Kennedy “King” McKinney is Hall of Fame Worthy!
By Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (July 28, 2011) Doghouse Boxing
Kennedy “The King” McKinney

By Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing. - Despite being a Gold Olympic medalist in 1988 and the former IBF super bantamweight champion and later the WBO super bantamweight champion Kennedy “The King” McKinney is well remembered for his gallant fight against Marco Antonio Barrera, then 39-0, for the latter’s WBO super bantamweight title in February of 1996. This will go down as one of the all time best matches in the division’s history with Barrera ending it in the 12th and final round with less than a minute to go. Both fighters hit the canvas for the first time in their careers.

This fight could have been 4 rounds to 3 with either fighter ahead after 7 rounds of action. It seemed Barrera got away with more than his share of border to low left hooks to the body without one warning. “He hit me over 20 times low and the ref (Pat Russell) never warned him. He tried hitting me at the weigh-in. My trainer Kenny Adams told me to box him but I didn’t listen. I wanted to beat him and it cost me,” said McKinney. “Akbar Muhammad (Manager) convinced him to slug it out while I told him to box him,” said Kenny Adams. With blood coming from his mouth McKinney seemed to have the edge in the 7th round when an apparent low blow was landed causing McKinney to turn to the referee for help with 20 seconds to go in the round. It was ignored.

The 8th round was all Barrera. Two lead rights dropped McKinney for the first time in his career. Upon rising he was driven backwards by 2 left hooks onto the lower strand which should have been considered a knockdown. When the referee didn’t call it, Barrera was able to land 8 consecutive punches that had to take its toll. McKinney was able to spin out of trouble only to be caught with a pair of right hands and dropped for the second time in the round.

In the 9th round McKinney spent most of it running from Barrera trying to get untracked when 3 right hands dropped him for the third time in the fight. In the 10th round McKinney did a miraculous turn around when his left hook stunned Barrera. McKinney was getting the much better of an exchange when his mouthpiece fell out. The referee picked it up and stayed on top of the fighters while they were still landing punches and for some reason with no delay in the action got between them with about 10 seconds to go with Barrera losing the exchanges. This was another bad move on the referee’s part.

In the 11th round a sneaky right hand over the top caused Barrera’s knees to buckle and his right glove to touch the canvas for an automatic knockdown for the first time in his career. He complained but he had nothing to complain about. At age 23 to McKinney’s 30 there was no doubt Barrera had a future of greatness ahead of him.

The 12th and final round McKinney in the middle of the ring landed a right hand while on top of the logo and slipped backwards without being hit. The referee looked to the knockdown official and called it a knockdown instead of a slip. Barrera would land what looked like a low blow and McKinney would drop to the canvas after a delay of seconds. This should have been considered a knockdown if the punch was not low but it was ruled a slip by the referee. For once McKinney got a break. A right hand dropped McKinney in the corner and the referee immediately jumped in and stopped the fight without a count with McKinney in a sitting position.

This writer had it 103-102 Barrera at the end of the 11th round though the judges all had it 106-100 Barrera. Referee Pat Russell called a very one sided fight in favor of Barrera which helped lead to the downfall of McKinney. The HBO ringside officials were calling it one of the best fights they have ever seen. Larry Merchant interviewed Barrera after the title and the champion said, “he is a great champion.” Merchant questioned why Barrera would not shake hands with McKinney after the fight. “He disrespected me in front of my Mexican fans.”

Seconds later Barrera walked away from Merchant to embrace Kennedy. Kennedy did not express such compliments toward Barrera and asked for a rematch. “He had fought such a dirty fight with help from the referee. His punches were stinging punches not the kind that Welcome Ncita landed in our first fight,” said McKinney. He knew there was no way Barrera’s people would give him a rematch.

“I followed my brother and his friend when we lived in Memphis to the gym. I hid behind the trees wanted to know where they were going. When I got inside I was hitting one of the bags and a trainer asked if I wanted to fight? He said to come back with shorts and I went home and cut a pair of my long pants down. I boxed from sixth grade on until my senior year. There wasn’t much interest in Memphis for boxing,” said McKinney.

