Leon McKenzie: From the Pitch To the Ring
Leon McKenzie was your classic well-travelled English striker. His career crossed over the early Premier League to the influx of foreign players in the noughties. While his career may not light up articles, his life is actually one of the most interesting around, and in November you could be hearing his name for very different reasons than football.
On the 12th of November in York Hall Leon McKenzie will have his name announced, but not as part of the team sheet. He will be entering a boxing ring and fighting for a national title. He takes on Jahmaine Smyle for the English Super Middleweight title. McKenzie turned to boxing in 2013, two years after he retired from football and has made a success of it thus far. At 38 years old, time is not on his side, but in those three years he has racked up 8 wins and 1 draw. It should not be a crazy surprise when you know his background however. Leon McKenzie is the son and nephew of professional boxers. Growing up in London his father Clinton, was a European Champion and his uncle Duke McKenzie won three World titles.
Leon did not see his future in the ring to begin with. The South London native joined Crystal Palace in 1995 as a budding young striker. He experienced promotion with the Eagles, but struggled for game time in his five years at the club. He is perhaps best known for his stint at Norwich City. He was already a fan favourite for scoring a brace against bitter rivals Ipswich on his debut before he went on to help the club win promotion with a bagful of goals. He formed an unlikely partnership with Dean Ashton in the Premiership. Unfortunately around the time of 2004, the beginning of the influx of masses of foreign players, Leon McKenzie was not able to keep up with the competition dropping down the leagues slowly after his meteoric rise. Stints at Charlton, Coventry and Northampton came and went, but it did not reap any of the success he had previously. Eventually whilst playing at conference north side Corby Town he decided to retire in 2013 and was left with the age old question of what to do as an ex-footballer.
It was not just unemployment the 35-year-old had to battle with though. For years Leon had suffered from depression, and it came to a head when he attempted suicide while at Charlton Athletic in December 2011. Shortly after this he was imprisoned for six months for avoiding speeding offences and it appeared McKenzie was at rock bottom. He looked to his family for help and ended up in the gym working with his Uncle, who is now his trainer. Boxing helped Leon get over his demons as well as giving him purpose in life. He now even gives talks on depression openly, and has worked with charities Mind and Time to Change.
Since his debut in June 2013 he has seen the success he was missing from his football career. Now in a sport where he doesn’t rely on teammates, he is relishing being sole responsible for the outcomes of his matches. At 38 it is not unusual for boxers to find success, as Bernard Hopkins proves, fighting well into his forties. Unlike most famed boxers, McKenzie does not have the glorious rise the majority experience in the ring, coming through the Olympics and all the history that entails. Instead McKenzie’s story is arguably more unique as he rebuilds his life with boxing. His story is an important one to report too as it can be an inspiration to a seemingly perennial problem of depression in professional football.