DUBAI has not been the happiest destination for Scottish sportsmen this year but Mark McKeown hopes that will soon change.
The Coatbridge boxer admits he is not much of a football fan, which is probably just as well given the heat Celtic found themselves under following their ill-advised winter break to the Middle East at the start of January.
McKeown, though, is travelling strictly for business rather than in search of any kind of restorative sunshine. The featherweight is part of an MTK Global card headlined by fellow Scot Lee McGregor who will try, at the third attempt, to become European champion.
McKeown has aspirations to follow in his friend’s footsteps but faces the toughest challenge in his nascent professional career, a first proper 50:50 bout against undefeated Brad Daws.
The 26-year-old says the trip to Dubai will be closely regulated to meet all travel and coronavirus regulations but felt it was an opportunity he could not turn down.
“I was meant to be fighting down in Wakefield on January 22 but the medical staff who work at the boxing were under a bit too much pressure with the NHS so they had to call the event off,” said the fighter who trains out of the Keir Hardie club in Newarthill under the watchful tutelage of Barry Clark and Kevin Morrison.
“I had it in my head that it might be off for a few weeks or months. But then I got a text out the blue saying it would be rescheduled for Dubai so it’s worked out well.
“It will be a good experience going to a country I’ve never been to before. But it won’t be a shock to the system having to box away from home.
“As an amateur I fought in places like Armenia, Bosnia, Australia, Finland and a few other random places so I’ll take it in my stride.
“MTK have had shows in Dubai in the past so I’m sure they’ll have it all planned out. You get two or three Covid tests before you’re allowed to fight and you’re only in the country for four days so it’s pretty strict conditions.
“I can only take one of my coaches with me, Barry, which is a shame for my other coach Kevin but everyone’s just happy that I’m getting back in the ring.”
The lack of opportunities for most boxers throughout 2020 has prompted a re-set in the mindset of many. Rather than look to plot a careful path to success, there is a realisation that there may be a need to take greater risks to gain rewards.
“This fight is a step up for me, no doubt,” McKeown said. “But these are the sort of fights we’ve been asking for. There’s no point shying away from anyone.
“There aren’t a lot of shows happening at the moment so if someone gets offered a fight then they might take it regardless as it could be their only opportunity to box all year.
“In some ways it could be a good thing for boxing. It could speed up the process a bit and get fighters competing for belts sooner as there’s no point waiting around for the perfect fight anymore.”
McKeown made his professional debut on the undercard of McGregor’s epic all-Scots showdown with Kash Farooq in November 2019 that saw the Edinburgh boxer add the British belt to his Commonwealth title. And McKeown is excited about being in the room when his pal looks to become a European champion.
“I’m absolutely buzzing for Lee,” he said. “The original fight was called off because he had Covid-19 and then the second attempt was postponed because there was no boxing allowed in the UK.
“So it will be good to see if he can get his hands on the title after a couple of let-downs. I’m good friends with Lee. I’ve known him from the amateur days so it’s great to see how far he’s come already. If I can follow in his footsteps then I’ll be doing okay.”
McKeown has been preparing for this fight by sparring with another Scottish boxing star, Ricky Burns showing he has still got it at the age of 37.
“Ricky has been helping me a lot,” he revealed. “We’ve been sparring a lot, doing circuits and going running. It’s been good learning from him as well.
“I’ve known Ricky for years as we started out at the same club. He’s looking good and hopefully we’ll see him back in the ring soon.”
Of the Celtic in Dubai farrago, McKeown admits it mostly went over his head.
“I don’t really follow football so I just saw bits and pieces on Facebook. But it’s just work for me. I’m going over there to do a job and get back home again.”