Boxing: Bruno's millions the envy of McKenzie: Nick Halling on the contrasting physiques and fortunes of two British title-fighters who will be in action later this week

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The Independent Online
AS ANY half-way decent heavyweight will tell you, there is serious money to be made from professional boxing. Next Saturday, Frank Bruno, the nation's sporting hero, will once again demonstrate the veracity of that fact when he fights the South African, Pierre Coetzer, in an eliminator for the world title.

His purse for this one contest, a healthy six-figure sum, will seem like small change should he prevail and progress to another world challenge, where he can expect to pocket the kind of cheque more normally associated with eight score-draws. In the fight business, market forces determine that the bigger they come, the heavier the purse. Never mind the quality, check out the scales.

There is, of course, the other side of the coin. Two days before Bruno embarks on the next leg of his lucrative career, another London fighter, Duke McKenzie, will attempt to become the first British boxer this century to win a world title at three different weights when he challenges the Texan, Jesse Benavides, for the World Boxing Organisation super-bantamweight crown.

It is to be hoped McKenzie derives motivation from a sense of history because in financial terms, the contest is barely worth his while. 'It is a very low purse,' admitted Mickey Duff, manager of both McKenzie and Bruno. 'Duke is receiving the challengers' end which, for a super-bantamweight title, means he's fighting for not much more than training expenses.'

Such are the unfair economic realities of boxing. Bruno, an engaging personality with a big punch and not much else, will generate more next Saturday than McKenzie, an accomplished craftsman in an unfashionable division, may expect to earn from his entire career.

McKenzie turned professional in 1982, coincidentally appearing on the undercard of Bruno's ninth contest at Wembley Arena. Both won inside a round, Bruno despatching the carefully selected German, George Butzbach, McKenzie accounting for the equally hapless American, Charlie Brown.

During parallel careers, both men have achieved more than 30 victories against three losses, but there the similarities end. McKenzie, having achieved ring success and the respect of his peers, still awaits a substantial payday. In contrast, Bruno's has been a tale of tantalising, money-spinning failure.

His first world-title assault came in July 1986, when he was expected to defeat the moody and overweight American champion, Tim Witherspoon. Big Frank did his best but ultimately was battered senseless in a neutral corner in the 11th round.

McKenzie's first world challenge came two years later, the 29- year-old Croydon man following up earlier success in winning the British and European titles by defeating Rolando Bohol in 11 rounds to become the International Boxing Federation flyweight champion.

In 1989 Bruno again tried and failed, shaking Mike Tyson briefly in the first before being rescued after five bloody rounds. Last year, McKenzie was again successful, outpointing the American Gaby Canizales in a WBO bantamweight challenge to claim his second world crown.

The British public has always had a soft spot for the good, honest trier. Despite his failures, Bruno has become a national institution, a sporting version of the Queen Mother. It is difficult to think of another athlete who has generated a comparable extra-curricular career. Certainly not McKenzie, whose lone non-boxing highlight was to assist in the rescue effort following the Purley train crash, which occurred close to his back garden. Even now, as he prepares to make history, his efforts are again being pushed into the background by the big boys.

'Sure, it's something he gets jealous about,' Duff said. 'He looks around at some of these other guys, fighters who don't have his talent but get there because of size rather than skills, and I'm sure it makes him sick. But that's the way it is.'

In a business beset with cynicism McKenzie stands out as a genuinely warm character, a man of integrity of whom it is virtually impossible to find anyone with a harsh word to say against him. The many who admire his quiet courage will hope he achieves his place in the record books on Thursday.

Win or lose, however, he will be upstaged by the drum beating accompanying the build-up to Bruno and Coetzer. McKenzie's misfortune is to be engaged in a business where big is beautiful, and where little fellows, even super-bantams, simply do not carry enough weight to get what they deserve.