“I joined the Army after graduating in July of 1984 and saw this magazine called Soldiers and it showed 2 boxers on the cover. I didn’t know they had boxing in the Army. I called my old trainer Ray Rodgers who got in touch with Kenny Adams. He is one of the greatest trainers of all time,” said McKinney. He would eventually join Ray Mercer (“What a puncher”), Wesley Watson (“Had all the attributes, size and height. Just a good fighter”), Andrew Maynard (“Good amateur but turned pro and they tried to make a boxer out of him”) and Anthony Hembrick (“Would have won Gold if he fought in finals but missed the train).

McKinney was at Ft. Hood, TX, for a month. “I went to the National PAL tournament in New Mexico and stopped Johnny Tapia in 2 rounds,” said McKinney. He would go to the US Amateur Championships from 1986 to 1988 losing. He qualified for the US Olympic Team, reversing a loss to Michael Collins and beat Jemal Hinton. When I got to Korea I was given the number “0316”. I knew it was a sign from God, John 3:16, God so loved the world He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” said McKinney.

McKinney would defeat Erik Perez (Guyana) RSC 1, Shahuraj Birajdor (India) by walk over, Steve Mwema (Kenya) 5-0, Phajol Moolsan (Thailand) RSC 1 and Alexander Hristov (Bulgaria) 5-0 for the Gold medal in the bantamweight division. “I was the first American to win at bantamweight since 1904 when they had their first games. I thought the Olympics were a big hype. It was one of the easiest tournaments I had fought in.,” said McKinney.

McKinney turned professional in February of 1989 on the same card as Ray Mercer and Andrew Maynard. The main event was Roberto Duran and Iran Barkley in Atlantic City. “I lived in Las Vegas for about 5 years. I did some fighting for Top Rank. Being in Vegas was one of the worst places you could be with all the drugs so available. Top Rank felt I would never amount to anything probably due to my life style,” said McKinney. He was 15-0-1 when he met Jerome Coffee, 34-5-1, in Las Vegas, in 1991. “We grew up together and he wanted to fight me. I stopped him in 6 rounds,” said McKinney.

The following year McKinney won the USBA super bantamweight title defeating “Sugar Baby” Rojas, 35-5-1, the former WBC super flyweight champion. “I was told the following month if I beat Paul Banke, 21-6, the ex WBC super bantamweight champ I would get a title fight,” said McKinney. He defeated Banke in 6 rounds. “I told them when they still wouldn’t give me a title shot that I could get one with Kushner and asked for my release which they gave me. Akbar Muhammad got his release from Top Rank and I signed with him. His Las Vegas Gloves group gave me a new BMW for a week. Then they came and took it back.

“I then was able to hook up with Kushner and got a title fight in Italy with Welcome Ncita, 32-0, and stopped him in 11 for the IBF super bantamweight title,” said McKinney. “This was one of the greatest fights and comebacks you will ever see,” said Kenny Adams. McKinney came off the canvas after getting hit with a left hook that stunned him as he turned away and took a knee. He got up and got back into the fight. Ncita would hold that left hand out (Larry Holmes) trying to blind his vision for the right hand. With his back to the ropes Kennedy countered a miss left by Nicita with a right hand and down went Ncita like he was shot! Referee Steve Smoger would count him out at 2:48 of the eleventh round and become the world champion.

McKinney would then sign for 75k for 4 years and defeated Richard Duran, 26-0, his No. 1 contender in April of 1993 defeating him over 12 rounds in his home town of Sacramento. “I was then put in a fight in my home town of Memphis (born in Hernando, MS) against a Top Rank fighter, Rudy Zavala, 21-1-2. I showed Top Rank how good I was when I stopped him in 3,” said McKinney.

McKinney would have successful title defenses against Jesus Salud, 45-5, in Vegas and Jose Rincones, 19-1-2, in South Africa, stopping him in 5. Rincoles had a built up record and was from Venezuela. “I re-signed with Kushner which was a mistake. I should have gone back to Top Rank,” said McKinney. He had his rematch with Ncita, in TX, in April of 1994 winning a majority decision. He had to come off the canvas in the 5th round. Ncita’s left eye started to swell shut by the end of the 6th round. “He was scared of me and fought a completely different fight. I beat him easily,” said McKinney. McKinney would win a majority decision with two of the judges having him well ahead 117-110 and 117-11. He improved his record to 27-0-1.

