Jamie McDonnell: The unlikely world champion
Jamie McDonnell is the former British, Commonwealth and European Champion and a diamond in the bantamweight rough.
On May 11 the talented Brit produced a quality performance to win the vacant IBF world title, by majority decision, from previously unbeaten knockout artist Julio Ceja, and kicked open the door at world level.
It may be the first time you’ve heard of him, but if he has his way there’s a lot more to come from THE RING’s No.8 at 118 pounds.
“Winning the championship was a great achievement,” said McDonnell. “Now I want all the world titles at bantamweight. Getting one was a dream come true but I want to top it off by getting all the belts in unification fights.
“I’ve come on leaps and bounds. When I first started I didn’t take the game seriously but I’m a committed fighter now. I haven’t lost in a long time and I’ve won a bunch of titles.”
McDonnell (21-2-1, 9 knockouts) has immense desire to succeed but is quick to acknowledge his training team who also sacrificed in order to see their man reach the finishing line.
“I can’t thank them enough,” said the Doncaster man. “Dave (Hulley) moved into my house for ten weeks during camp, prepared all my food and would get me up out of bed at 6am every morning.
“Stefy (Bull) is always in the gym and without these guys I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
The bout with Ceja was high octane and McDonnell’s radar had to be switched on from the get-go. The Mexican had a fearsome reputation, having scored 22 stoppages in 24 wins, and was highly regarded within the trade.
If the British technician wanted a world title then he was going to have to earn it, but this seasoned pro was far from awed by the occasion or the man in front of him.
“I knew Ceja was young and a bit inexperienced,” McDonnell told RingTV.com. “He’s only 20 years old and had dusted thirteen of his twenty four opponents inside three rounds, whereas I’ve gone the distance several times in tough fights.
“We had a game plan to hit and move and in order to knock me out he had to land flush. That wasn’t going to happen because I’d been feeling great in the gym in terms of movement and sharpness.”
McDonnell continued: “I’m proud of the fact that I beat a kid who had knocked out so many opponents. There were people in my own town who thought this was beyond me and that made the victory all the more worthwhile.”
Still, it takes more than winning to become a household name, but it is a habit the twenty-seven-year-old is eager to maintain regardless of recognition eluding him.
“Full credit is yet to come,” acknowledged McDonnell with a sigh. “I’ve won every domestic belt, defended them all and earned my world title shot the hard way by fighting and winning an eliminator (against Darwin Zamora).
“Now I’m champion and a lot of people still don’t know me. I have no interest in being famous but some of the boxing websites and television shows are not on board yet. Hopefully all of that is still to come.
“There are four world champions in Britain and I’m one of them. I stand beside Carl Froch, Ricky Burns and Nathan Cleverly and that makes me proud!”
One man who is well aware of both his fighter’s talents and shortcomings on the popularity front is manager/promoter Dennis Hobson, who is overjoyed by what McDonnell has managed to achieve against the odds.
“Jamie has fabulous stamina and great all ’round ability,” said Hobson. “My proudest moments, as a manager and a promoter, are taking Jamie McDonnell and Clinton Woods to IBF world championships.
“Why? Because I’ve taken two so-called unfashionable kids from obscurity and we’ve achieved the ultimate. It doesn’t get any better than winning world title belts.”
Hobson has voiced his displeasure at Jamie McDonnell being the forgotten man at world level and was keen to do so again when questioned on the subject.
“Sky Sports have aligned themselves exclusively with Matchroom and, for me, that hurts the sport,” remarked Hobson. “There’s a flaw there because so many kids are missing out on exposure, whereas a couple of promoters on a network of that scale creates healthy competition.
“Thankfully we have another option in BoxNation, so we’ll see what happens.”
When this reporter asked McDonnell about the future it was clear that unification fights are priority but the champion is completely in the dark about the quality of his rivals and that is, surprisingly, through choice.
“I don’t know anything about Anselmo Moreno (WBA champion) or Shinsuke Yamanaka (WBC champion),” laughed McDonnell. “I’m not a boxing fan, so I don’t sit down and study the opposition. I just go in there and do what I do and leave the game plan to my trainers.”
“I’ll fight anyone with a belt. I feel as though I’m the biggest, the tallest and the best out there. I’m not a big puncher, although I hit hard enough, and I have everything else at my disposal with the movement and the skills.”
Hobson backed up McDonnell’s casual attitude towards the sport’s history with a simply unbelievable anecdote.
“I took Jamie to a WBC convention in Las Vegas,” said the Sheffield based promoter. “There were scores of ex-world champions, the likes of Larry Holmes, Ken Norton, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and Mike Tyson.
“Anyway Sugar Ray Leonard walked in with some people and I told Jamie to get a picture with him and he didn’t know what one it was. He turned to me and asked if Leonard was any good in his day.
“He has never studied the history of the sport but in the ring he just has a great boxing brain and he’s gifted.”
There is something refreshing and almost innocent about McDonnell’s outlook but despite the fact that he wouldn’t win a boxing quiz that is not what he is being paid for.
“I’ve spoken to Dennis and he reckons that I’ll have a voluntary defense in September,” said the champion in reference to future business. “There is nothing definite at this stage so I’m just ticking over in the gym a couple of times a week.”
Hobson affirmed those plans: “A voluntary and then hopefully a unification fight. I’ve put some enquires out there but, after the last performance, one or two of the champions are looking in another direction.
“Jamie can box but he can also mix it up and will probably go through a couple of weight classes due to his body structure.
“He’s almost 5-foot-10 and while making 118 pounds isn’t a problem, a step up to junior featherweight would be exciting with the likes of Scott Quigg and Carl Frampton in the mix domestically.
“Then you have Guillermo Rigondeaux, Abner Mares and Nonito Donaire.”
“I want all the belts first,” said McDonnell of a potential move north. “I’ve seen Mayweather with all his titles and that’s the look I want. I want those titles hanging off my legs and my arms. I’m Doncaster’s first world titlist and that is my achievement but going forward I want every belt.
“The RING belt can hang off my left arm,” laughed boxing’s most unlikely champion.
Photos: Scott Heavey-Gettyimages
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and contributes to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing