The Premiership Footballer turned Pro Boxer Leon McKenzie
Recently we caught up with super-middleweight contender and former Premier League footballer Leon McKenzie. Here’s what he had to say about his English title shot, the transition from football to boxing and his own battle with depression.
Leon knocked out Kelvin Young in 43 seconds last weekend, it was his TV debut as a boxer and was fighting on the under-card of George Groves comeback show.
Leon blitzed Young with ease in an English Title eliminator and will now face title holder Jahmaine Smyle in his next fight. Leon want’s to keep busy and if Jahmaine Smyle is not next, he will look to keep busy:
“I will have to sit down with my team and my manager and see what’s next. I think it will be Jahmaine but I’ll also see what he’s doing, I might try get out do a cheeky one before I get a title shot, but it would be nothing crazy, just to tick over maybe do an 8 rounder or maybe 6.”
Most people had raised eyebrows when Leon decided to become a pro boxer, but both Leon’s father and uncle where pro fighters in the past, so it wasn’t something that was foreign to Leon:
“Boxing is tough, really tough. I keep stressing to everyone that it will be different for me, it’s in my blood. They shouldn’t be surprised that I can fight.”
McKenzie had no amateur fights, so his first pro fight was his first fight, something that a lot 30 somethings wouldn’t consider I’m sure.
Leon believes that there is something different with him and that his record speaks for itself. He does not think that his lack of an amateur background has hindered his career, his uncle Duke McKenzie is a former 3 weight World Champion and Leon say’s what his uncle and father have thought him is priceless:
”We’re coming up to fight number 10 I’ve had no amateur background, so the result’s are speaking for themselves. It’s very clear to see that there is something different happening with me not many 37 year old’s could do what I’m doing. My uncle is a former 3 weight World Champion, that experience you can’t buy. I did not need an amateur background for experience, I’m beating experienced guys now Kelvin Young is a good kid he’s been around had over 23 fight’s it wasn’t a fight I could overlook.”
Everyone will remember Leon McKenzie from his days as a Premier League footballer and would think that the transition from football to boxing would have been huge, but for Leon says that was not the case:
”I was a professional footballer for 18 years but I’ve been a professional athlete for 18 years so I had the mindset, the dedication of an athlete, so the transition was easy.”
Curtis Woodhouse is another who made the cross over from footballer to boxer with huge success, landing a British title. Leon played with Curtis at Peterborough United and remain good friends to this day.
(McKenzie vs Douglas 2014, via the Goodwin Boxing YouTube channel):
Leon isn’t sure if he can emulate the success Curtis had in boxing, but says never say never:
“I played with Curtis at Peterborough we are good friends, he was younger than me and was already making the transition to boxing. I was scoring goals at the time so it was good for me so I wasn’t thinking of boxing. Whether I can emulate what Curtis has done in winning such an honourable title but who know’s people didn’t expect me to get this far so who knows.”
Leon went through some dark times in his career too. He has spent time in prison and at his lowest, he even considered taking his own life.
Leon has spoken about his battles with depression and it’s something he deals with everyday. Boxing has helped Leon to deal with things differently from how he would have 5 years ago, he told us:
”Depression is part of my life I deal with it the best way I can, boxing came along at a good time and gave me something to hold onto at that point in my life. I deal with things a lot differently now I have my beautiful kids and great fans so I deal with things in a different way than I would have 5 years ago. You have good day’s and bad days things change, circumstances change it’s about finding that balance.”
Leon was on the under card of George Groves v Andrea Di Luisa in London, where Groves won via KO and set his sights on IBF Champion James DeGale. Leon thinks that DeGale will look at others options, and believes that Groves needs DeGale and DeGale doesn’t need Groves:
“Right now DeGale wins that fight but I think DeGale has more options. Groves needs DeGale more than DeGale needs him. I think James will look elsewhere.”
Leon isn’t going to set himself any goals in terms of what he can achieve in boxing, for now he is focusing on the English title but he say’s who knows where this journey will take him:
”Who know’s what is going to happen, I just won an English title eliminator so I know at some point I’ll be fighting for a title but who knows. I’m ranked 16 now in the whole country which isn’t bad but I’ll keep going and see where it takes me.”
Since turning professional Leon has not looked back, he played at the highest level in football and there is no reason he can’t reach the top in boxing. He say’s he’s living a dream which after the dark day’s is great to here:
”I lived a dream playing football I am now living my dream as a pro boxer, I’ve no regrets when it comes to my career.”
(Image courtesy of Leon McKenzie)
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