Monday, March 20, 2023  |



Gavin McDonnell: ‘I want Rey Vargas to underestimate me’

Photo: Mark Robinson

As twins, the lives of Gavin and Jamie McDonnell may not quite be synchronized but they have followed one another on almost identical courses for over 30 years. Both family men, both fighters, both winners and both achieving against the odds.

Jamie, who is rated No. 1 by THE RING at bantamweight, behind champion Shinsuke Yamanaka, has held British, Commonwealth, European and world titles during a distinguished professional career. Due to status, he is the better known of the two but Gavin, as always, is right behind him in life and in boxing.

At junior featherweight, Gavin has already claimed British and European championships. Like Jamie, he has improved steadily under the tutelage of esteemed coach Dave Coldwell and risen to the occasion when it mattered most.

Next up, however, is the acid test.

On Saturday, McDonnell will vie for the vacant WBC junior featherweight title at the Ice Arena in Hull, England. His opponent, Rey Vargas, is rated No. 4 by THE RING at 122 pounds and is favored to win. Unbeaten in 28 fights, with 21 knockouts, the resume looks formidable but McDonnell was keen to keep things in perspective.

“It’s hard to blow kids away, don’t get me wrong,” said McDonnell (16-0-2, 4 knockouts) who is known more for work rate than wallop. “The thing is, if you’re doing it at a low level you can get plenty of knockouts, but you’re not getting them against solid fighters. I’ve had solid opposition from early on in my career and was in with fighters who could give me a run for my money. I’ve been tested and I learned along the way.

“I don’t know if Vargas has been tested. Obviously, he has power there but he’s stepping up in levels and this is his first big fight. It’s the same with me. This is my big test. Can I do it? We’re both similar in that respect. I just think I’ve been in the more meaningful fights and I know, deep down, what I’ve got inside me. He has to come from the other side of the world and experience what I’m going to bring.”

Gavin McDonnell vs. Oleksandr Yegorov for European title on March 28, 2015:

It should be noted that Vargas has been taken the distance in three of his last five fights. Is it a coincidence that the level of opposition has gone up slightly? Team McDonnell will hope so. However, the Mexico native has already promised to turn out the lights in Hull and talks with the unmistakable arrogance of a fighter who knows that his time is at hand.

“I want Rey Vargas to underestimate me,” purred McDonnell with an air of expectancy. “You want that because then they get the shock of their life. I’m just going to concentrate on myself. I’m not worried about him. I just need to focus on me and what I do well.

“Fighters have the habit of thinking I’m easy to beat. A lot of opponents and sparring partners have said that I look easy to beat but when they’ve been in there, it’s harder than expected. You can think it’s easy until you’re being stabbed with shots.

McDonnell continued, “At the end of the day, Vargas doesn’t want it more than me. It’s as simple as that. What will win me this fight is that I want it more than he does. Whatever he brings, I’m going to outdo him and outwork him. I’ve got the crowd behind me, which will spur me on. I’m going to pull this fight out the bag. Believe me, when a man wants it the way I want it, he will really have to turn up to beat me.”

In May 2015, brother Jamie took on the hard-hitting Tomoki Kameda in Hidalgo, Texas. The Englishman was a mere afterthought but he defeated the then-unbeaten Japanese star not once, but twice. Those were landmark victories for a British fighter which, frankly, weren’t given enough attention, at home or abroad.

Gavin McDonnell has an equally daunting assignment but, as previously mentioned, he does have home advantage which could prove to be crucial. Understandably, replicating his brother’s success in a world title fight would mean the world to McDonnell.

“It’s what are dreams are made of and you couldn’t write the story,” he said following a short pause. “It’s up to me to put the happy ending on this and, please God, that’s what I do. I’m going to do everything possible to make it happen. It’s going to be one of those nights where I can give everyone something to remember; a memory that they’ll have for life. Not just for me and my family but for all the people who have supported me through the years.”


Limited tickets remain on sale for February 25. They are priced at £40, £60 and £100 and are available via StubHub.


Tom Gray is a UK Correspondent/ Editor for and a member of THE RING ratings panel. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing


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