BACK in 2020 in our series on the top 50 contests that have taken place within the UK and Ireland, I ranked the February 1979 clash between Clinton McKenzie and Colin Powers for the British light-welterweight titles at number six. The rivalry between these two extended far beyond that contest, and a good case could be made for the return, which took place later the same year, as another candidate for this prestigious list. In the event, their second bout just missed out but what a contest it was.
The two men had met twice as amateurs with McKenzie winning both and when they turned professional it was inevitable that their paths would cross again. Powers was the first of the pair to punch for pay, turning over in June 1975, and he made a quick impression. As an amateur Colin had won the North-West London divisional title earlier that year, but in the London finals he had the misfortune to come up against the eventual winner, the outstanding Graham Moughton, who knew too much for him in the semi-final. Powers immediately announced his intention to turn pro. After winning his first eight contests, he then went down in five rounds to Des Morrison in a Southern Area title challenge in September 1976. The following month McKenzie turned pro and as an outstanding amateur much was expected from him. The 1976 ABA champion at light-welter, McKenzie had also boxed in the European championships at under-21 and at senior level, before losing out to Sugar Ray Leonard in the last 16 at the 1976 Olympic Games.
As a pro, Clinton won his first four with ease and he was then matched with Powers in an eight-rounder at the Hilton Hotel, Mayfair. Powers had bounced back from his loss to Morrison by winning four in a row, with his victims including two former British champions in Joey Singleton and Tommy Glencross. BN slightly favoured Powers in its preview commenting that Powers, who was on the fringe of title recognition at lightweight, was taking a big risk. In a match made at 9st 12lbs, Colin was in devastating form and the crowd were shocked to see him completely overwhelm his rival, knocking him out in only two rounds.
“I have never wanted to beat anybody so much,” Colin said in the aftermath. “When I turned pro I told my manager Vic Andreetti, that if McKenzie ever went pro he as the one I wanted to fight most of all. Tonight everything went to plan.”
Within the year Colin beat Morrison for the British light-welterweight title, defended it against Steve Walker, and then hammered Jean-Baptiste Piedvache in eleven rounds to pick up the European title. He then controversially lost his European title in a tough battle with Fernando Sanchez, being the victim of a ridiculously early stoppage, and he had also vacated his British title.
Clinton offered no excuses for his loss to Powers, he returned to the gym, got back to basics and then started to grind out good wins against some excellent British contenders. In late 1978 he beat that tough Irishman, Jim Montague to pick up the title recently vacated by Powers. And so, the stage was set for the rematch between Clinton and Colin, and what a fight is was! As I wrote in 2020, “The best fights are usually those when, at the sound of the final bell, it is impossible to know who is going to get the verdict, when a case can be made for either man, and they both deserve to win. This is one of those.” It was Colin who regained his title by a one round margin.
The September rematch saw Clinton finally overcome his professional nemesis in another outstanding contest with BN reporting that “Their two fights will have to share joint status as the best of 1979 so far.” Two great champions, both of whom are outright winners of the Lonsdale Belt.