’t football bla bla bla’ – they’re still missing the point with me.  Still.  You can’t compare me to a footballer that has come from a football pitch straight into boxing, it doesn’t work like that with me.  You have to look at the fundamental and DNA with it all.  If they’re taking me lightly then they’re going to have a big shock.”
Strong words from a strong man.  Leon McKenzie has had his travels well documented but there is still a tag that sticks with him: Footballer.  Despite amassing a record of eight wins, one draw and no defeats it still rankles with Mckenzie that people associate his success with the near 400 professional football matches he played rather than the success he has attained in the boxing ring. 
Clifton Mitchell is one of a long line of people to have used the same line on McKenzie since he started his journey as a professional boxer.  Typically, McKenzie has had to deal with the person making the noise, but Mitchell won’t be stood across the ring from him.  Instead it is the man he manages, Jahmaine Smyle, who is the one who will take the wrath of McKenzie.  That time is nearly here; November 12th at York Hall sees Leon get the chance to fight for his first major title as he challenges for the English super middleweight title.  So does he feel that winning this fight would shake the ‘footballer’ tag and finally get him the recognition of being a boxer in his own right?
“No, not really.  I’m ten fights coming up unbeaten.  This fight does open up more doors for me to fight at a bigger stage, but the way I look at it is that I have won already.  Being in this position at 38 years old; not that age is a problem, but you have to be a realist and say ‘OK I am 38 and time isn’t on my side’.  But at the same time, not everyone can do what I can do.  I take a lot of credit in that and it comes down to me being special.  That’s not in a boastful way, just my DNA and my whole story.”
The whole story, the holistic view as Leon McKenzie as a man, is a fascinating one.  Prodigious footballing talent with an eye for goal, uncle who was a world champion boxer, father who himself had success in the ring as a British and European champion.  The battles out of the ring with depression that he has spoken so openly about and confronted in the public eye.  The decision at the age of 35 to set sail on a professional boxing career.  The McKenzie story is deep and the man himself talks about the layers that build him up, his DNA.   Those genetic building blocks, McKenzie believes, will be the difference between himself and Smyle come November 12th.
“He’s very strong, he’ll be reasonably fit.  He’s very one dimensional.  The respect is there in terms of him being the champion but I just feel like we are a little bit more special, we have a little bit more in our armour to solve it.  I don’t focus on the opponent too much, you can get a bit carried away.  It’s all about what I’m doing, and I’ll be fit and ready.  He’s a decent kid outside the ring, I’m a grown up man and I’m not into that animosity outside the ring or trash talking crap to be honest.  I’m straight down the middle, business is business and we both have a job to do.  He’s looking to keep his belt and I’m looking to take it, it’s as simple as that.”
When I speak with Leon he is under two weeks from fight night.  A couple more sparring sessions then he will be winding down his training camp.  It is a training camp that has gone on for longer than was initially planned.  After stopping Kelvin Young in a round live on Sky Sports back in January, “niggles and injuries” have kept McKenzie from returning to the ring, along with the other bane of a fighter’s life.  Boxing politics.  There was talk of a tilt at the Commonwealth title earlier in 2016 against Luke Blackledge, but decisions out of the ring stopped what would have been a good contest inside the ring as Leon explains.  “I was supposed to be fighting Luke Blackledge for the Commonwealth title, it was all pretty much done but then the Commonwealth Council lot decided I wasn’t ranked high enough or experienced enough but then we saw some African come in with more losses than me and couldn’t lace up my boots.  It was all a bit strange and fell though, then I picked up a few injuries and that’s taken up six or seven months.”
Fate has taken its course and the delays lead to November 12th with Smyle.  The delays have given McKenzie time to implement new training regimes, adding in a strength and conditioning coach at Equilibrium to his repertoire alongside light heavyweight prospect Jake Ball.  “It’s made a big difference” says McKenzie, and sparring partners have been surprised by his additional power in the ring.  The additional time has also meant another new relationship, twice sparring with middleweight world champion Billy Joe Saunders and creating a world class training setup in preparation for the most important bout of his career.  All of the training is overseen by father and inspiration to Leon, Clinton McKenzie.  Clinton himself was a class operator in the ring, a former British and European title holder.  When Leon says that this game is in his DNA, he's not kidding.  The DNA has both been passed on as well as being with him every single day to ensure training goes to plan as well as being in the corner on fight night to oversee proceedings.  Clinton is a guiding light in the career of Leon, who speaks openly about what an integral figure he is both as inspiration and guidance.
The importance of the night hasn’t passed Leon by.  It is a big deal, both for himself and for the promotional team he recently signed new terms with, Goodwin Promotions.  The card itself is TV worth, featuring McKenzie vs Smyle as the headline act as well as an undercard featuring a Commonwealth title fight between two undefeated boxers and an English title eliminator again featuring two young boxers putting their ‘0’ on the line.  The night is a huge boxing event and showcases how far the promotional outfit have come in the sport to put on such a stacked card at York Hall. 
“It’s massive” says Leon.  “It’s pretty much sold out already.  To be honest, it’s a big deal.  I’ve sold about 500 tickets, it’s good going.  There’s a lot of people that just want to see me win; it’s me standing up for so much.  It’s so much bigger than just boxing and that’s what makes it even more special and attractive.  I’ve trained so hard for this.  So hard.  I can only hope it all comes together.  It’s a great deal to be headlining the night, especially considering it’s my first major title fight.  Come November 12th I could be champion of England, that’s a big deal.  It’s all about the journey and I can’t wait.  The talking is done and I’m sick of it; the fight is coming and may the best man win.  I’m not a trash talker, it’s not my style and I have nothing bad to say against Jahmaine Smyle but I feel in my own right I am something else.”
Whether Leon is something else or not we will find out on November 12th.  Should this chapter of his journey be as successful as the previous ones then McKenzie will prove that his age is just a number.  The footballer tag may be something that Leon is dubbed with for his entire boxing career.  To this point, it has been to the detriment of opponents, 7 out of 8 leaving the ring having lost to a man they belittled pre-fight.  The English title could be around his waist come November 13th; the next chapter of his boxing story.
Leon wished to thank the sponsors who are integral in continually support his journey as a boxer:  Formarks, MEC, Furnlogic, Focus Fitness, Super Sports, Equilibrium, Alliance, DAF, Ringside and Boxfit.