Jamie McDonnell rides again
The boxing business refuses to make things easy for Jamie McDonnell, a blue-collar fighter who traveled to America in his last fight, fashioning an upset WBA “regular” title defense over rival and former WBO champion Tomoki Kameda. The powers that be have again stepped in to throw McDonnell a curveball, asking the champion to again prove himself by repeating that achievement tomorrow night on CBS (4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT). McDonnell was initially invited to America by Al Haymon and his Premier Boxing Champions consortium to kindly relinquish his title to Kameda, who gave up his WBO belt at his adviser’s insistence in the apparent belief that McDonnell was an easy touch. The boxing and betting industry believe a second McDonnell victory is even more improbable, with Las Vegas odds favoring Kameda (+105) over McDonnell (-125), which fits McDonnell’s underdog mentality perfectly.
Perhaps it is because of promotional machinations and a lack of faith by the majority of the public that McDonnell has never given his heart over to the sport entirely, to the point of having been informed on Sugar Ray Leonard’s identity when seated together with the legend during a tribute gala event. McDonnell informed sports writer Gareth Davies of The Telegraph newspaper that the only reason he continues to box is because “I’m just good at what I do and it pays. That’s why I stick at it.” It’s an ability or trait that runs in the family, with his twin brother, undefeated European junior featherweight champion Gavin McDonnell.
The 29-year-old Yorkshire man (from Doncaster, in the North of England) has scored upsets and has been upset, losing two disputed decisions early in his career that served as harsh lessons and spurned him on. McDonnell explained to THE RING magazine’s Anson Wainwright, “I went 12 rounds and got beat on a split decision. I wasn’t gutted; I was more buzzing that I’d done 12 rounds ‘cause they were 12 hard, fast-paced rounds. Then I fought Lee Haskins straight after. I shouldn’t have really taken that fight. My head was down a little and I wasn’t in the mood to train. We had that fight and we got beat on points. Some thought I should have got it.” In the ensuing seven years, McDonnell has yet to suffer another setback. Rarely are his victories emphatic but nor are they in doubt.
After those consecutive losses (against one poor and one above-average opponent), McDonnell joined manager Dennis Hobson and promoter Barry Hearn, upsetting Ian Napa to win two British titles and traveling to France to stun Jerome Arnould by 10th round stoppage. After four impressive European title defenses, McDonnell lured pressure banger Tabtimdaeng Na Rachawat to England, comprehensively outboxing the Thai before registering a 10th round stoppage. The win earned McDonnell the WBA “regular” world title, so he arrived in America with a lot of anonymity and little respect.
That lack of respect seemed to find confirmation when McDonnell was dropped in the third round by Tomoki Kameda, an inauspicious start to a title defense, to be sure. However, it awakened McDonnell and ensured he would not walk into trouble for the remainder of the fight. McDonnell recounted, “I can remember being on the floor and I didn’t know how I got there. It proves that not everyone is invincible and if you get caught, you are going to go down. It was a lesson learned, I tried not to do anything stupid after that.”
Like most boxers, McDonnell was motivated to win by reasons other than ego. “I was fighting for my daughter’s future and it did cross my mind as I was in the fight. If you keep winning, the money goes up. As soon as I saw her after the fight, I got a bit teary. I was chuffed to bits.”
In that initial McDonnell – Kameda clash, four months ago, McDonnell was the slightly more effective of the pair, taking a slim 114-113 decision on all three judges’ scorecards. In total, the two men combined to throw over 1,000 punches to include nearly 800 power punches over the championship distance. McDonnell explained how he saw his victory evolve, “I have a great engine and I always come on strong in the back end of the fight. I think from round six on, it was my fight. I started too slowly in the first fight but I worked hard and got the win.” Kameda, of course, saw it differently, “I definitely think I won the first fight. I landed the much harder punches and built up enough of an early lead but the judges saw what they saw. It was a close fight and I know I can change the outcome this time.”
