MADISON Square Garden, Las Vegas or Fratton Park?
It’s not even a question worth considering for the man who’s taking Portsmouth boxing into new territory.
Michael McKinson’s career is ready for lift-off and hurtling towards stardom after gatecrashing the top 10 of the world boxing rankings off the back of 18 unbeaten contests.
The man they call The Pompey Problem finds himself ninth in the latest WBO welterweight rankings - despite dismantling sixth-ranked Argentinian hope Luis Alberto Veron earlier this month in London - and is the first fighter from this city to achieve such a standing in any of the sport’s four major sanctioning bodies.
The 25-year-old has reached that position off a series of victories since signing and establishing himself with promoters MTK Global, flashy successes which have earned plaudits from within the industry and seen the slick operator gain exposure both at home and Stateside on ESPN+.
And all of this from a man who was told he’d never be a professional boxer.
The ambition for McKinson is to one day walk out at the home of the football club he supports with thousands roaring him on to world title success.
For a lad who’s Portsmouth born and bred, such an opportunity would leave even fighting at the sport’s Meccas firmly in the shade.
‘It’s a dream of mine to fight at Fratton Park one day,’ said McKinson, who moved to 18-0 with his landslide points win over Veron.
‘I would pick boxing at Fratton Park over the MGM in Las Vegas in a heartbeat.
‘I’d pick Fratton Park over Madison Square Garden in New York, no doubt - 100 per cent.
‘Next summer at Fratton Park? What an event that could be. I’m getting a lot of ticket sales for fights now. I genuinely think we could fill it up.
‘Portsmouth Football Club is getting behind me now and it seems my recognition is sky high.
‘I’m getting the publicity on ESPN and the TV exposure. We’re going places.
‘I’d like it to happen in my career at some point and now I’m on my rise it’s the perfect time.’
The accolades are now arriving for McKinson, but his current success is a testament to the toughest of slogs which has been gruelling even by the standards of the most brutal of trades.
An unspectacular amateur career spent trawling around the area’s gyms looked like it would never continue into the paid ranks at one stage.
A move into the pro game did occur in 2014, but without an international pedigree, McKinson took those tentative steps outside of the spotlight and without the backing of a big promoter to guide the former Moneyfields ABC stylist into contention.
That meant fights on the small-hall circuit in such boxing backwaters as the Downpatrick Cricket Club in Ireland and the Metropole Hotel in Brighton - all without earning a penny.
‘I’m in touching distance of life-changing things happening to me,’ McKinson said.
‘When I first turned pro my dad said I’m going to need to do things harder than the average boxer. I have.
‘People told me I would never be a pro boxer. People always doubted me.
‘I was an average amateur, I never won a national title. I got to the CYP final when I was 15 and got robbed.
‘I would always lose on close decisions to the England boys who got the backing from promoters. I never had that luck - but in the pro game I smashed these guys up.
‘I boxed my first 10 fights and I didn’t earn a thing. I boxed in Belfast with no one cheering me and a few claps on the way to the ring.
‘I think when I first signed with MTK, I was just another guy. To be honest at first they were putting me in with guys they probably wanted me to lose to.
‘They sold more tickets and had greater worth to them, but I kept beating them up and in the last two fights I’ve been on their A side. Things have changed.
‘I set myself the goal of turning pro, I did that. Then it was win a title - I’ve won three of them. Now I’ve got the chance to give my daughter an amazing life.
‘It’s been a long road to get to where I am and into this position. I’ve had a real tough route and it’s not until I retire it may become clear what I’ve gone through to get to where I am now.’
McKinson believes his journey taking place outside of the protected route of other contenders he’s now leaving in his rear-view mirror will prepare him well for the challenges he will face moving forwards.
But being a graduate of boxing’s school of hard knocks also makes the man who’s been trained by his father, Michael Ballingall, since the age of five acutely aware of the perils faced in a noble art which can quite literally be a matter of life and death.
The adage is boxing saves more lives than it takes, but with five of its brave protagonists losing theirs in 2019 alone, McKinson knows what he places at stake every time he enters the squared circle.
Now Portsmouth’s biggest boxing hope of a new generation is out to ensure he’s one of the few who gains more than he gives, in a business where others have sadly sacrificed so much.
‘This is a scary sport,’ McKinson admitted. ‘You need to get in, earn as much money as you can and get out with your health intact.
‘There’s been five pro deaths in the ring this year and you see boxers with bad injuries as well.
‘What we’re risking our lives for isn’t great for that risk, but I’ve got myself into a position where I can genuinely earn some good money.
‘So I just have to think a little bit smarter now about taking fights instead of thinking I’ll take on anyone.
‘I read it’s something like two per cent of professional boxers are financially set when they retire.
‘I’ve never turned down a fight. I will fight anyone but I need to think about what benefits me now.
‘Belts look good but I’m in this to change mine and my daughter’s lives - and make Portsmouth proud.’
MICHAEL McKINSON ON….
I’m looking for a sponsor, I need the backing. My last sponsor pulled out three days before my last fight.
I’m so close now. The thing is I’m going to get loads better. There’s a lot more maturing and developing to come. Definitely.
I see myself as a young lad in the sport still compared to these guys, so I see a load more improvement. I’m winning these fights quite easily. I make it look easy.
I want to get out three times next year. Three fights - March, July and November, but only if they’re right.
I’m filling out at welterweight. I was tight at the weight for the first time and I’m filling into that 10st 7lb category. Who knows, I could even go up one day to unify in several divisions.
Tony Oakey is Portsmouth boxing and has been for years.
Tony brought TV to Portsmouth and was really, really popular.
I was fortunate enough to grow up around Tony and we were real close with him.
I might not ever be as popular as Tony, but I believe I can be more successful.
We need to get the other local fighters on some kind of platform to get things going for the city.
Lucas is mandatory for the English, so if he could win that, it could work.
There’s Mark Chamberlain coming through. He’s a good fighter and there’s his brother.
There’s Joseph Butler, who’s a good lad, and other boxers coming through, too.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
I don’t feel in competition with anyone.
There’s some brotherly competition with Lucas (Ballingall) but I don’t feel anyone locally is near my level.
The one person I’d like to see go further is my brother. He’s a monster at lightweight.He’s had bad luck and is actually the talented one out of us!
We owe our dad everything. I wouldn’t be a pro without him. He’s been my trainer since I was five. No one knows him better.