McDonnell from the beginning: It’s time for Jamie to get due recognition

Jamie McDonnell after his English title fight against Wayne Bloy.
Jamie McDonnell after his English title fight against Wayne Bloy.

It was during the summer eight years ago that the Free Press exclusively revealed that talented young amateur star Jamie McDonnell was about to turn professional, writes Peter Catt.

Despite a promising career as a teenager, in which he won two gold medals and three national junior titles, Jamie had not previously attracted a great deal of public attention – a problem that still persists somewhat today.

But when he rang me to announce the news one summery morning John Rushton, then the premier boxing promoter in the town, had no doubts.

He told me: “This kid could be something special.”

John was never one to play down the chances of his boxers and I might have been forgiven for taking it all with a pinch of salt.

But I had actually heard Jamie’s name mentioned in glowing terms several months earlier while chatting to his amateur trainer - the late Eric Walker.

Eric, like John Rushton and many trainers and managers keen to sell fights, could also be prone to hyperbole and he said: “Jamie’s a right good lad. He doesn’t just go head hunting like a lot of young ‘uns. He’s a right good body puncher as well. In fact he could be the best I’ve had.”

Considering Eric had been training young boxers in the Barnsley and Wombwell area for decades it was quite a bold statement.

But any doubts I may have had about whether Jamie was the real deal were dispelled when he won every round on his debut in the paid ranks at the Dome on September 16, 2005.

The 19-year-old novice coasted through the bout against a far more experienced opponent and displayed an exciting array of punches, natural ability, a real appetite for the game and a burning desire to win.

Rushton had been on to me again a couple of weeks before the fight with more extravagant claims.

After just a few months of working with his new protégé he was comparing him to former British and Commonwealth champion Jonjo Irwin and said he had the potential to be the best fighter he had ever trained.

After watching Jamie’s next few bouts I did not need any more convincing about his potential to reach the top.

But, ironically, it was the first fight he failed to win that made him soar higher in my estimation.

In only his fifth fight in June, 2006 McDonnell was matched against tough Welsh featherweight Dai Davies who came into the ring a stone heavier and used it to good advantage as he bullied the Hatfield youngster to win the first two rounds.

It was only a four round fight and Jamie was facing his first defeat.

But it was then that 20-year-old Jamie showed the grit and determination, and deep reserves of mental strength that have become his trademark as he turned the tables to give Davies a taste of his own medicine to win the last two rounds and draw the fight.

Four fights later, with an English title already to his name, Jamie was set to fight for the British super flyweight crown at the age of 21 in only his 10th professional contest.

But, by then, I’d already heard the rumours of Jamie not knuckling down to training and how he was still enjoying a drink and a decent dinner when he was supposed to be focusing on the next fight.

At one stage John Rushton was almost tearing his hair out in despair about the talent he felt was going to waste.

When I first met Jamie before his first professional fight he struck me as a quiet, unassuming youngster, almost shy in fact.

He hasn’t changed a great deal, still likes a laugh and a night out with his mates, but has become more confident and articulate in dealing with the media and far more dedicated to the game.

But in the build up to his first British title fight in December, 2007 he admits now he was far less focused, didn’t prepare as well as he should and underestimated his opponent.

It led to his first defeat, by a split decision, and another one followed when he lost by a single point to the elusive current British champion Lee Haskins the following March.

Jamie admits now he must have been a nightmare to train in the early days but suddenly the penny dropped and he began to take a more responsible attitude to the sport leading to three stoppage victories in his next four fights.

By now he was being managed by Dennis Hobson, and trained by Stefy Bull and Dave Hulley, and he won the first of a series of remarkable series of title fights in January, 2010 when he narrowly beat Ian Napa for the British and Commonwealth crowns.

A couple of months later he was fighting for the European title when he travelled to France with a handful of supporters to face the champion Jerome Arnould in his own backyard.

Few boxing pundits gave him a chance but Jamie stopped him in the tenth round and those impressive back-to-back displays underlined the change in the fun-loving likely lad who had now become deadly serious about his sport.

It was after his magnificent 2011 victory over brilliant Belgian Stephane Jamoye, who has bounced back since to become a world title contender himself, that I floated the idea to promoter Frank Maloney of a possible future world title fight for Jamie at the Keepmoat.

Now it has become a reality.

But despite his success I never thought Jamie received the recognition he deserved.

For those who were there at the start the former Hatfield High school pupil has taken us on a remarkable journey.

Jamie now has a new purpose, a sense of destiny and history in the making.

It will be a case of Dunscroft and Doncaster expect on Saturday night and he intends to deliver…just like another Jamie did at Brentford a fortnight ago.

When he ‘comes out of his cage’ to the opening bars of his spine-chilling Mr Brightside ring entrance song by The Killers there will be thousands cheering him on.

It won’t be easy against Mexico’s new superstar knockout king, but it’s a fight Jamie can win.

And maybe then he will get the acclaim he is long overdue.