Tyrone McKenna was having a nightmare.
There was sweets, cakes, pizzas and he couldn’t eat any of it. Two weeks in a row at birthday parties watching people scoff what they wanted to.
“It was very annoying.” The life of a fighter in camp readying himself for their next fight.
McKenna’s next fight is unknown (at time of writing). He is one of four super lightweights vying for a place in the MTK Golden Contract final with the semi-finals of both the 140lbs and 130lbs tournaments taking place this Friday night at the atmospheric York Hall live on Sky Sports.
Alongside Ohara Davies (20-2, 15 KOs), Mohamed Mimoune (22-3, 3 KOs) and Jeff Ofori (10-1-1, 3 KOs), McKenna (20-1-1, 6 KOs) is looking to land a life changing opportunity with the overall winner of each event receiving a five-fight contract with a leading promoter that guarantees six-figure purses for every fight. Knockout bonuses in the tournament are an added incentive.
2019 was described as make or break by Belfast’s McKenna and a year that had to have big fights. Things started slowly with a six round points win against Oscar Amador before the 29-year-old southpaw picked up his first title winning the WBC International Super Lightweight title against Darragh Foley. Then came the phone call about the Golden Contract.
“I was actually playing football at the time for some reason and I’m terrible at football, I don’t know why I was playing it and I got injured,” said McKenna reliving the moment his manager called with the good news. “I got carried off to the sidelines and I couldn’t even walk, my leg was f----d. My manager phoned me and said there’s a big tournament and named who was in it and what the cash was and the bonuses and what you’ll win if you win it. I was lying there in f-----g agony pretending to be alright. ‘Definitely, definitely. Get me in it. How long do I have?’ I said, and he said 10 weeks and I thought ‘F--k me, I hope that’s enough time’ but thankfully the injury wasn’t that bad.”
In football McKenna says he “breaks” people to make up for his lack of technical ability. A friend of his broke him back, however.
“Proper snapped me.”
The leg injury went away after a few days. His football playing days were over but his fighting career was boosted by the two words Golden Contract. He didn’t find out how much money he would be making such was his eagerness to participate after discovering who else would be involved and what the end reward would be.
“It wasn’t really about the money. I love to be involved in massive fights.”
McKenna’s Golden Contract debut came against Mikey Sakyi over ten rounds last November. A rare opportunity in McKenna’s fighting career to display the boxing IQ he possesses rather than the blood and thunder which normally accompany his fights. Class prevailed with a shut-out on the scorecards reminding everyone that he is rightly regarded as one of the favourites to win the tournament.
Prior to the fight came the unique set-up of the Golden Contract. First comes a red or blue ball picked out by the participating fighters. You either get to pick your opponent or you are picked. Then comes the face-to-face, then the usual fight poses for the photographs and then on fight night each fighter is stood next to one another just before the first makes their entrance.
“He [Sakyi] was doing a cocky wee thing in front of me and I was just standing looking at him thinking I’m going to have you in a minute,” said McKenna about the unusual pre-fight twist.
“I don’t even feel like I’m fighting soon. I’ve been training like f--k and getting myself in the best shape possible but I’m not thinking about the opponents right now or anything like that. It’s a weird calmness you have leading up to the fight which you don’t normally have until the week of the draw then you’re itching to get the draw over with. You’re not even thinking about fighting you’re just itching to get the draw over with. It’s weird and completely different to what I’m used to but I think it brings a lot of excitement and it’s very different. For some people it wouldn’t suit them, they’ll panic in those situations but [it’s] something I’m used to and something I enjoy.
“I like the concept overall. The fights you can have from it, like I’ve been calling out Ohara for years, even Mimoune a top 30 guy in the world you wouldn’t see him fighting someone like me a top 50 guy in the world because he’s going to have world titles in his sights but you’re being forced to because of the end result being signed with a top promoter. Another thing that’s great [is] as soon as you fight you know you’ve got another one coming, what date you’ve got. I normally go on a f-----g binge for four days or four weeks of eating shit, drinking and not training but that time I had one week off and bang, straight in the gym again. It’s nice to know you’ve got a big fight out of it afterwards.”
