This is the reason that Michael McKinson chose to tear away the safety net more than four years ago.
The unbeaten southpaw from Portsmouth, England wasn’t always sure that his career would lead here, particularly through his first two years as a pro when even earning a paycheck was considered a luxury. It never prevented him from pushing forward, though knowing he’d have to kick down the door in lieu of waiting on an invitation.
“I don’t think I get enough credit,” McKinson insisted to BoxingScene.com and other reporters of his career. “You don’t get to 22-0 and four international titles along the way without being a good fighter.
“Along the way, I never had the luxury of picking and choosing who I get to fight. I had to take risks early on, be the B-side and take risks to get to where I am.”
Another one is in store, though an opportunity he’s not only asked for but has now twice accepted. McKinson (22=0, 2KOs) traveled across the pond for a dangerous assignment against fellow unbeaten welterweight Vergil Ortiz Jr. (18-0, 18KOs) this Saturday on DAZN from Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.
The fight is mere miles from Ortiz’s hometown of Grand Prairie, his third straight in the familiar backdrop of the greater Dallas area and sixth consecutive DAZN main event. Prior to reaching headlining status, Ortiz was groomed on the undercards of several high-profile Golden Boy events—pretty much the exact opposite of how his opponent has made his bones in the pro ranks.
“On my second professional fight I fought at a cricket ground in Northern Ireland in front of 500 fans,” pointed out the 28-year-old McKinson, who is now in his eighth year as a pro. “Compare that to Vergil’s second fight, he fought on a Canelo [Alvarez] undercard.
“I’m here on merit. I’ve earned my opportunity and I’ve done it the hard way.”
It was extremely hard for McKinson early on his career. By his own admission, only one fight among his first ten came with an honest paycheck of any kind. He spent much of his early years working full time at a marketing firm, though boxing was always the family business. His younger brother, Lucas Ballignall (15-2, 4KOs) currently campaigns at junior welterweight, and both are trained by their father Michael.
Boxing became McKinson’s everything after leaving his full-time job mere weeks after scoring a November 2017 sixth-round stoppage of Colin Lynes in his Portsmouth hometown. Oddly, it was the last time that McKinson wasn’t required to go the distance to win the fight, having won nine straight via decision including three unbeaten opponents during that run.
The most significant came in a ten-round decision over Chris Kongo, who was 12-0 at the time of their regional title fight last March in Gibraltar.
The fight served in supporting capacity to Dillian Whyte’s revenge-fueled fourth-round knockout of Alexander Povetkin in their heavyweight rematch, though McKinson officially advanced from prospect to rising contender with his impressive showing against his unbeaten countryman that evening. McKinson set the tone with an opening round knockdown, having to press the action against a reluctant Kongo for the balance of the fight.
A win over Poland’s Przemyslaw Runowski last August saw McKinson advance in the rankings. His name landed on the radar of Golden Boy Promotions later that year, as the California-based outfit was planning out Ortiz’s 2022 campaign.
“I think it was November the 17th last year, I got a text saying there was a possibility I was fighting Vergil in January,” recalled McKinson, who is promoted by Matchroom Boxing. “Then it was moved back to March.”
The two were due to collide on March 19 in Los Angeles, only for Ortiz to be pulled from the show after being hospitalized for rhabdomyolysis. McKinson was so eager to proceed with his first career fight in the U.S. that he offered a virtual blank check to Matchroom to find any opponent that would fit the bill.
“That week for me was hard,” noted McKinson. “From that Tuesday, I said yes to seven different names. I said yes to every single one of them. Out of them seven guys, Alex Martin was probably the least that I wanted to fight. He’s a southpaw, he fought quite negative. It was very negative… a boring fight.”
McKinson won a ten-round decision in a fight that was downgraded to supporting act once he was no longer facing Ortiz. There was a two-month stretch where the fight threatened to never roll back around, until Ortiz found himself in need of an opponent. He had a fight date reserved for August 6 in Fort Worth, though his team was unable to come to terms for a planned WBC title eliminator with David Avanesyan.
Once any semblance of progress was completely removed from talks, Golden Boy revisited plans to match up its rising star with the self-described “awkward, tricky southpaw.” There are worse ways for any rising welterweight to prepare for left-handed titlists Errol Spence (28-0, 22KOs; WBA/WBC/IBF) and Terence Crawford (38-0. 29KOs; WBO).
The winner of Saturday’s fight will become the mandatory challenger to the WBA title. Ortiz already occupies the sanctioning body’s number-one ranking, as he does in the WBO. McKinson is a little further down the list with both organizations and is a +900 underdog to prevail in his opponent’s home region this weekend.
The longshot scenario comes against an opponent who—like himself—doesn’t know what it’s like to lose. Ortiz also hasn’t been able to enjoy the thrill of entering a sanctioned fight since last August 14 in nearby Frisco.
“He’s got a lot of hype and momentum (in the past). He’s now been out 51 weeks,” noted McKinson. “They’ve snatched all that momentum away from him and he’s got to build it up again. For a young guy with that much momentum and that much hype, it will be hard.
“I’m excited to be in Texas and show more ability than I have in past fights. I’ve coasted good wins against good fighters but I’ve never been in trouble. I’ve never had to go deep and to places I’ve never been before. I know I’m gonna have to, in this fight. I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited for Saturday.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox