Reliving The Legend: Kennedy McKinney v Welcome Ncita I

Looking Back at One of Boxing's Most Dramatic Turnarounds

Kennedy McKinney defeats Welcome Ncita in their December 2, 1992 bout
Kennedy McKinney defeats Welcome Ncita in their December 2, 1992 bout

Kennedy McKinney Stuns Welcome Ncita with a Comeback Victory in 1992

Boxing is full of instances where a fighter seems on the verge of being stopped, only to pull out a victory. These kinds of fights are always memorable and etch a permanent memory in your mind. One such occurrence happened on December 2, 1992 between Welcome Ncita (31-0, 14 KOs) and Kennedy McKinney (21-0-1, 13 KOs) at Teatro Tenda in Tortoli, Sardinia, Italy.


Ncita grew up in the boxing-crazed town of East London, South Africa. What made his story so fascinating is his upward climb took place against the backdrop of apartheid, where there was plenty of civil unrest and strife.

In March 1990, he became only the second black South African to win a world title when he defeated Fabrice Benichou to capture the IBF junior featherweight strap. A skilled and fast fighter, Ncita admired and patterned his fighting style after the Hall of Famer Sugar Ray Leonard.

After making six defenses of that title, he faced then-mandatory challenger McKinney. An Olympic gold medalist at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, everyone knew McKinney was a talented fighter. But his early pro career was filled with problems due to cocaine addiction.

After multiple stints in a drug rehabilitation center, he overcame his demons, and his career took off. Under the tutelage of trainer Kenny Adams, McKinney began to show the talent and promise many predicted for him.


Pundits felt this could potentially be a terrific, close contest. It was indeed the case. In the early rounds, Ncita attempted to use his speed to outbox McKinney on the outside. But, McKinney was a fighter with an outstanding jab. He used that punch with his greater length to trouble the champion and thwart his quickness. McKinney also was landing solid rights to the head and combinations inside.

At the halfway mark, the South African changed his tactics. Instead of boxing, Ncita began to attack and as a result, his speed came into play. A weakness of McKinney was his inside fighting game. The champ began to connect with fast combos on the inside. He also found success at mid-range.


In the closing seconds of round ten, an overhand right buckled McKinney. At the beginning of the eleventh, a Ncita left hook again stunned McKinney, who turned his back and went down to one knee.

Most referees would wave the fight over at this point, but referee Steve Smoger did not. Upon McKinney rising and given a standing eight-count, Ncita went for the finish. Amazingly, McKinney started to fight back. The two warriors traded shots as the Sardinian crowd roared in approval.

With twenty-five seconds to go in the round and his back against the ropes, McKinney slipped a Ncita right hand, countering with a right that crumbled the champ. Ncita was moving his arms in an attempt to get up, but he was in a state of semi-consciousness as Smoger counted to ten. At the time of the stoppage, Ncita was ahead on all three scorecards.

It was a stunning finish to one of the best fights of 1992. Over the years, the matchup grew in mystique. Due to no television coverage in the United States and the match occurring on a small island off the coast of Italy, a full video of this fight was initially hard to ascertain. You had to rely on word of mouth, on-hand accounts, and bite-sized video clips.

They fought a rematch in April 1994, with McKinney winning a unanimous decision in South Padre Island, Texas. But, it was their first fight that stands out. Welcome Ncita – Kennedy McKinney I is one of the best fights of the 1990s, with one of the best finishes you will ever see.

By: Michael Wilson Jr.

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About Mike W. 1840 Articles
Mike is the host of boxing podcast "Pound 4 Pound Boxing Report" and is a Senior Writer for