With McKenna, as with nearly every fighter who puts themselves on the other end of a phone or in front of a camera for an interview there is a raw honesty that sounds uncomfortable to talk about. For McKenna… well take your pick of no skin off his nose, water off a duck’s back and so on.
He spoke of how he cannot train when he doesn’t have a fight. A wee rut was how he best described it. Stuck in the house and the days go by. If there’s no date, there’s no rush for him to get into training. The Golden Contract is making a world of difference to his career.
Something else that made a difference to his career, albeit for 30 minutes, was to fight against someone without coming out like he had been in some sort of accident. His performance against Sakyi has already been touched on briefly and while it was a welcome change to be looking like how he entered the ring after he left it there was a part of him that was disappointed.
“I f-----g love going out there having a fight, having a swollen eye, cuts all over me and it looks like I was in a fight,” he says. “Normally I can’t walk the next day! I was walking about the next day, felt normal, no cuts on me. I didn’t feel like I was in a fight. It’s different but it's something that I think I should be doing more. I think I should be boxing more than what I usually do.
“I try to play up to the crowd a bit too much. My thoughts on this competition is say I’m in a fight but there’s no competition, I need to get everyone talking about me, talking about my fight and how exciting Tyrone McKenna is to get a big fight. But this I don’t have to worry about the next fight because the next fight is guaranteed. I was thinking in the 4th or 5th, or the 6th [against Sakyi]: Right should I step it up and try and knock this guy out or stop him? But I thought why? Just get to the semi-final because you’ve already got the next fight promised. It’s a different mindset.”
The mindset of his biggest rival Ohara Davies appears to have changed. He wants to be loved, not hated anymore. His choice of words in the past have done him no favours and turned him into the villain that everyone wants to see lose. Him and McKenna have done their fair share of spouting trash at one another and during an iFL TV interview last year the pair almost came to blows. As things stand if you mention Tyrone McKenna the name of Ohara Davies is closely followed.
“If it’s a game... do you know what I wouldn’t put it past him to play a game. He’s playing it well. I don’t buy into mind games. Is he a changed man or isn’t he, I don’t give a f--k. It doesn’t mean anything to me. Doesn’t mean we’re f-----g mates or anything. It doesn’t matter to me one bit. He’s not in my life. He’s nothing to do with me and I don’t mind if he’s changed or isn’t changed.”
The dismissal of the Londoner is a good disguise of sweeping the rivalry away for the time being but before long McKenna is back on form explaining why he doesn’t want to face Davies in the semi-final.
“If I fight him in the semis I have four days build-up. If I fight him in the final I have three months to torture the c--t. I want the full build-up, it’s a fight that deserves the full build-up. I think it deserves the final. It’s been building up for the last four years. I think it would be a shame if it was put on in the semis although I don’t mind if it is on in the semis. I just think it’s a great final.”
A win for McKenna in the Golden Contract changes his career and his life. A win against good friend, and 130lbs Golden Contract semi-finalist Tyrone McCullagh, in the Tyrone Olympics would cap off the perfect year.
To elaborate on the Tyrone Olympics requires a bit of information. August 2018 and the two Tyrone’s took part in a game of ten-pin bowling. A couple of friends having some time off from boxing, having a bit of a bowl. Then came a high-stakes bet. The loser of the match would have to get the winner’s fighting nickname tattooed somewhere visible on their body while wearing a t-shirt and shorts. McKenna lost. But he doesn’t have McCullagh’s nickname of ‘White Chocolate’ inked alongside the rest of his tattoos. McCullagh wanted to go one better and instead McKenna now has a leg tattoo of his friend eating a burrito.
“The Tyrone Olympics is like challenges such as who can eat the most McDonald’s burgers,” said McKenna who is out for revenge.
“There’s mini forfeits, like one loss means the loser has to get a punch in the stomach from a randomer and stuff like that. One is shaving your eyebrows off.”
But there is one forfeit to top them all. And life may never be the same for the loser!
“The main forfeit is at the end. Because we’re both called Tyrone everybody always says who’s Tyrone number one and who’s Tyrone number two. The loser has to go down to City Hall to get their name changed to Tyrone Number Two. The main one is the Tyrone Number Two forfeit and it’s going to be Tyrone McCullach. I just can’t wait to see the passport and bank card.”