By Richard Hubbard
‘I come across like a gladiator because I am always in training and always ready to fight’
FOR A MAN who now revels in the stage name of ‘The Upsetter’, it was seeing the light through the darkness and doom of defeat that set him on the way to regularly defying the odds.
Since an 11th round stoppage loss to Enzo Maccarinelli in November 2012, Ovill McKenzie has transformed a career that could have be described as hit and miss, as well as perceptions of himself as a sportsman. The once willing and extremely game opponent who was dialled at short notice as a last resort became a feared champion who still very few are keen to engage with.
Before treading the canvas with the former world champion at light-heavyweight, McKenzie had only once travelled the championship distance – his sequel against Tony Bellew in 2011 – and extending the Welshman fuelled the self-belief of the now British and Commonwealth cruiserweight champion to the extent that he hasn’t sampled the sour taste of defeat in five contests since.
“I think the Maccarinelli fight, although I lost it in the 11th round, made me believe in myself so much and gave me so much confidence, knowing I was fighting a former world champion and went 11 rounds with him and was beating him on points,” reflected the 36-year-old, who admitted that such belief was previously in short supply.
“I was ahead on the cards before getting stopped by a good shot. That made me believe in myself so much more, knowing I could be a world title challenger.
“It was a bit of self belief I was missing because I had not often done the rounds before, not even ten rounds. Even if I had longer fights scheduled I stopped the guy in the third or fourth round. I never had that belief in myself that I could do it, although I did it in the gym sparring 15 or 16 rounds, but to do it in the ring at professional level is not the same as in sparring.
“When I did it with Maccarinelli it gave me so much more confidence and belief in myself.”
The Jamaican, who now counts Derby as his home patch, was never likely to cut it as a journeyman because he has always harboured ambition and is far too bigger threat to unbeaten records. What he has become known for, often to his detriment, is accepting fights at little or no notice.
His number was probably set on speed dial for promoters when scheduled opponents submitted their sicknote. His mantra is to always be ring-ready.
“It is not really that mentality because most journeymen haven’t really been training,” he reasoned. “Me, I come across like a gladiator because I am always in training and always ready to fight. Sometimes it is in desperation that I have taken fights because I am hungry.
“Back in the day I did come across like a journeyman because I never used to train and when I got a short notice fight I was hungry and in need of that money so I would take the fight.
“Now I am in a position where no-one wants to fight me. I can’t get a fight and I am always expecting calls at short notice. It is why I am always in the gym now and always want to be in top shape.
“I am 36 years of age and a cruiserweight who doesn’t want to lose any more fights, I never want to lose another fight – all the way to the top!”
It is testament to the strength of mind – and body – of McKenzie that he reckons on only a fraction of his 38 contests he has entered into with a prescribed period of preparation and isn’t banking on things changing too much, although he is eternally grateful to his now promoter Frank Warren booking him a European title shot, with ample training time, for April 30 at the Copper Box where he will share billing with Billy Joe Saunders’ first defence of his WBO middleweight belt.
“Maybe five, I think four or five I have had a good notice,” he recalled. “Normally I never got a good notice, even to this day as a champion I still don’t get given the time and I’m not sure when I’m fighting. I don’t know what is going on. I don’t have a clue why,” chuckled the punter’s favourite, who insists he is anything but a man about town.
“I am, but I do keep myself to myself and I’m not really out there too much. I finish training, eat some food and then maybe watch a bit of television before going for a run again later on, then I’m back indoors.
“I’m not really an ultra-public guy, I’m normally just keeping fit and in the gym, I’m not one to go to the pub or parties because I don’t drink.”
Post-Maccarinelli, McKenzie lived up to his nickname by slaying a trio of Brits and claiming his currently held honours. Tony Conquest, Jon Lewis Dickinson and Matty Askin were defeated against the odds, with the conqueror placing credit for his success on the support structure he now benefits from, enabling him to operate as an elite sportsman.
“I was never the favourite to win those fights, I was coming from light-heavyweight and, even today, I can make that weight easily. I’m never the favourite, they were the home fighters who called me in at late notice.
“Now I have got a full team for the first time in my career. I started at 22 and for the first time I have got a full team around me, a good manager, a good trainer and a promoter in Mr Warren who is looking after me. I never had that before, a solid team around me.
“I think this is what motivates me a bit more because I don’t want to let them down. Frank Warren is trying his best for me, winning the purse bid to get this European title fight for me. That never happened before and it has given me more motivation and fire.
“It is the first time in my career that I have had a promoter looking out for me – and going out and winning a purse bid for me. It is great stuff and it is a proper boost. I am not going to let him, or myself, down.
“I am going to win that European belt and keep it here in Britain.”
