ormer IBF super-bantamweight champion Kennedy McKinney has not yet seen current 122 pound terror Naoya Inoue in action (yet he says he will do so, after he has dealt with his current work of setting up and building, from the ground up, a gym in Mississippi, near to where the former champ resides), but McKinney, in his prime, was himself a special talent at the weight.
Indeed, “King,” as the now 57 year old McKinney was known during his thrilling ring career, says he was the best 122 pounder ever; the distinction owed to him due to the number of eye-catching knockouts he scored. McKinney, perhaps best known for his epic, losing fight (see war) with Marco Antonio Barrera, says today that fans do ask him about that fight, along with his Olympic gold medal triumph in 1996, and his come-from-behind icing of Welcome Ncita, this the fight that saw Kennedy become king.
Happy to stroll down memory lane, a chilled out McKinney spoke about his exciting career with ESB this week:
Q: It’s great to speak with you, champ – a great, great fighter! First off, have you seen the new king at 122 pounds, Naoya Inoue?
Kennedy McKinney: “Hello! No, I’ve not seen that guy yet. Matter of fact, I’ve not really followed boxing since I retired. I will watch a big fight whenever they happen. How tall is he (Inoue)?
Q: He’s a little over 5.5”
K.M: “I’m taller at 5’7”. But good luck to him, I hope he can keep the division exciting the way I did.”
Q: You are named after President Kennedy? Your parents being big admirers of JFK?
K.M: “Yes, sir. I’m named after him. He was a cool guy, a good guy. Of course, when I knew I was named after him, I studied him in school, watching history stuff and finding out all about him. It would be cool to see another Kennedy become president. But really, I don’t follow politics too much.”
Q: Well, RFK Jr is doing very well in the polls right now, so we will see. But as you say, let’s talk boxing. When you look back, and when fans look back on your career, is it the Barrera fight that comes up?
K.M: “Yes, that and the Ncita fight, and the Olympics. I was losing the Ncita fight, although I myself didn’t think I was losing at the time. But they told me I had to do something, that I had to overcome [the points deficit]. And I put him to sleep with my right hand. I had been setting him up for my right hand all night and eventually I caught him. The thing is, my right hand was dynamite, but I had to work hard at it. I practised every day, turning my hips and ass into the shot. That’s how it’s done. And once I was taught how to punch like that – hips and ass – I started knocking guys out. I had, what, 19 KO’s in my career? That was down to punching correctly. I do say I was one of the hardest-hitting 122 pounders ever.”
Q: I remember your great win over Junior Jones! You and Naseem Hamed were supposed to fight after that, were you not?
K.M: “We were, but he didn’t want to fight me. He was too short and I’d have beaten the crap out of him! I’d have jabbed him and he would never have got close to me, and then I’d have put him to sleep. But the Junior Jones fight…..I knew I’d knock him out. I’d studied Junior Jones, over and over. I knew everything about him. I wasn’t shocked when he beat Barrera, but I was shocked when he called me out after! I told my trainer, Kenny Adams – who taught me in the army how to punch right – to take that fight! I knew I’d put Junior Jones to sleep. See, he had beaten Barrera two times, who had beaten me, but styles make fights. They really do.
“Anyway, as I say, when I went to camp, I would study Junior Jones – every night. And in the fight, I timed him, he walked into me and I put him to sleep. After that fight, I got frustrated, because the big names avoided me, the big-money fights eluded me. I kind of got sick of the sport and I retired (McKinney having just six fights after the Jones win).”
Q: What are you doing these days, champ?
K.M: “I’m currently building my own gym here in Mississippi., I want to teach the young kids. You’ll be hearing about me in a while! I want to pass on the knowledge the best way I can, the way my trainer Kenny Adams did.”
Q: Can we talk about the truly great fight you had with Barrera? You had him down and it was a thriller, with him eventually stopping you in the 12th round of what was The Fight of The Year in 1996.
K.M: “I got caught up in trying to knock him out. I should have boxed him, boxed the shit out of him. But I got mad at the way he was hitting me, and I got mad before the fight, in the build-up, and I said f**k it! And I tried to knock him out. And I laid some on that boy, I really did! But he could take my shots to the head and I couldn’t keep taking his body shots. His left to the body, that was his best punch and it got me.
“But the fight I really wanted was the Hamed fight. I’d have beat the crap out of him. He was smart though, in avoiding me. Barrera beat him, and I’d have done worse to him. But today, I’m looking forward to training the young guys once I get the gym built.”
McKinney was indeed a special fighter, as his nine world title fight wins show. McKinney retired with a fine 36-6-1(19) record. A fight between McKinney and Hamed would really have been spectacular!