Despite having his ultimate aspiration dashed, Ovill Mckenzie is still smiling, writes Matt Bozeat
‘The Upsetter’ discusses an extraordinary life and eventful career
IMAGINE working your entire life trying to get somewhere and when you finally get where you want to be, it’s taken off you… Twice. Imagine being Ovill Mckenzie. “The dream was to get to the big time and I was right, right there,” said Mckenzie, as his voice trailed off and his gaze became distant, remembering how his boxing career ended.
First, he had to settle for a draw when challenging Victor Ramirez for the IBF cruiserweight title in Argentina, a decision that so incensed promoter Frank Warren, he asked the IBF to order an immediate rematch.
“I know I beat him,” said Mckenzie, “and so does he. He told me himself twice that I won the fight.”
The IBF decided against ordering a return, but Mckenzie’s performance against Ramirez made him a credible opponent for Marco Huck, working his way back from the loss of his WBO belt.
There were those who felt the timing of the fight suited Mckenzie, but just days before it was set to go ahead, his career was over after a health scare.
“That’s the way it goes,” shrugged Mckenzie, and though such memories aren’t that easily banished, happily, there’s way more laughter than bitterness in his reminisces. He looks back and finds much to be thankful for.
Mckenzie described his upbringing in Jamaica as “dog eat dog” – and he only just survived it.
“The police arrested a gang leader once,” he remembered, “and there was a riot that went on for days. There were dead bodies on the ground and the police were getting fired at and chased down the street. They were running for their lives.
“I came out to have a peep – I like the drama – and the police made out I was piloting the gunmen. I ended up on the floor with a gun at my head. The police said to me: ‘We could kill you now and nothing would happen [as a consequence].’
“I was begging for my life. I was telling them: ‘Please don’t kill me, I’m a boxer,’ but they didn’t care. I held my breath. I was bracing myself, I was waiting to get shot.”
The police settled instead for smashing Mckenzie’s ribs with the butts of their rifles. “I couldn’t walk properly for days,” he said. After that experience, Mckenzie could deal with what he faced in Argentina when he headed there to fight Ramirez at only 11 days’ notice in October 2015.
“I spoke to Ola Afolabi [beaten by Ramirez six months earlier] and he said: ‘They are horrible over there, be careful.’ He was right,” said Mckenzie. “I watched Ola’s fight with Ramirez and it wasn’t him. They had got to him and they tried to get to me. On the way to the venue, the taxi driver said he didn’t know where we were going. Everywhere was darkness and when we got there, there were police with guns everywhere. I looked at [trainer] Martin [Bowers] and he had turned white!
“I went to look at the ring when we got there and a group jumped right in front of me waving t-shirts in my face. They were trying to scare me, trying to get in my head. I took a t-shirt off them and started dancing with them! They couldn’t get to me. I’m from Jamaica. I’m used to worse than what they could do.”
They got to Mckenzie’s handful of supporters.
“I had a few friends come over from
I WAS BEGGING FOR MY LIFE. I WAS TELLING THEM: ‘PLEASE DON’T KILL ME, I’M A BOXER,’ BUT THEY DIDN’T CARE. I WAS WAITING TO GET SHOT”
Derby to support me,” he said, “but when I went to talk to them at the venue, they pretended they didn’t know me! They were s**tting themselves. They were pretending they were from Argentina!”
Then there was the fight itself. Mckenzie, remember, was only really a light-heavyweight.
“I went to the press conference and when I saw him [Ramirez], I s**t myself!” laughed Mckenzie. “His head was massive and one of his hands was bigger than both of mine. At the weigh-in, his feet didn’t fit on the scales he was so big. I was s**tting myself – literally. I was on the toilet every 20 minutes. Martin kept telling me: ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry…’”
Mckenzie boxed out of his skin that night and after 12 rounds, many watching had him a point or two up. But the decision was a split draw.
“I boxed his head off,” said Ovill. “I never boxed like that before in my life and I did it because I didn’t want to get hit by him. I was moving – and he couldn’t. He was a big lump.” That turned out to be Mckenzie’s last fight. “I started to feel light-headed when I was sparring,” said the father of four of the incident that led to his retirement just before he was set to face Huck in September 2016. “I told my sparring partner: ‘Wait’, and I don’t remember anything after that. I was told I fainted and was out for about 45 seconds. I had no idea anything was wrong. I still can’t believe it.”
