On This Day in 1991: Duke McKenzie claims WBO bantamweight title

PA Sport Staff
·3-min read

Among the historic treble Duke McKenzie achieved in the ring, it is chapter two of the story that he regards as the greatest moment of his career.

Croydon-born McKenzie was the first British boxer to win world titles at three different weights.

And the second triumph in the trilogy came on June 30, 1991 at Southwark’s Elephant and Castle Centre when he defeated Gaby Canizales to claim the American’s WBO bantamweight crown.

The previous year McKenzie, having moved up to bantamweight, had been beaten via unanimous decision by Frenchman Thierry Jacob in Calais in a clash for the vacant European title – a bout that saw the Londoner at one point knocked down to the canvas.

But valuable lessons he took from that contest then paid off handsomely nine months later.

“I showed what I learned from Jacob against Gabe Canizales when I won the WBO bantamweight championship,” McKenzie told The Ring magazine in 2017.

“The same tactics Jacob beat me with, I then used to beat Canizales. I set a really quick pace and, ’cause he couldn’t nail me, I slipped, blocked and, if he hits me with one, I hit him with four.

McKenzie's first world title came with victory over Rolando Bohol in 1988 (David Giles/PA).
McKenzie’s first world title came with victory over Rolando Bohol in 1988 (David Giles/PA).

“I just outbox him for 12 rounds. He never got near me.”

At the end, the judges had scored the bout 120-108, 120-108 and 120-109 in McKenzie’s favour.

He became a world champion for the first time in October 1988, taking the IBF flyweight belt from Rolando Bohol of the Philippines with an 11th-round stoppage at Wembley Conference Centre.

Three fights later, in June 1989, the strap was surrendered at Wembley Arena as McKenzie suffered the first defeat of his professional career, in its 24th bout, losing on points to Northern Ireland’s Dave McAuley.

McKenzie became an MBE in 2011 (Chris Ison/PA).
McKenzie became an MBE in 2011 (Chris Ison/PA).

His subsequent reign as bantamweight king also ended three fights on from assuming the belt, this time in abrupt fashion with a first-round knockout at the hands of Puerto Rican Rafael Del Valle at the Royal Albert Hall in May 1992.

McKenzie would bounce back again swiftly, getting his hands on a third world title just five months later as he overcame another American, Jesse Benavides, at Lewisham Theatre to secure the WBO super bantamweight belt.

The following June he was beaten by Del Valle’s compatriot Daniel Jiminez at the same venue, and in 1994 McKenzie was denied another stint as a world champion when WBO featherweight title-holder Steve Robinson defeated him in Cardiff.

McKenzie, now 57, fought for the last time in 1998 before retiring with a pro record of 39-7, 20 KOs. In 2011 he was awarded an MBE for his contribution to his sport.