The way in which McDonnell recovered to storm back against Kameda was impressive and his trainer Dave Coldwell believes it was an enormous achievement which has been undervalued. A somewhat embittered-sounding Coldwell stated, “This result should be getting talked about 100 years from now and that’s just not because Jamie won. It’s because what went on beforehand and what he had to overcome during the fight. There was the unfortunate issue of his trainer being unable to fly; training wasn’t ideal and Jamie had to climb off the deck early in the fight from a shot that would’ve ended many world-class contenders. Jamie is one of this country’s best boxers and his win over Kameda ranks right up there with any result obtained by a British boxer.”
In the run-up for the rematch, Coldwell expanded his thoughts at the final teleconference, saying their team is glad for the opportunity to erase any doubts about the first meeting. “We wanted a rematch with Kameda and the chance to prove that the first fight was no fluke. We hold no fears at all about tackling Kameda again and, this time around, I’d go as far as saying that we’re in a more confident mood. Jamie was a huge underdog last time and he wasn’t quite sure what to expect but we got everything right in the last few weeks and Jamie’s hard work and desire was rewarded. We know what’s awaiting us this time around and the result will be the same.”
His protégé sees it similarly and commended his opposition at first. “We knew he was going to be fast; he’s the fastest I have ever faced,” said McDonnell. “I got tagged with a right hand but, in the rematch, I know what to expect now. I’ve sparred against a lad that throws his right hand like Kameda does, so I know how to keep out of range for that.” McDonnell says he has improved physically as well and that Kameda will be facing an even stronger version of himself. “I feel I am hitting harder. I’ve been working on my power in the gym and I feel it’s going to pay off. I’m always in great shape and I’ve been flying in the gym. I am really looking forward to this one.”
It is a rematch that Koki Kameda wanted, above all else, still bruised from his defeat and the relinquishing of the WBO title belt beforehand. The Japanese hopeful has regrouped mentally and made considerable changes in the aftermath, hiring trainer Ismael Salas among other additions. “I have a completely different team now with Ismael Salas, Angel Heredia and [Jacob] ‘Stitch’ Duran as cutman. I feel much better going into this fight with better sparring and preparation and it will show in the fight. Salas has a great game plan and I can’t
wait to perform it.” Though Kameda still feels he edged the first fight, “I will show I’m the superior fighter once again.”
As should be expected, the duo of McDonnell and Kameda see the rematch unfolding differently. “I think it will be a fast-paced fight,” said McDonnell. “I started too slowly last time and I don’t want that to happen again. I believe I will stop him late. I took him into the trenches last time but I didn’t put it on him enough.” Kameda sees the evolution of the fight similarly but with a different ending, of course. “I will look to prepare shots to score points and be victorious,” said Kameda. “If the knockout comes, I will take it. Most important is to get the victory and we will do what we have to do to win. I will not let him back in the fight later on. This time I will start strong and finish him and not let off the gas until I am champion again.”
Coldwell believes McDonnell’s skills and ambitions should have him thinking long-term. “Jamie isn’t happy with beating Kameda. Believe me; he wants to leave a legacy and he wants to secure his financial future. There’s massive fights on the horizon and a ton of names have been linked and that includes a cracking Yorkshire v Lancashire scrap with Scott Quigg in a fight that I’m sure could do big business.” Then refocusing at the task at hand, Coldwell added, “For now, we’ve got to prevent getting ahead of ourselves as Kameda is a world-class fighter and he’ll be desperate to even the score with McDonnell. When Jamie does the double over him, the sky is the limit for him and the opportunities will be unreal.”
Thoughts echoed by the fighter, as McDonnell offered, “This is a massive fight and one I really wanted before looking at that move up to super bantamweight,” said McDonnell. “The plan is to beat him again and then move up. I’d love the Scott Quigg fight; that would be a massive night. I’ve already proved that I belong at the elite level. It’s only four pounds; it’s not a massive difference and I am a big bantamweight. I want to make a real statement on the world stage. No close victory this time, I’m ready for the big boys.”