By Frank Warren
Ovill McKenzie is such delightful guy, which is why I will be among the many in boxing on our feet applauding if he becomes the IBF World Cruiserweight champion in tonight’s BoxNation-screened title fight against Argentina’s Victor Ramirez in Buenos Aires.
Here is a real trouper of the ring, never out of training, always ready to step in at a moment’s notice – one of those bags-packed, have- gumshield-will-travel pros who are the very backbone of boxing.
Ovill may be among the sport’s great unsung, but he is on a great run of form and has been superbly schooled by manager Martin Bowers, who also trains him and has the 36-year-old in tremendous condition.
This is a wonderful opportunity for him and well deserved, coming comparatively late on in a career which initially saw him labelled as a bit part opponent. But he has improved remarkably to become an obvious contender for Ramirez after the Argentine’s original opponent Yoan Pablo Hernandez was ruled out.
The German-based Cuban, who beat Steve Cunningham to win the belt in 2011, has been relieved of the title by the IBF after failing to make a defence in 13 months and interim champion Ramirez promoted to full champion.
He is known as El Tyson de Alabasto, after a district in Buenos Aires. The 31-year-old’s record is 22 wins (15 KOs), two losses and one no-contest. He previously held the WBO World Cruiserweight title but lost it in his first defence to Marco Huck in 2009.
He is a handful, obviously can punch as his nickname implies, and will, be hard to dislodge in his own BA backyard; but he is not unbeatable. Another Brit, Ola Afolabi, took him to a close 12 rounds decision at the same venue, Villa La Ñata Sporting Club, in April, for the interim title and might have won had he not been deducted two points for a low blow.
When the call came Ovill took the fight like a shot. Last week he was a worthy winner of the Dennie Mancini Award at the BBBoC dinner and jokingly said that he was pleased to have had 11 days’ notice for this fight – because he usually only gets one!
He knows it could be a tough ask for him because very few foreign fighters win in Argentina whose fighting men are invariably tough hombres, gauchos in gloves, like middleweights Sergio Martinez and the late Carlos Monzon, one of the greatest-ever world champions.
Ovill is up against it, but is quite capable of winning. For one thing, he can bang and he’s used to being the underdog. Boxing on the other guy’s doorstep won’t faze him one bit.
As I say, he’s a really nice bloke, always has a smile on his face, loves boxing and is a credit to the game. A lot of other fighters could take a leaf out of his book in terms of his dedication.
Indeed, if dedication, fitness and determination become crucial factors then he’ll win it.
In some ways, he is a bit like Johnny Nelson. If you look at Nelson’s in-out record before he won the world cruiserweight title it is very similar – then he came good and reigned for eight or nine years.
Derby-based Ovill, who was born in Jamaica, may be in his mid-thirties but in boxing terms he is still a spring chicken.
He has been in some thrilling dust-ups in recent years and though he lost six of his first 11 fights he has emerged from relative obscurity to carve out a notable career, revelling in his reputation as The Upsetter, collecting a hatful of titles along the way.
He has won six out of his last seven in his 25 wins, 12 losses ring record and holds the British, Commonwealth and WBA-Inter-Continental belts.
A journeyman he may once have been, but the short-notice journey he has made to South America this week could define the career of one of boxing’s most endearing, and enduring, characters.