Boxing can be cruel and unforgiving, as can life. A man can wind up lost, as can a fight.
It would be easy to view boxing as barbaric and ignore the positive impact it can have on youth, communities and lives in general. People involved in the sport are ‘all in’. One hundred percent. Ed Levine (IBO president) once told me that, ‘boxing, it’s an infection’.
I’ve had the privelige of watching hundreds of fights this year and am always blown away by the commitment of both the home and away fighters. None of these fights have really stirred emotion in me like last night’s main event. It was on another level.
Cello Renda stepped into the lions den with twelve losses from forty-three contests. He carried a belief in his own ability and cement in his gloves.
I’d been on a training course a year ago with a chap from Peterborough who told me he knew Renda. My only real knowledge of him was his stint on Prizefighter in years gone by. However, this guy told me Renda had been disheartened by the politics involved in the sport. Close to hanging up the gloves and finding every door slammed shut, that story stuck with me. I knew what it meant to step in and face Leon McKenzie for the vacant super-middleweight title.
Leon McKenzie has fought battles much more formidable than this one at York Hall. Most taking place outside of the ring.
Turning to boxing late following a career playing football at the highest level, he was always chasing lost time. His battles with mental health and a very open admission that he had tried to commit suicide as a footballer had earned him the utmost respect from fans and peers alike. He is a special, charismatic individual. He captures hearts and minds and it was evident on Saturday that a deep sadness reigned following his defeat. He is an inspiration to many fighters but, more importantly many men.
Breaking down the stigma of depression amongst young men, Big McK found himself in a position to save many people in a position where he had once needed saving. Leon McKenzie posesses a natural warmth that you can’t learn or cultivate. He is a good man.
The details of the fight, the rounds, the punch-stats and other such particulars are irrelevant. I could sit and write you a round-by-round breakdown of the contest but firstly, I wouldn’t do it justice. Secondly, reading text on a page will never amount to the atmosphere or the rollercoaster of emotions witnessed during the FOTY candidate.
These were two men battling on a stage they had to earn. It wasn’t televised. It wasn’t covered widely by the boxing media. It was laughed at by several people on Social Media with Renda discounted as a ‘has-been’ and Leon questioned in equal measure. To all intents and purposes this fight should have been decent. But not breathtaking.
When Renda had finally stopped Leon in the ninth round, he fell to the floor overwhelmed with emotion. McKenzie was in the recovery position briefly, receiving oxygen. The Cello Renda fans were going crazy. Singing songs and shouting names. It was then, that Jon Pegg, Renda’s trainer, noticed the trouble McKenzie was in and ran over to address all of his own fans. He silenced every one of their celebrations in a show of immense humility until Leon McKenzie rose to his feet. This is boxing.
During the third round when the action had just been mindblowing, I stepped back on the upper level of York Hall and eyeballed the whole arena. Heads in hands, mouths agape, voices hoarse and tears streaming from emotionally invested eyes. The noise was unbelievable. Everyone in that arena, experienced something special. This is boxing.
Cello Renda left York Hall last night to a rousing singalong on its famous front steps. A man who has been beaten twelve times. A man who was never supposed to win and doubted he’d ever get the chance to try. He smiled, he hugged, he kissed and it was dark but I’m sure he cried. He did it all wearing his new belt over one shoulder, gripping as tightly as his battered hands would allow. This is boxing.
Leon McKenzie lay on his back, exhausted. He somehow, some way managed to bring himself to his feet. The fans that had flocked out to see him reacted as though he’d won a World title. A man who had enough heart to keep blood pumping throughout York Hall for all of us. Up on his feet, in the centre of the ring where he deserved to be. He had earned eternal respect and though on the losing side, had plastered his name in the memory of everyone in attendance. This is boxing.
If you claim to love this sport or claim you’re a fan, you simply have to be at these types of fights. Josh Goodwin put on an extraordinary night once again, wishing he could bottle the atmosphere and sell it. These are the fights that show boxing in its truest form. It exposes boxing as a damaged art-form. The money, the politics and its other shortfalls are never far from the surface. Two men, putting everything on the line during an un-televised card for a Southern Area title. But if you know anyone who was in attendance, ask them one question for me;
“Should I go to the next one?”
I bet I know their answer.
Written by Craig Scott