P-Mac plans to keep punching

MURRAY GREIG, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:59 AM ET

When Paul MacKenzie climbs through the ropes at the Canadian Junior Nationals boxing tournament at West Edmonton Mall next week, a Bulldog's bark will be echoing in his ears.

"If it wasn't for Scotty (Bulldog) Olson, I probably wouldn't have taken up boxing," Mac-Kenzie says of the 118-pound dynamo whose stellar amateur career brought national acclaim to Edmonton's Cougar Boxing Club before he went on to capture the IBO world flyweight championship as a pro.

"I never got to see Scotty fight in person, but I used to watch him on TV and I was a huge fan.

"I got his autograph on three different occasions -- once on the street, once on a napkin at McDonald's and again when he bought a house from a friend of our family.

"That was four years ago, and the Bulldog remembered me. When I told him I was interested in trying boxing, he wrote a very nice letter to Mr. Larry Fleming at the Cougar gym, and that was enough to get me in."

Olson obviously saw something in the kid -- and Mac-Kenzie soaked up his advice like a sponge.

"He told me to listen to my coaches, to watch and learn and to always remember that boxing is as much mental as it is physical," says the 178-pounder known as P-Mac.

"Scotty went to the Olympics and was a world champion, so he obviously knows what he's talking about. Plus, he's a real gentleman. When I'm in there fighting, it's like I can hear his words ... and I'm still learning."

The lessons are starting to pay dividends.

Since taking up the sport at 13, MacKenzie, a senior at M.E. LaZerte high school, has compiled a 21-14 record, captured four Alberta provincial championships and three Gold Glove titles.

In 2008, en route to winning Boxing Alberta's Diamond Belt and the Barney O'Connor Award as Edmonton's amateur fighter of the year, he won his first two international bouts in Ireland and brought home a bronze medal from the Ringside championships in Kansas City.

Starting Tuesday, he'll be pooled with the best young talent from across Canada in the five-day competition that will launch some of its winners on the first leg of the long road to the 2012 Olympics.

"It's exciting, for sure, but I try to keep things in perspective," says MacKenzie, who's departing today for Team Alberta's final training camp in Lodgepole, where he'll be joined by Cougar teammates Norman Bradford, Garry Dupuis and Susan Haas.

"The Junior Nationals is a huge event and it's a chance for all the Edmonton boxers to put their clubs in the spotlight, but once you climb through the ropes, it's just another fight that you have to win."

MacKenzie's exceptional poise and maturity started to take shape long before he laced on the gloves for the first time. Overweight as a youngster, he decided to do something about it.

"When I was 12 years old I weighed 185 pounds, and other than playing baseball, I had trouble doing anything athletic," he says.

"One day I made up my mind to turn things around, so I got into taekwondo and kung-fu. I really liked the cardio workouts, so boxing seemed like the next logical step.

"When I first started running, I couldn't go half a block, but I stuck with it. I ended up losing 60 pounds in six months, and now my daily three-mile run takes less than 25 minutes. In high school I started playing football, which I love, but boxing has become my No. 1 sport."

MacKenzie's dedication to his craft extends to studying its history and legends.

"That comes from my dad, who's always been a big fight fan and always took the time to point stuff out to me when we watched boxing on television," he says.

"I loved watching Olson and Mike Tyson because they were great pressure fighters. They threw everything they had and never gave their opponent a chance to breathe.

"I remember seeing an interview with Tyson where he said 'Everybody has a plan until I punch them in the face.' I thought that was great -- that's the kind of belief in yourself that every fighter needs to have."

So does MacKenzie visualize a pro career of his own somewhere down the road?

"Right now, that's my plan," he says. "I want to go as far as I possibly can in the amateurs and hopefully represent Canada at the next Olympics, but I don't see myself staying amateur very much past 2012.

"I've had great support throughout my amateur career, from my club, my teammates and especially from my dad and my coaches.

"If I continue to grow, continue to learn and continue to work on both my physical and mental preparation, a pro career is definitely something I want to try.

"Boxing is the greatest sport in the world, and I'd love to have the opportunity to make my living at it."

MURRAY.GREIG@SUNMEDIA.CA


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