Welcome Ncita had made six successful defenses of his IBF junior featherweight world title, was undefeated in 32 fights and had the momentum behind him. On this particular night at the Teatro Tenda in Italy, however, he was facing another undefeated fighter, the former Olympic gold medalist, Kennedy “King” McKinney. The American was coming off successive victories over former world champions, Sugar Baby Rojas and Paul Banke and many considered him the next big thing.
McKinney was a tall, rangy boxer with dynamite in his right hand as the 13 knockouts included in his 21-0-1 record showed. What ensued was a classic fight with more than its fair share of drama.
His reach and height advantages coupled with his jab gave the South African some problems in the first half of the fight and McKinney also found success with his power shots. As the rounds went by, Ncita made some adjustments and turned from boxer to fighter, being more aggressive and applying pressure to McKinney who started to look increasingly bothered. In the tenth Ncita hurt him with his combination punching and the fight appeared to be finally tipping in the champion’s favor.
Entering the eleventh round, Ncita was ahead on all the cards and he kept peppering McKinney to the head and body. He was never known as a massive puncher but he did possess a lighting fast, nasty left hook and when he caught the American flush with one of those, McKinney turned his back, lifted his arms above his head in an apparent sign of surrender, stumbled to the corner, dipped his knee and then straightened himself up without going down.
Many referees would have stopped a fight when a hurt fighter turned his back on his opponent in that fashion, but luck was clearly not on Ncita’s side on the night and it would only get worse. Referee, Steve Smoger, proceeded to give McKinney a breather by administering an eight count in a fight where there was no such rule and waved the fight on.
Ncita rained punches on a hurt McKinney and seemed to be on the verge of a dramatic stoppage win when yet more drama unfolded. With his back to the ropes, McKinney gathered his senses and uncorked a peach of a right cross that nailed Ncita flush, knocking him out cold. It was a terrific fight with a stunning ending but a heart-breaking way for Ncita to lose his belt.
Ncita challenged McKinney again in 1994 in the US in a bid to regain his title. He came close, knocking McKinney down in the fifth round. An old left eye injury came back to haunt him, and it was shut by the second half of the fight. In fact, the doctor wanted to stop the fight in the corner and asked Ncita how many fingers he was holding up. Manager/trainer, Mzi Mnguni, whispered, “Zintathu,” (meaning “three” in isiXhosa) to Ncita who repeated it in English and he saw out the fight, losing a majority decision. “That knockout in the first fight was still at the back of my mind. Even when I knocked him down, I was hesitant to go after him,” explained Ncita years later.
Welcome Ncita fought on, challenging once more for a world title in 1997 when he retired in his corner after ten rounds against Hector Lizarraga in a bid for the IBF featherweight belt. He retired in 1998 with a final record 40-3-1 with 21 knockouts after a draw against former WBO featherweight champion, Steve Robinson, and remains a well-respected figure in Eastern Cape boxing.
A retired McKinney interviewed by Anson Wainwright for The Ring magazine years later, rated Ncita as the best overall fighter he faced in his long career: “Welcome Ncita was the hardest fight I had. He was real good. He was a great champion, he was a boxer, he was quicker than I thought he was.”
High praise indeed.