Former Premier League footballer, Leon McKenzie, about to embark on pro boxing career

By Boxing News - 06/01/2013 - Comments

By Ian Aldous: On Saturday June 29th, Leon McKenzie will have officially started his second professional sporting venture. After a seventeen-year career as a footballer in England, including a season at the pinnacle of the sport – the FA Premier League with Norwich City, Leon has decided to follow in the footsteps of his father and uncle. His uncle Duke is a former three-weight world champion and his father Clinton who’s a former British and European champion, two guys any fighter would love to have in their corner! Last week I spoke with Leon, just over a month away from his debut.

McKenzie will be fighting as a relatively natural super-middleweight on his debut. It’s a weight he and his team are happy with. “I think at the moment my weight’s around 12”6’-12”7’, it’s just sorta perfect in regards to where I’m going, so I think that Duke and my dad said that I’m definitely more of a natural super-middleweight. There’s not going to be too much getting down (to the weight). We’ll see how it goes. I don’t think I’ll go any lighter to be honest because I think I’ll probably be struggling at the weight. We can only guide it by each fight, you know.”

So, when your dad and his brother are British boxing royalty, it was always likely that Leon may take up the family profession having been around the sport all his life. “Yeah, it’s always been there. It’s always been my passion, even when I was playing football for seventeen years. I’ve always been around it, always been in the gym. I’ve never fought competitively but I’ve always sparred with boxers and always held my own and done all right. There was talk in the middle of my career where we was thinking about making the switch (from football to boxing) but I sort of gave my all to football at the time and the opportunity has come around again so why not?”

Duke McKenzie has taken up the role of head trainer for Leon and you couldn’t really ask for a better man to guide a new professional. Leon obviously agrees. “Duke is technically brilliant at what he’s trying to bring across to me. It speaks for itself in him being a former three-time world champion and he probably doesn’t get the credit he should do today if I’m honest in regards of what he won.”

Once he’d called time on his journey as a footballer, it just made sense for boxing to fill the sporting void in his life. “Yeah, it’s perfect. I mean I love that kind of adrenaline and all this anticipation of being able to go into that next chapter and see people look at me and respect me for having the balls to jump in the ring even at the age I’m at, but I don’t really concentrate too much on my age. I’m in good shape.” He continued, “For people to look at me and say ‘the kid can fight’ that’s really what I want the boxing world to say ‘Leon McKenzie really can box regardless of his former profession’.”

Taking up the sport at the age of thirty-five clearly limits what Leon is able to achieve. That will not stop him going on to fulfil everything he believes he can in the time he allots himself. “I would love to be able to kind of work out where it goes. I have my eyes on the British area; if it was anything beyond that then I wouldn’t be a realist if I’m honest. At the same time, if I get anywhere between winning some sort of title, whatever title that may be, you know what, great! I could do the Prizefighter (eight-man, one night tournament) and maybe go farther than that at some point. Whether it be like a Southern area title or an English title, whatever it is, for me that’s a massive achievement in itself if I get to that goal.”

“Boxing has been a fantastic focus for me. I don’t know how it’s gonna go, I really don’t. All I can say is that I’m gonna do my best and hopefully people see the ability I’ve got and that shines when I fight. I’ve got some great backing. My sponsors have been fantastic.”

Evidence that Leon is taking his spell in the sport seriously is shown when I’d heard that he’d sparred with 2008 Olympic middleweight champion, James DeGale. “The thing is, I’m not sparring with just anybody. I’m sparring with former champions and the likes of (James) DeGale. We only done like four rounds but that says a lot for me to even move with him. He was really fast, hits harder than I thought, my nose suffered a bit a few days after! He was really complimentary to me after sparring. I done well, but again, it’s just a learning thing for me. I’ve got so much respect for the game and I respect every fighter that really does jump into that ring.”

“It’s just about being confident and at the same time not getting too far ahead of yourself if you do win a couple or whatever it is. So, it’s always best to stay humble because you never know when that tough one’s coming. I’ve had a few tests in sparring and I sparred with Richard Williams (former commonwealth champion) a few weeks back and to be honest, it was a very, very testing spar but it was the first time I’ve thought ‘oh’ and the punches were hurting, so put it this way, I know what to expect if I come to that situation in the ring. It’s gonna take a very skilled, strong human being to beat me, I know that.”

Towards the end of his football career, Leon struggled with depression and battled with his inner demons. He hopes to use the pain he felt to help others, “I’ve got a charity I’m working with called ‘Mind’ (a mental health charity). I’ve got a few meetings with them and I’m gonna be doing some stuff with them because I do believe in the issues that we face in regards to depression, so it’s something that’s passionate to me. I will definitely be giving some help towards helping other people in the future.”

“I’m just really excited now to have the opportunity to be stepping in the ring. A lot of people say ‘don’t you feel the pressure to follow your dad and Duke?’ and my only answer to that is, they had their time in regards with what they did and it was brilliant. For me to follow that is really kind of overstepping my realistic targets, that’s a former three-time world champion and a British and European champion! That’s a little bit out of my comfort zone! No matter how good I am, I do have my targets but within a realist’s eyesight. I just know that I’m continuing a legacy through boxing and hopefully I do my family proud and do the best I can.”

Leon McKenzie will make his professional debut on June 29th at York Hall, Bethnal Green. For more information and tickets, check out

Leon is proudly sponsored by:

‘My Fight With Life’ the autobiography by Leon McKenzie is available now.

Comments are closed.