LEON McKenzie opened a new chapter in his colourful life when the retired footballer began his career in the professional boxing ranks with a victory over John Mason at York Hall in Bethnal Green, London.
The 35-year-old from Croydon already had boxing in his blood as the son of former British and European light-welterweight champion Clinton McKenzie, and nephew of three-time world champion Duke McKenzie but he is a latecomer to the paid ranks after an 18-year football career which included spells at Crystal Palace, Peterborough, Norwich, Coventry and Charlton.
However, McKenzie impressed on his debut in the ring at super-middleweight, sending 29-year-old Mason to the canvas twice before the fight was stopped, making it six defeats in a row for Mason.
Revelling in his victory, McKenzie said: “That’s the best I’ve ever felt. Even in my playing days, it doesn’t compare. When I was in there, I felt as though it was like: ‘Yeah, this is my home.’
“There was a few little bits and bobs we’ve got to look at, and I do feel that with it being my first fight ever, the pedigree is there and I just have to keep listening and try and progress. I’ve got to go into each fight as they come and obviously I want to win something.”
McKenzie’s emergence as a boxer is another twist in an eventful life. Having peaked as a striker in the Premiership with Norwich in the 2004-05 season, he left two years later to join Coventry. However, a series of injuries limited his appearances and, after a brief stint at The Valley with Charlton Athletic, he moved down the divisions with Northampton, Kettering and finally Corby Town in the Conference North. He hung up his boots on 1 January this year to concentrate on a music career.
However, he admitted to suffering from bouts of depression and his troubles worsened when he was jailed in February 2012 for trying to avoid speeding convictions. It wasn’t until his release that he got his life back on track. He put out a single last December entitled Finally, featuring MC Harvey – the artist from So Solid Crew – and he also wrote his autobiography.
Now boxing has offered him a new outlet and, having been trained by his uncle, Clinton McKenzie, he has made a highly promising start. “Hopefully we will be able to fight in Norwich in September,” he said.