Boxing: Duff's dealing leaves McKenzie eclipsed by Bruno: Jonathan Rendall on a champion who loses out in the business of boxing

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The Independent Online
ECLIPSED he may be by a certain Anglo-Canadian, but Frank Bruno's large form continues to cast a gloomy shadow over some of the little men of the sport: particularly Duke McKenzie.

McKenzie is statistically one of Britain's most successful boxers. He has won world titles in three different divisions (albeit two of them of the WBOgus variety). On Wednesday he defends his junior-featherweight title for the first time. McKenzie should be feeling on top of the world but he is not. Instead he is a man puzzled by life's injustices.

McKenzie, who started life as a flyweight, is all too aware that the lighter-weight boxers cannot hope to match the purses or acclaim of heavyweights like Bruno. Nor are his textbook style and quiet demeanour likely to create the sort of hype necessary to generate television cash bonanzas. But to McKenzie these factors still only partly explain the fact that at the age of 30, and as he approaches his 10th world title fight, he has still not been able to give up his day job. Indeed, in some ways his value in the marketplace appears to have declined as his success has increased.

When McKenzie, who is managed by Mickey Duff, won the International Boxing Federation world flyweight title four years ago against the Filipino Rolands Bohol, it was at Wembley topping a bill televised to millions on BBC1. When he won the World Boxing Organisation superbantamweight title last year, against the tougher American Jesse Benavides, it was at the minuscule Lewisham Theatre in South London, beamed to an equally diminished audience on Sky.

Having become known in the trade for his McGuigan-style 'Thank-you-Mr-Duff' interviews, McKenzie has been sounding a different note in the run-up to Wednesday's bout against Daniel Jimenez of Puerto Rico, who should pose him little threat. Last week he was confiding that he was disappointed by the failure to deliver a lucrative, much-mooted unification match with the World Boxing Council junior-feather titlist, Tracy Harris Patterson, from the United States - a formidable foe who is McKenzie's only hope of a big pay-day in the division.

In fact the failure of that match to materialise is probably down to reasons that even Duff cannot influence. Patterson is under contract to Madison Square Garden (MSG), which is owned by Paramount. Last month Paramount, mysteriously citing concerns over unproven allegations of Mob involvement in an MSG-promoted welterweight, Buddy McGirt, cancelled its MSG boxing contract.

More pertinent may be the deal Duff did with Bruno, in the face of competition from Barry Hearn, before his comeback in 1991. It is no secret in boxing that the terms were exceptionally advantageous to Bruno and that they ate up almost the entire BBC boxing budget for several years. Duff, who has virtually exclusive access to BBC boxing, was nevertheless forced to ration his remaining dates.

Several of Duff's main- eventers, including McKenzie, who had been built up at considerable expense by the BBC, found themselves being diverted to Sky, which pays far less. McKenzie was given a chance on BBC last year but fluffed it when, weight-weakened, he was knocked out in a round by Rafael Del Valle. Despite his renaissance against Benavides, he has remained on Sky. Whereas the BBC can pay in excess of pounds 80,000 for a British title fight, Sky is generally thought to offer only pounds 20- pounds 25,000 for a WBO world title fight.

Boxing is, of course, a business. Thus Duff, an expert at manoeuvring brave but technically deficient boxers such as Bruno into title shots, has been lately marketing sluggers like Billy Schwer and Henry Wharton to network audiences, fearing, perhaps, that they are not likely to win the big one - and, therefore, that the big one had better be a big earner. Meanwhile technicians like McKenzie can be relied upon to perform at a consistently high level without embarrassment and to bring in a steady, it unspectacular, income.

One is reminded of a conversation with Duff last year when he was discussing why he had appeared to render himself supine to sign Bruno. 'If I was Frank Bruno I wouldn't be calling anybody,' Duff said. 'I'd be waiting for them to call me. If I think they're in the driver's seat, I have no hesitation about calling them from an inferior position. By the same rule, if I think I'm in the driver's seat, I wait for them to call me. I do that with Duke McKenzie.'

Appropriately, for McKenzie's fight on Wednesday (Lewisham Theatre; Sky) the mild-mannered defending champion will be wearing a loaded insignia on the back of his gown. It reads: 'Little Man'.

(Photograph omitted)

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