Kiev’s Dmytro Kucher is the stumbling block between McKenzie and the coveted EBU belt on April 30, an opponent with a single blot on his copybook that the 25-12-1 Brit might well need all his cunning to double his defeats.
“I didn’t really know too much about him. The first time I heard that name was when I was told I was going to fight him. I have had a little look at him and he is a strong guy, a straightforward guy and nothing really special, but he is strong and hard and it will be a tough job for me.
“They are strong, tough guys over there and they come to win. He has a good record as well, so let’s see what happens on the night.”
At the home of Olympic handball, you would imagine McKenzie need have no fear of the referee reaching for the scorecards. That could not be said of his last assignment.
With 11 days notice, last October The Upsetter headed to Buenos Aires seeking to inflict the mother of all upsets on the IBF cruiserweight champion Victor Ramirez.
Despite time being in short supply, such was the confidence of trainer Martin Bowers in the condition of his charge, there was no culling of his stint in the autumn sun.
“I was a lot for me! Normally I got five or two days notice – or even the next day! It was a great opportunity, I was in Tenerife doing my own stuff and getting a bit of vitamin B, then Martin called about a world title fight and I said ‘bring it on, I’m ready’.
“He told me to finish my holiday because I had two days left and it was all good. I went over there and did a great job, I made Ramirez look like an amateur boxer, I outboxed him. If Mayweather did a job like that they say he is the world’s greatest, I do it and it is like normal and nothing has changed.”
Ramirez was indeed rattled and should have been duly dethroned, but the contest was declared a draw by the judges when an away win was the rightful outcome – even in the whispered words of the title holder.
His reluctance to celebrate with his retained prize spoke volumes in the eyes of the deflated challenger, not to mention his silence on the prospect of doing it again.
“That guy should’ve given me a rematch, he told me in my ear twice that I won the fight and still nothing has happened about it. I should be a world champion now, but there you go…
“I needed a stoppage and when I went in there I knew in my heart and mind that I needed to stop this guy. When I went to the press conference and weigh-in though and saw this guy, he was massive and had feet like an elephant! I was thinking then that I had my work cut out and had to box him out.
“Maybe with a bit more notice I would have stopped him, but there you go, he is a strong guy and I outboxed him on points and he knows that. Even when he was given his belt he passed it through the ring and didn’t even celebrate, hold it in his hands or take a photograph with it.
“Anybody who wins a title belt is going to hold it in your hands and walk about proud – you are not going to pass it through the ring to somebody outside. He was not happy, he knows he lost the fight.
“But he won’t do it again, we’ve tried to get him over here. I don’t mind going back to Argentina, but it was a rough and hard struggle. It was horrible, it wasn’t like a sporting event, people were really rude to us and calling us names, but we got through it and it was alright.”
Even with having no luck of the draw, McKenzie insists there was no temptation to call it a day, revealing that the rocky road that is boxing is pretty much easy street compared to the Jamaican journey have travelled in his youth.
He even has a five-year plan in place that should hopefully result in a world title belt being wrapped around his waist.
“To tell you the truth, I’m not doing this for anyone but myself and I want to be a world champion. I won’t retire until I am. I know I can do it, I see the guys at this weight and know I can beat them.
“I ain’t going to give up, it doesn’t cross my mind. I tell myself that I want to retire maybe when I am 41 so I have another five years, but I am not going to retire until I feel like it.
“I have been through a lot of struggle because I am from Jamaica, so what I am going through is nothing and not a big issue. I grew up into a tough world, I have seen life and this is easy.
“I’ve got loads of miles left! I started boxing late at 19 and even though I am 36 I feel like 20. I feel fresh and young, guys at 20-21 can’t do the stuff that I do, they never can and it is not about my age, it is how you feel in yourself and I have looked after myself.”
After entering into sequels with both Maccarinelli and Bellew, McKenzie’s preference for a trilogy fight is with movie man Bellew, who will himself soon challenge for world honours against Ilunga Makabu.
“The one I would most like to have a hattrick with is Bellew, I love to have a third match with him and want to have it,” he enthused, confidently predicting a defusing of the Bomber at the third time of asking.
“Yes, 100 per cent, it is a different weight and, honestly, I am unstoppable at cruiserweight. If I had had this trainer when I fought at light-heavyweight he wouldn’t have beaten me twice.The first one shouldn’t have been stopped then in the second one he boxed and ran around like a chicken.
“My head was in a mindset where I wanted to take him out by knockout and couldn’t get out of it. My trainer at the time wasn’t waking me up, telling me what to do and giving me the boost that I needed. Now I am back at the Peacock where I started I think I am unstoppable.
“I want Bellew, he is the one I need most and out any. It would be a great fight and the fans would love to see that one.”
The Upsetter is on the up. Next stop Kucher at the Copper Box.