While walking home one evening, Eric Mokonzo heard a commotion coming from a nearby building.
The then 19-year-old peered in though the door to see a new way of life that he instantly fell in love with…
“I saw lots of people going into like a hut and there was lots of screaming and shouting,” said Mokonzo, in an exclusive interview with Boxing Social.
“I went in and there was two guys having a tear-up… and from then on I just kinda fell in love with the sport.”
Shortly after, he would begin training at the ‘Five Star Boxing Gym’ in Romford before moving to Enfield to begin his amateur career.
“I had my first fight in 2008. It was against someone from Newham – I stopped him, but I was all over the place. I was just throwing bombs. I was throwing all kinds of hooks, left and rights, but I managed to stop him and the journey continued.”
After finding out he was to be a father for the first time, Mokonzo abandoned his amateur career and turned professional in 2010 under the watchful eye of coach and former professional boxer Derek Grainger.
“When I got the news that I was having my first-born son – that was the turning point. I knew I could bang and I had a style that would lend itself to the professional game.”
“My first professional coach was Derek Grainger. He fought for the British title: but he came up short. He was a really cool guy. He showed me the formula and taught me what boxing was all about.”
Mokonzo, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, aimed to give everything he had to his chosen path in the paid ranks – but admitted he was young and naive: with little idea of how to craft a career as a professional prizefighter.
“I was young, I was a novice and I didn’t know much about the pro game. For me, turning professional was everything. Just to be called a professional fighter – it sounds prestigious!” laughed Mokonzo.
“But I didn’t really know the business side of things; how things worked, the ticket sales, making weight. I didn’t really know anything at all.”
He would begin his professional career at the famous York Hall on 20 May 2012; boxing at light heavyweight, facing the modest Darren McKenna (1-3, 1 KO) in what would turn out to be the most devastating two rounds of his career.
“The first professional fight I had was going well, then I got clipped in the back of the head. I went down, I got back up and the referee counted me out. it was one on the biggest blows and the most demoralising feelings I have ever felt.”
“All of your mates are there: you’ve sold tickets, they are all banking on you to win because they know you can whack. They have seen clips of you on the bags and pads etc. looking good.”
“Then everyone turns up and they see you get stopped by a journeyman. It was the worst feeling ever.”
The defeat would force a crestfallen Mokonzo into taking an immediate hiatus from the sport.
“It made me question everything.” he said wistfully.
“It put me in a dark place, getting stopped. I had lost before on points in the amateurs, but I had never been stopped. It tore in to me. I hated that feeling – and from that day it dawned on me that the professional game is not a ‘game’ at all.”
“I ended up taking three years out due to managerial and personal issues. As I was getting back in to the game I got hit up on social media by Ted Bami. I hooked up with him, 2015.”
Bami, a fellow native of Congo as well as a former European super lightweight champion, welcomed Mokonzo into his burgeoning young stable of fighters that included Matchroom cruiserweight prospect Isaac Chamberlain. Based at Miguel’s Gym in Brixton, the two men would plan Mokonzo’s comeback.
“I had my first fight with Ted against a prospect in Leeds. I came out in the first round and I was a bit more relaxed. He came out hard and I ended up stopping him – which was a surprise to some people, as he was a prospect and I was a journeyman!”
In his next outing, he would travel to Cardiff to face former Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Jermaine Asare – it was another bout in which Mokonzo was a heavy underdog, but another mountain that he was determined to conquer.
“He was tipped for big things.”
“In the first round I came out fast and caught him cold with a left hand. I just remember following up with a barrage of punches and I stopped him. After that fight, my name started ringing bells and people started to take a bit of notice.”
However, just as his career seemed to be showing some promise, Mokonzo suffered a fifth-round stoppage at the hands of Tomi Tatham in Manchester. From that point on, he says, his once promising career spiralled out of control; setting him up for the life of a journeyman.
“When I fought [Tomi] Tatham, I was tipped to beat him.”
“In the first round, he caught me a right hand and put me over. I got up, but I didn’t box well – and then in the fifth round the referee stopped it. From then everything just went downhill.”
“I trained my socks of for that fight. I was going in with the belief I could win – and I could win convincingly – but it didn’t turn out that way. Then it was just one loss after another.”
Looking back on his defeats, a now refreshed and more mature Mokonzo realises that his downfall came as a result of poor preparation and a lack of dedication for his chosen career.
“Once I lost the fight in Manchester, I went back into that shell again like I did in my first fight.”
“I wasn’t taking it seriously at all. I wasn’t living the life; the eating the training; I wasn’t doing none of that at all – and it caught up to me.”
Now, however, a change in mindset and attitude has seen Mokonzo give himself one final chance at making a career out of the sport he loves.
Living in Bethnal Green with new trainer Josh Burnham, the 31-year-old has refocused over the last 18 months in an attempt to turn his career around. He has made what he believes were much-needed changes to his team; as well as his own mental preparation and dedication to the sport.
“It’s now or never.” said Mokonzo, with a steely resolve in his voice.
“People who know me say ‘Eric you’re not a journeyman… you’re only a journeyman because of what you have done previously!’ – so I can’t argue with people’s judgements and opinions.”
“We have made the change now. I’m not the fighter ‘on the road’ and I don’t want to be known as a journeyman anymore. I wouldn’t mind being called a former journeyman, but I have made the transition.”
“I’m not fighting on the road or fighting because I only care about money. I’m building my profile and career and from now on I’m going to be the home fighter.”
More focused than ever, and with a significant change to his mental outlook, Mokonzo has vowed to leave his ‘journeyman’ days behind.
With his ultimate goal of winning the British title, ‘The Congo Warrior’ knows a long, arduous journey awaits him. It is a journey, he says, that starts with the Southern Area title.
“I have given myself a timespan of how long I need to do certain things: and my first target is winning the Southern Area title. I believe with two or three decent wins under my belt I can challenge for that title and after? Who knows?”
“Now I’m a lot more focused and a lot more aware of people who come into my life and who I socialise with. I know exactly what I need to do and where I’m going: so I’m not going to allow myself to fall short.”
“I’m not a journeyman – I don’t care what my damn record says – I’m not a journeyman… my journey is only just beginning!”
Article by: Emmily Simcock
Follow Emmily on Twitter at: @emmily_jane