Mind Over Matter: The Story Of Duke McKenzie MBE

Photo - www.mind.org.uk

Throughout British boxing history, there have been many fighters who have been labelled as legends, it is a word that gets thrown around ever so quickly in the social media generation, but what is the definition of a legend in boxing? Is it the titles they've won or the fighters they shared the ring with? The list is subjective, the debates are endless, but one man that certainly deserves the title of a British boxing legend is the three-weight world champion, Duke McKenzie MBE.

As one of seven siblings growing up in a household ruled by fear, Duke followed his brothers Clinton, Winston, and Dudley into boxing at the age of 13, and did his first sessions at the Sir Philip Game ABC Croydon.

"My dad never boxed at all and as a child, he actually discouraged me to go to the gym, so I had to sneak out! I got to the stage where I just wanted it, real bad. Lots of kids around me kept getting in trouble and I didn't want to go down that route."

His brother Clinton went on to turn pro and won the British, European and Commonwealth titles, so Winston, Dudley, and Duke had a tough act to follow.

Dudley was an outstanding amateur, winning an unprecedented eight national championships.

Duke said: "He was the one who got me into boxing. He used to ask me to do a few rounds. I got fed up with getting bashed, so I took it up.

It was not until he left Croydon for the Battersea Amateur Club that his career started to take shape.

"I've got an abysmal amateur record, probably the worst of any world champion, because at that point I didn't have the dedication."

"The professional ranks suited me better than the amateur ranks where my style was a little bit slow. To my amazement when I turned pro I actually started knocking people out."

Manager, Micky Duff signed Duke as a professional into his stable which also featured the former WBC super featherweight champion Cornelius Boza-Edwards. In 1983, Duke McKenzie, Micky Duff, trainer Colin Smith, and Cornelius Boza-Edwards went on a tour of America where Duke would gain some invaluable experience

“I had to beg Mickey Duff to manage me because he didn’t want to initially. He got me the fights. He was the master matchmaker.”

We just clicked straight away and I boxed everywhere Vegas, Los Angeles, Reno, and Mexico. At 21, I was fighting all these Hispanic guys and I really believed I had arrived."

Mickey Duffy & Duke McKenzie

Duke returned to the UK to fight for the British Flyweight title in his thirteenth fight against Danny Flynn in what was the first real acid test of his career.

“The fight against Danny Flynn was my first real test to gauge myself, as to where I was at, I’d been travelling quite a lot and was really well prepared for this fight.

"When I was in the USA, we were over at Johnny Tocco’s gym and there was Hector Camacho training. He’d come in, do a three or four-hour slot, and then disappear. Then Boza Edwards would train after that. Boza would walk out, and Edwin Rosario would come in, go out, and then Livingstone Bramble, Evander Holyfield, you name it.

McKenzie would go on to drop Flynn six times before the fight was stopped in the fourth round resulting in McKenzie picking up his first professional title.

Three fights down the line, McKenzie took on European flyweight champion “Champagne” Charlie Magri. McKenzie was also putting his British strap on the line against Magri, a former WBC flyweight champion.

“Charlie was the darling of British boxing at that period of time. I’d been written off by the press for being too young, naive, and not really ready. Again, I had to lean on my experience I had gained in America. I had sparred this guy called Juan Muriel from Puerto Rico, and he mimicked Charlie’s style really well, but he was much bigger and stronger than what I was used to, and there were days where he would just bash me around the ring, but the more time I spent in there with him, the more I was able to adapt, it was the perfect preparation ahead of the fight with Magri”

“That fight was a case of one fighter who was on the way up and one that was on the way down, Micky Duff’s matchmaking skills were genius”

McKenzie would go on to beat Magri after he retired in the fifth round, making him both British and European champion.

“Initially I didn’t dream of becoming a world champion but instead I dreamt about following my older brother Clinton and becoming British champion, and when I did that, I was more than satisfied. But when you win the British, you get an automatic European rating, and then when you win the European title, you get an automatic world rating, and then it all goes from there”.

It was not long before the unbeaten Croydon fighter won his first world title in October 1988, when late on in his 22nd fight he knocked out Rolando Bohol for the IBF World Flyweight title.

But McKenzie lost his belt on points in a gruelling Wembley clash with Irishman Dave McAuley on June 7, 1989, in what was a huge learning curve for him when it came down to making weight.

McAuley at the time held a record of 12-2-2 and had been on the deck seventeen times throughout his career, something which was taken for granted by Duke going into that fight.

“I thought I’d beat him because he couldn’t take a shot, but it was me that was there for the taking. I had a horrific time trying to make weight. I failed on the first attempt on the morning of the fight and had to go into a boiler room in Leicester Square, where the weigh-in was, and it took me over an hour to skip the weight off. I was drained. When I got on the scales Mickey Duff said, ‘Fuck me, lad. You look like a black pair of braces.’