By Liam Napier
Seven months after being brought back from the dead, Daniel MacKinnon is set to defy belief and step back in the ring.
As his life hung in the balance last year, MacKinnon's family prepared for the worst. A head-butt in the fifth round of his brutal fight with fellow Kiwi boxer Robert Berridge caused a bleed on his brain.
Hours later, while surgeons worked franticly to fix the life-threatening injury, his heart stopped for 40 seconds on the operating table.
"That night we were in the operating room we were told not to expect him to come out of it and, if he did, he would be a vegetable," MacKinnon's father, Ken, said. "Four months later he's in Australia working in the outback. He's definitely coming back to box."
MacKinnon's 30th professional fight was widely thought to be his last. Former manager Ken Reinsfield admits he is worried for his safety and Duco Events promoter Dean Lonergan, who oversaw the MacKinnon vs Berridge fight, is also understood to believe his return could be a bad look for the sport.
"Obviously I'm concerned that he's making the right decision." Reinsfield said. "I need to know all the facts first. He's a warrior at heart. It's hard when it's in your blood."
After several months of exhaustive brain scans and memory tests with four specialists, MacKinnon has relocated to Kimberley, Western Australia, joined a gym and is determined to fund his boxing career. He's earning $3000 a week scaffolding and plans to use the money to train full-time and make a comeback before November, in order to preserve his world ranking.
"That's his plan," father Ken added. "That's what he's working on at present. He'd love a rematch with either [Australian champion] Blake Caparello or Robert Berridge.
"Right from the start we made it clear we didn't think he'd go back in the ring but we didn't ever think he would get a full clearance.
"You can imagine there are concerns, but when you get a full clearance from the top brass . . . it's Daniel's decision entirely. We're all for it."
The apparent medical clearances have given MacKinnon, a father of three and partner to Christina, full confidence a similar incident won't again put his life in jeopardy. Tests are also said to have shown his IQ improved from 146 to 148.
"He's had IQ tests and they're greater now than they were beforehand. We joked he should get Robert to bash him in the head and he'll become a genius.
"One of the specialists was the surgeon that operated on him. He's the highest qualified surgeon in the country. He's been through all sorts of tests before he went to Australia. There's absolutely no after-affects. As far as they're concerned there's no danger at all.
"The specialists said there are a lot of footballers running around that would never pass the tests he's been through."
MacKinnon's family have been through a traumatic rollercoaster of emotions since he was rushed to hospital last November. Fear was top of the list. Naturally, there was initial anxiety but they now fully behind him.
"I know Dean is not happy. He feels Daniel is making the wrong decision and the specialist could be wrong. At the end of the day Daniel is a 30-year-old man with a family. It's his decision."
Meanwhile, Robbie Berridge has missed out on a world title shot and will instead sidestep the mandatory Kiwi challenger to take on Brazilian Rogerio Damasco next month.
Backed by Duco Events, New Zealand's highest ranked boxer was aggressively pursuing a WBO light-heavyweight title fight with Russian Sergey Kovalev in Atlantic City on August 2.
However, it seems the only man to defeat Berridge, long-term Australian rival Blake Caparello (19-0), has been preferred by Kovalev's camp.
Berridge is now scheduled to meet 31-year-old Damasco (12-1) for the WBO Oriental and PABA titles, on the undercard of the Joseph Parker vs Brian Minto on July 5 in Manukau.
That's sure to cause ructions on the Kiwi boxing scene, as Berridge is overlooking Adrian Taihia, the mandatory challenger as interim PABA champion. Berridge and Taihia were set to square off on Va'aiga Tuigamala's card, only for the former to pull out with injury.
Taihia then beat Samoan champion Togasilimai Letoa to further enhance his claims for a grudge match with Berridge. Duco have, meanwhile, added to their stable by signing 26-year-old Australian welterweight prospect Jeff Horn (7-0)