Duke McKenzie v Steve Robinson

Marking the 20th anniversary of arguably the high point of Steve Robinson’s remarkable ‘Cinderella Man’ world title reign, the 1 October, 1994, win over Duke McKenzie at the National Ice Rink, Cardiff.

Steve Robinson earned his ‘Cinderella Man’ sobriquet when he claimed the WBO featherweight title as a late stand-in against John Davison in April 1993.

But it was in the seven defences that followed that he truly earned his reputation as a champion of substance, his victims including Colin McMillan in his second defence and Paul Hodkinson in his third.

Despite such notable scalps, there were still those who were prepared to sneer at the Cardiff man’s achievements, citing McMillan’s shoulder problems and the size advantage that Robinson held over Hodkinson.

Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson

After the Hodkinson win the champion overcame a more routine challenge from Freddy Cruz in Cardiff before the 25-year-old lined up another major test for his fifth defence, three-time world champion McKenzie.

The Croydon man was approaching veteran status at the age of 31 but was far from a spent force, entering his 41st fight as the British featherweight champion.

More pertinently, he was bidding to become the first British champion to win world crowns at four weights, having previously ruled at flyweight, bantamweight and super-bantamweight.

Of the four losses on the ‘Little Man’s record, three were at world title level and the fourth in a European title challenge in Calais.

Three of the defeats were on points, the only major blemish on his record coming when he lost his WBO bantamweight crown in 1992 in a first-round stoppage defeat against Rafael Del Valle.

Even with his experience, though, McKenzie would have felt the fervour generated by the home crowd, who sang repeated choruses of  ‘I Love You Baby’, the song adopted as an anthem by Welsh football fans in the Terry Yorath era.

The challenger looked classy in the opening round, but a confident Robinson was solid, correct and difficult to get at as he began the process of walking his opponent down.

Steve Robinson (Photo: Steve Robinson, Facebook)

Steve Robinson (Photo: Steve Robinson, Facebook)

The pattern continued in the succeeding rounds, the champion keeping McKenzie on the outside, imposing control, steadily throwing in heavy shots and shrugging off anything the Londoner sent his way.

There were some suggestions of a change in the seventh, a quieter round for the champion that McKenzie may have edged.

His recovery continued in the eighth, until the challenger had a point deducted for holding – a decision that immediately enlivened both Robinson and the crowd.

In the ninth, though, the champion again appeared rather sluggish, while McKenzie was up on his toes and boxing beautifully… until the final 20 seconds.

In a seemingly innocuous exchange Robinson picked out a perfectly timed left-handed rib shot that rifled in under his opponent’s guard.

McKenzie crumpled to the floor and failed to recover from the single, punishing punch.

“We thought Duke might be too clever for Steve but he just wore him down,” said pundit and former world featherweight champion Barry McGuigan.

“You remember that left hook to the body… Steve Robinson was a really good champion.

“Steve and I fought the same way… put them under sustained pressure, never leave them alone.”


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