Mckenzie, 39, has since set up his own gym in Derby, named the Commonwealth Boxing Academy in recognition of his two spells as Commonwealth light-heavyweight champion, along with an unbroken stint as Commonwealth, and British, cruiserweight boss. Classes are proving popular and Mckenzie has plenty of stories to tell his students.
Against Ramirez, Mckenzie showed he could box, but fans will remember his 25-12-1 (13) career for his quick KOS and his shootouts with Tony Bellew and Enzo Maccarinelli.
The two fights with Bellew were very different. The first was a dramatic up-and-downer won by Bellew in eight rounds after he was floored in each of the first two sessions, and the second was a drab, one-sided points win for the Scouser.
“The referee should never have stopped the first fight,” said Mckenzie. “I said to Tony afterwards: ‘If you don’t give me a rematch, it’s not going to look good.’
“He did give me a rematch – and he ran like a chicken! I was thinking: ‘This is going to be another bust-up, we are going to smash each other,’ but it ended up being like a spar.
“Tony was smart. He didn’t want another tough fight. I just couldn’t get to him. He wasn’t hurting me. I got comfortable and the fight sort of drifted away from me. When I saw him a while later, he said: ‘I did what I had to do.’ Fair play to him. I like Tony.”
His first fight with Maccarinelli also ended prematurely, with the referee jumping in to stop the Welshman in the second round. For
THEY WERE TRYING TO SCARE ME. THEY COULDN’T GET TO ME. I’M FROM JAMAICA. I’M USED TO WORSE THAN WHAT THEY COULD DO”
MARTIN TOLD ME THE REFEREE WAVED IT OFF BECAUSE, WHEN HE ASKED ME WHERE I WAS, I SAID: ‘MANCHESTER,’ BUT WE WERE IN CARDIFF!”
Mckenzie, that was his second defence during his second reign as Commonwealth light-heavyweight champion.
He had won the belt by overpowering Jeff Evans in just 15 seconds – “I mugged him like we were in an alleyway” – but the stoppage of Maccarinelli was less conclusive, setting up a rematch that Mckenzie remembers as a turning point.
“That second fight with Maccarinelli made me,” he said of his 11-round defeat in August 2013. It made me believe in myself. That was a real fight – a warrior fight. We licked each other. They don’t have fights like that anymore. I used to stop them early, but going 11 hard rounds with a former world champion made me think: ‘I can go places.’”
As was the case many times throughout our two hours together, Mckenzie added an amusing anecdote. “After the fight, Martin told me the referee waved it off because, when he asked me where I was, I said: ‘Manchester,’ but we were in Cardiff!”
Ovill laughed wholeheartedly for a minute or so at the memory.
Toe-to-toe fights tended to go Mckenzie’s way. There was a cruiserweight Prizefighter in May 2009 when, stepping in at two weeks’ notice, he beat Terry Dunstan, Darren Corbett and John “Buster” Keeton.
“Dunstan was the only one I feared and when I drew him I thought: ‘Bloody hell,’” said Mckenzie. “But he never touched me and from the moment I beat him, I knew I could win the tournament.” Following that success, Mckenzie gave himself the nickname “The Upsetter”. With such a reputation, no wonder he struggled to get fights – until Warren got behind him. “After Bellew and [Nathan] Cleverly left him, Frank said to himself: ‘Let’s get ‘The Upsetter’ off the shelf and see what he can do,’” said Mckenzie, laughing. Mckenzie so nearly gave Warren and the Peacock Gym a world title. He started and finished his pro career fighting out of the Canning Town gym – there were also spells with Clifton Mitchell and the Shinfields in Derbyshire – and said: “The people at the Peacock were the best I met in boxing. They did a lot for me – and they didn’t have to. I wanted to repay them with a world title…” That thought led to a few moments’ quiet contemplation and there was more when Mckenzie considered the boxing business and the way doors open rather more easily for fighters who sell tickets than they ever did for him. The thing is, Mckenzie would have surely sold tickets had he tried. He is forever smiling, full of fun. “Perhaps I could have tried [to sell tickets],” he concluded. “For the money, to make things better for my family. But I would just train, watch TV and go to bed. I just wanted to fight and become a champion.”
SHOOT-OUT: Bellew goes down LQ KLV ԴUVW ԴJKW ZLWK 0F.HQ]LH
HURTFUL: Mckenzie cracks Maccarinelli
GOING PLACES: Mckenzie is a veteran of exciting wars