“I went back to South Africa to fight Vuyani Bungu, 23-2, from there and hardly trained thinking he wasn’t much,” said McKinney. It would be 1994 Upset of the Year – Ring Magazine. “He won the fight due to my bad attitude thinking I didn’t have to train,” said McKinney. He came back a year later to defeat John Lowey, 20-1, of the UK, in Chicago, IL, for the vacant WBU super bantamweight title stopping him in 8. He would then have his match with Barrera. “The WBU wanted 10k for the sanctioning fee from the Barrera fight. That’s where we parted ways<’ said McKinney

It would be 14 months waiting for a rematch while Barrera was making 3 defenses. Only his first defense seemed warranted, stopping Jesse Benavides. The next 2 were against average boxers. In the meantime McKinney defeated 2 opponents with much better records. This caused McKinney try to reverse his first and only loss before losing to Barrera by losing by split decision in champion Vuyani Bungu’s home country of South Africa. “I felt I beat him in this our second fight,” said McKinney. It was a good payday but going back to South Africa he wasn’t going to win a decision. “I was getting 200k for my defenses and Bungu was getting about 40k. It benefited the promoter to have him as champ,” said McKinney.

It would be 8 months and 2 victories later that McKinney would challenge Junior Jones, 44-2, for his WBO super bantamweight title that he won from McKinney’s conqueror Barrera and defeated him in the rematch. “Jones thought because I lost to Barrera he could beat me,” said McKinney. This was a tough bout with Jones suffering a cut under his right eye due to an accidental clash of heads in the first round. By the third round Jones was having his way and he hurt McKinney with a flurry of punches causing McKinney to go down on his knees. “The bell saved me. My trainer Kenny Adams told me I went to my left instead of my right,” said McKinney.

In the fourth round McKinney rocked Jones with a right hand. Jones hadn’t recovered when he got hit with another right hand causing him to go down again. Referee Wayne Kelly wiped off the gloves of Jones and asked if he wanted to continue but failed to have him take a step or two forward. When Kelly resumed the action Jones stumbled toward McKinney and fell down without a punch being thrown. Kelly immediately waved it off enabling McKinney to once again become a world (WBO) champion at 122. “We knew I had to step to the right and throw the right,” said McKinney.

It would be close to a year before McKinney would fight again. “We (Charles Carpenter, his lawyer) had gone to the UK to sign to fight Prince Naseem and were to get 500k. We signed but he didn’t. He chose to fight Barrera instead. They had us step up to the 126 division and challenge WBC featherweight champion Luisito Espinosa, 43-7, in November of 1998. Ronnie Hughes trained me until Kenny Adams showed up 2 weeks before the fight. He was too big for me. I expected to make 500k and only got 200k,” said McKinney. He would be stopped in the second round. The Las Vegas Gloves group sued me and took everything I had,” said McKinney.

“For what it is worth I was never the same after the Espinosa fight. I had met Bruce Blair (NJ) at the Olympics who was a recruiter for Top Rank. He would put me into fights at the end,” said McKinney. “I would take McKinney and (Vince) Phillips to a place way out in the desert for a month to get them in shape. They were two great fighters,” said Blair. It would be 9 months after losing to Espinosa when he defeated Mario Diaz, 26-9, in Tunica, MS. Then he lost to Jorge Antonio Paredes, 16-5-3, at the same place over 10 rounds.

It would be 2 ½ years before he fought again and Blair would help him with those fights. In April and May of 2002 McKinney was up to 135 defeating Gene Vasser and Joseph Figueroa over 6 rounds. In April of 2003 he lost to Greg Torres, 14-2, at the Mohegan Sun Casino over 6 rounds. “I said if I lost I was done and I was. My reflexes prevented me from catching my opponents,” said McKinney.

“I’m in Golden Meadow, LA, and across the street is the gym Bayou Side Boxing Club”. My son Kennedy II just turned 21 and my other son Kennedy III who is 16 has been with me for about 3 weeks, though neither are interested in boxing,” said McKinney.

He would retire with a 36-6-1 record with 19 knockouts. His life style and signing with the wrong people to direct his career were his downfall. McKinney was one of the most exciting boxers in the super bantamweight division and a former Gold Medal winner in the 1988 Olympics. He held both the IBF and WBO world titles. “He could have been one of the all time greatest boxers if he could have disciplined his life style better,” said Kenny Adams. His last fight was in 2003 and he is more than qualified to be inducted into the IBHOF as well as his trainer Kenny Adams, trainer of 18 world champions. The only thing that would keep them out is the usual, politics.

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