McDonnell hits the heights
Few anticipated the remarkable rise of Jamie McDonnell. In five dizzying years, the superbly conditioned bantamweight from Doncaster has won WBA, IBF, British, Commonwealth and European titles and would own the WBO crown, too, had the Puerto Rican organization not stripped its champion Tomoki Kameda shortly before McDonnell outhustled him in Hidalgo, Texas, in May. A high octane fighting style and a steely will to win has propelled McDonnell’s career to unlikely heights though, arguably, he is yet to receive the acknowledgement and accolades his many achievements deserve.
“I’ve won absolutely everything,” said WBA bantamweight champion McDonnell, who faces Kameda in a lucrative rematch on 6 September at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas. “I’ve achieved more than most but I don’t seem to get talked about. But as long as I’m earning money - and get the right fights that motivate me - I ain’t too fussed. I’ve achieved everything in boxing. Some fighters would be chuffed with winning a British title. I didn’t really know what [the British title] was when I first lost to Chris Edwards [in 2007]. I just knew I was getting a decent bit of money. But it’s ended up being a good story.”
McDonnell’s signature win over the unbeaten Kameda saw the Yorkshireman navigate a series of almost farcical problems. The troubles began with long-time trainer Dave Hulley’s last-ditch refusal to board the plane to America forcing manager Dave Coldwell and his world-rated cruiserweight Tony Bellew to abandon their plans and fly out to rescue McDonnell’s training camp from the worst possible preparation.
“Dave [Hulley] took his bag out of the boot at the airport and said, ‘I don’t think I’m going to come’,” remembered the 29-year-old McDonnell. “I just laughed it off. I said, ‘Come on you, pussy’. I thought he was having a crack. But when we walked into the airport, he said, ‘I just don’t think I can do it’. My heart kind of fell out because what can you do? I could train but when I needed some pads… it was a horrible feeling really. I rang Dave [Coldwell] up and said, ‘You’re going to have to get out here, mate!’”
“It was 6.30am when he rang me saying Dave wouldn’t get on the plane. I thought he was winding me up!” manager Coldwell told BM. “I said, ‘Tell Dave to get a cup of coffee, man up and get on the plane. He’ll be all right. Take some tablets, knock himself out. Tell him to get pissed. Dave came on the phone and insisted, ‘I can’t get on the plane’. So I called Bellew up and said, ‘Do you fancy a bit of warm weather training in Texas?’”
The drama did not end there with a tornado sweeping perilously close to the WBA champion’s San Antonio training camp before Team McDonnell’s ‘luxury’ coach broke down en route to the fight city of Hidalgo. “When things aren’t going as smoothly as they should you start thinking, it’s not going to go my way,” said McDonnell, who is now trained full-time by Coldwell alongside his twin brother and European 122lbs champion Gavin. “You just have to get on with it, deal with the obstacles and overcome them. You are there to do a job.”
“When we arrived we had tornado warnings on the news,” Coldwell told BM. “The first two nights the winds were bad. It was mainly the windows shaking in the night, but in the day it was red hot. The gym was like a sweatbox. It was everything you want if you need to make weight and get used to those conditions. Luckily, we were only about 40 minutes away from Hidalgo when the coach broke down in the middle of nowhere. There was a rusty, rundown service station across the road and I’m thinking, ‘Jesus, are we really going into there?’ I imagined something like Children of the Corn, the old 80s horror film. Eventually, we got to the hotel, but Hidalgo is somewhere I never want to go again in my life!”
Yet among McDonnell’s strengths as a fighter is an indomitable spirit and, despite his near catastrophic preparation, the super-fit Yorkshireman rose from a third round knockdown to control the Al Haymon represented Kameda behind a thudding jab. After his trademark slow start, McDonnell’s machine-like punch output was quite astonishing. According to Compubox stats, the WBA champion threw an average of 55 punches through the first six rounds yet raised his work-rate to 90 per session in the closing half of the fight including a lung-busting 124 shots in the final round which two judges crucially scored in his favour to give him the fight (114-113 on all three cards). The victory was earned the hard way.
“I always have two or three rounds [looking], but I want to step it up from the start next time,” McDonnell told BM ahead of the Kameda rematch. “I remember coming out for that last round and thinking I’m not going to stop throwing punches. I was chucking punches just for the sake of it. I didn’t want to finish the fight. I wish I had a couple more rounds. I enjoyed the fight. Everyone had written me off, but I knew I was going to win. I had to prove people wrong and that I am the best.
