Duke McKenzie aiming to find Croydon's next great boxer
HE IS friends with Lennox Lewis and he has flown all around the world during his boxing career - but all Duke McKenzie really wants to do is spend time in his beloved gym in Upper Norwood.
Duke, 49, who was world champion in the flyweight, bantamweight and super-bantamweight categories, has travelled the world throughout his career as professional boxer and, now, as commentator for broadcasters including ITV and Al-Jazeera.
Duke, whose family includes his brother Winston, a local political hopeful and his nephew Leon, a former Crystal Palace player, has lived in Croydon all his life and it is clear the area will always hold a special place in his heart.
He said: "I have fought in Los Angeles, New York and now Al-Jazeera fly me out to Doha to commentate, but as soon as I get there, all I want to do is come back to Croydon. It is my home – I was born at 103 Birchanger Road in South Norwood and I have a huge connection to the area."
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Duke, who was appointed MBE for his services to boxing in 2011, opened the Duke McKenzie Fitness Centre in Westow Street last year and has since been focused on teaching young boxers the basics of the sport.
He added: "The thing with boxing is that it is a great way to teach discipline and respect.
"People think that it is just for kids from the street, but we attract kids from all sorts of backgrounds that are of differing standards.
"There are a few that are sensational but, for some, it is just a great way to get fit.
"I know it sounds like a cliché, but boxing is like a family. I always speak to people like Amir Khan and Lennox Lewis – they're just normal guys."
Since retiring, Duke has been involved in a lot of work in the community and has set himself some big challenges for the future.
He said: "I have been working with the Croydon Youth Offending Team for a number of years now. They come to my gym and, you know, they aren't bad kids and at the end of the day, anyone can slip and fall.
"I want to do some more motivational speaking because my older brother, Dudley, was a huge influence on me but I don't think that there are so many role models out there today to inspire the younger generation."
But Duke has one other great, burning desire – to find this borough's answer to Amir Khan.
"My biggest ambition is to find a truly great Croydon boxer, one that we can truly be proud of," he added.