The Coatbridge boxer took up the sport aged ten and began fighting competitively a year later. On Saturday, a day after he turned 20, he clinched his place in the final of this year’s Scottish Championships and a rematch with Charlie Flynn, the opponent who denied him victory in the same tournament last year.
“I have won the championships three times before and I am going to make it four this year,” he said. “Last year Charlie beat me. It was my first year at senior and I’m not making any excuses but this year is definitely going to be different. I don’t mind that it’s Charlie in the final, it makes no difference to me because, if you are in a final, you expect it to be difficult. Anyone who gets to the final at the Scottish Championships is always going to have something in the bag so I’m right up for it and I definitely want revenge.
“I’ll be honest, right from the start this was the fight I wanted. I think he was a bit lucky to win his semi-final but I was hoping he would win it because I wanted to meet him in the final.”
McKeown is modelling a black eye as a souvenir of his own progress to the showcase night, when 12 bouts will decide the various Scottish titles and, most probably, the make-up of the Scottish team at this summer’s Commonwealth Games.
“Yeah, I got the black eye on Saturday but it was worth it to get through. I have boxed brilliantly so far. I have had two fights to get here, the quarter-finals and semi-finals, that’s six rounds and I have won all six, so I can’t complain about that. I knew that was the way it was going to be. I was taking it one fight at a time but, in my head, I always knew that was the way it was going to be. Now I need to keep that going in the final.”
The national championships have generated a massive buzz of excitement, with 5,000 people, the event’s biggest-ever crowd, expected at the Emirates.
“It’s by far the biggest crowd I will have ever boxed in front of and that doesn’t make me nervous in the slightest,” said the apprentice joiner, who is combining full-time work with his intensive training programme. “It makes me excited and makes me train even harder, knowing that so many people from my area are going to be there – all my friends and family will be there to see me and there are a good few tickets by us. I daresay the whole of Coatbridge will be there!
“Because the Commonwealth Games are in Glasgow this time, it is an extra incentive. The people who win these titles will be favourites to get on to the Scotland team. That’s my dream, to represent my country at the Commonwealth Games and I’m going to make sure it happens. I actually went to Delhi to watch the boxing there and we saw some of the fights and, when the home fighters from India were fighting, the atmosphere was amazing and just thinking about it being in Glasgow, I think that will multiply by ten. I can just imagine what the crowds are going to be like. It will be amazing if I can compete because we don’t really get that kind of atmosphere at most fights at this level but, when you compete at the Commonwealths, it’s not just your family and friends or the people from your area who want you to do well, it will be the whole of Scotland. It will be like going for a world title.
“I’m training six days a week just now and sometimes even seven to make sure that happens. I work full-time but my company have been perfect when it comes to giving me time off when I need it and a lot from my work will be there next Friday as well.”
McKeown will present Flynn with a more difficult challenge than the one he faced last year having spent a year honing his skills on the international stage. “I got a gold in Russia at the tournament there and just after that I got a silver in Macedonia.”
Having won bronze at the Europeans a couple of years ago, he says he is even better now. “That was a big deal for me because I had to win four fights just to get the bronze medal but, even since last year, I have had brilliant international experience, boxing all over the world.”
McKeown and Flynn attend the same Scotland training camps and know each other well “but we don’t really spar. A few years ago I sparred with him but not now”. These days, when they get in a ring together, it’s the real thing and there’s more than pride at stake.