“I knew Kameda would be fast,” continued McDonnell (26-2-1, 12 KOs). “He didn’t hurt me when he knocked me down, but it was the speed more than anything. He’s the first kid I’ve got in with who has been so fast, but I dealt with it. In the rematch, I’ll put on an even better fight as I know what he brings to the table. He knows what I bring, too - I’m just going to keep coming. He’s obviously going to chuck that right hand and hope it flattens me. It was a great shot, don’t get me wrong, but he didn’t capitalize on it. It didn’t hurt me one bit. It was just the shock. I remember sitting on the floor thinking, ‘How have I got here? Effin hell, I better get up!’ I was a bit embarrassed, but I showed I’ve got a strong heart and came back.”
Though McDonnell appeared to have clinched the fight with his phenomenal work-rate in the later rounds, he wasn’t confident he would receive the decision on foreign soil against an Al Haymon fighter.
“I thought I’d smashed it in the second half of the fight,” McDonnell told BM. “I knew I’d won. I’ve been beat before and you know when you’ve just been pipped. I genuinely thought I’d smashed him by two or three rounds. I came back to the corner and said, ‘I’ve fucking won that!’ But thought I’ll not get it. So when I got [the decision] it was the best feeling. I was absolutely chuffed. I think I’ll stop him in the rematch if I push him from the start. I’ll be fitter than him anyway. Hopefully, I’m going to walk him down next time and force the stoppage.”
Having risen to a level no-one expected when he turned pro in September 2005 with a six-round points win over Neal Read at Doncaster Dome, two-time world champion McDonnell is eyeing a few marquee match-ups before calling time on his career.
“If I beat Kameda again I’ve proven I’m the best at bantamweight other than [Japan’s WBC champion Shinsuke] Yamanaka, but I wouldn’t mind fighting him,” said McDonnell. “I’d [rather] fight Yamanaka next and win that WBC belt. But I’m going to win the Kameda rematch and probably move straight up to 122lbs and jump at [Scott] Quigg and [Carl] Frampton and all the rest of them. I can’t get motivated for routine defences. I want big names. The big fights give me the kick up the backside to train harder. I’m not a boxing man. I’ve just dropped on my feet and I’m earning good money. But once the money stops I’m not going to keep doing it. I always said I wanted to retire at 30 when my house is paid for and I’ve just paid my house off this week. So I’m mortgage free. I’ll beat Kameda again, move up and have one or two big fights there and who knows? I might call it a day.
“I’ve achieved a lot, but I want to keep my health. I’ve got a 9-month-old baby [Saskia, with wife Hollie] to bring up. I don’t want to end up punch drunk for no money,” he continued. “I like to think four or five big fights and I’ll be done and retire happy. I’m a family man and I don’t just do it for myself now. I want the best life for us. My family motivates me so much. I love them. That’s what life’s about. I’m living the life. I’m living the dream. I’ve just got to keep winning. Simple.”
Some fighters spend the week after a world title victory partying or enjoying the luxuries that intensive training has denied them; Jamie McDonnell went plastering with his brother Gavin.
“I’ve earned the best part of a grand this week doing plastering. It keeps you fit,” McDonnell told BM. “It makes you realise about money, a normal life [where] you’ve got to pay your bills and your mortgage and keep chipping things off towards a holiday. If I don’t keep winning, I’m back doing this for the rest of my life. It makes me realise it could all be over. If that Kameda right hand had flattened me then I’m back down to lower money. The plastering keeps me a little bit more grounded. I enjoy it and I enjoy taking a big bag of grub to work – crisps and chocolate!”
An experienced grafter in and out of the ring, the WBA bantamweight champion also demands a good rate for his plastering skills. Manager Dave Coldwell recalled a humorous incident in the dressing room after McDonnell’s win over Kameda. “Jamie had his WBA belt around his waist while we were taking the bandages off and him and Gavin were arguing about a plastering job they were doing on the Tuesday. Jamie was saying, ‘I’ll work that one with you’. Gavin said, ‘That will be £100-a-day’ and Jamie replied, ‘No, I want £150-a-day’. They were arguing about a £100-£150 plastering job. Jamie’s just defended his world title, something massive, he’s not even taken his gear off and they are arguing about…plastering. That just sums them up. They are something totally different. There is nobody else like that in boxing!”