A PRIZEFIGHTER is someone who fights for money. The term does not allude to legacy or glory, not even a love for boxing itself – it is simply a profession. Jamie McDonnell is a prizefighter.
The 30-year-old has been boxing professionally for over a decade but in 2015 announced himself as one of Britain’s leading pugilists. He twice travelled to America to beat Japan’s highly touted Tomoki Kameda, both times successfully defending his WBA ‘world’ bantamweight crown, producing two of the most notable British away days in recent history.
Despite those feats, and numerous others before them including British, Commonwealth, European and IBF titles, the plaudits have not streamed in as one would think they might.
Perhaps it was a case of bad timing – 2015 was a standout year for British boxing with Tyson Fury dethroning Wladimir Klitschko, James DeGale becoming the first British Olympic champion to win a professional world title, and several others claiming global honours.
Regardless, McDonnell only has one concern with regards to recognition from others – the health of his bank account.
“I was already world champion [at the start of the year], I’d won British, Commonwealth and European titles, and I didn’t really get any credit,” he told Boxing News.
“I started getting recognition after the Kameda fights, my name started to get chucked into the mix, so I’m getting there but obviously I’m in one of the smaller weights so I’m not going to get talked about as much.
“I’ve always said I’m not too fussed [about the recognition] but I want the big paydays, and the more you get noticed and recognised, the more you get paid. That’s why I do it, it’s all about the money and making a better life for my family. If I want a bigger payday, I’ve got to become a bigger name, a household name.
“I should be getting more credit, but I just have to keep doing what I’m doing, proving everyone wrong, getting the wins over in America and getting the big fights.
“People asked why I took the rematch with Kameda in America, but when they offer you a s*** load of money to fight a kid I already beat, why would I not take that? I thought I’d stop him the second time
and it turned out to be an easier fight really.”
Going into his first fight with Kameda in May of last year, McDonnell was a heavy underdog. He climbed off the deck in the third to earn a unanimous decision in a thriller, and went on to put on an even better display in the rematch four months later, dropping Kameda in the 12th to claim another UD victory.
The first time round, Jamie was seriously up against it. Not only was Kameda supposedly the better fighter on paper (he was unbeaten in 31 fights and had won the WBO crown, though vacated
it before facing McDonnell), the Doncaster native’s corner was in turmoil before the contest.
When he arrived with his team at the airport to travel to Texas, McDonnell’s trainer, Dave Hulley, announced he would not be able to board the plan through fear of flying. Jamie was forced to contact his manager, Dave Coldwell, to fly out instead and act as head coach.
To his credit, Coldwell was superb on the night and remains McDonnell’s trainer to this day.
As a Matchroom fighter, McDonnell also has the huge benefit of his fights being shown on Sky Sports in the UK – though this was not to be the case in May. Rather than broadcast McDonnell’s heroics, Sky elected to show Anthony Joshua blitzing Raphael Zumbano Love inside two rounds.
“It was a little bit frustrating. It’s almost like they didn’t believe in me, it knocks you a bit,” McDonnell said.
“Obviously if they thought more of you, they’d show you. Hopefully I’ve got a bit more respect now and they’ll back me more now but I’ve felt like that all my career, that I need to prove myself.
“You just have to keep going though, I believe I’m the best bantamweight out there, none of the other fighters scare me or anything. As long as I’m getting what I feel is enough money, I’ll go and fight anyone.”
That includes travelling to Japan to face WBC champion Shinsuke Yamanaka – widely regarded as the best at 118lbs – for which an offer was put on the table for McDonnell, though the reward was allegedly nowhere near worth the risk.
While money is, of course, a key motivator for boxers, most will also cite their love for the sport, or perhaps their desire to create history, as other driving factors in their careers. For McDonnell however it’s merely just a job, albeit a very well paying one.
“I’m not a fan, I still don’t even know all the weights. I know some of them up to welterweight, but I don’t know what order they go in. When I talk to the lads in the gym they laugh at me, but I’m just not that bothered about it,” he opined.
“We were talking about Martin Murray the other day and I asked, ‘Has he fought ‘GGG’ [Gennady Golovkin]?’ And they told me he’s fought them all, [Sergio] Martinez, [Felix] Sturm, and I’m like, ‘I didn’t know any of that!’
“Gavin [Jamie’s twin] follows it religiously though, so when I’m going to fight someone he’ll say, ‘He’s handy this kid bruv, have you seen him?’ And I’ll say, ‘I haven’t watched him yet’, and he’ll tell me, ‘He can bang a bit, you better have a look!’ He’ll look up their records as well and I’ll watch them for two minutes, see what they look like, that’ll do me.
“I’ve heard of all the big names, but I’ve never watched them. I’ve never seen [Muhammad] Ali or [Mike] Tyson, it doesn’t interest me. It should really though because it’s my job isn’t it?”
It’s a dangerous and notoriously difficult career to make your way in – something McDonnell knows first-hand. The aforementioned problems with the first Kameda fight were bad enough, but in 2013 he was inexplicably stripped of the IBF title he had won against the vastly talented Julio Ceja.
Naturally, there are times when he questions his choices, particularly when he is boiling his 5ft 10in frame down to the bantamweight limit, but his mercenary-like outlook keeps him on track.
“Even now, at this level, it’s hard keeping on a strict diet, training two or three times a day when you’re tired, weak and fed up,” he said.
“I come home some days and think, ‘I can’t be arsed with this, I’ll go back to plastering [a job he used to hold],’ but then you fight and you get your money, so there’s no comparison.
“Just to get in the ring takes some knackers, especially on the telly in front of everyone. Some can cope with it, some can’t. I love the pressure.”
Like most British fighters, McDonnell served a stint in the unpaid ranks but admits he stopped at the age of 17 – until a year or so later when a friend told him he could earn £500 per fight if he turned over.
McDonnell duly did so and soon found himself fighting for the Lonsdale Belt against Chris Edwards.
“I remember fighting for the British title and earning £11,000 and jumping up from £2,000, it’s a lot of money. I didn’t even know what the British title was,” he admitted.
“He beat me, but I’d done 12 rounds and I remember feeling right proud for doing 12 rounds, I wasn’t bothered about the belt.
“When I fought for it the second time against Ian Napa and won, that was one of my proudest moments because it was my first major title [the vacant Commonwealth strap was also on the line]. Some people like to win it outright but I was offered a chance at other belts for more money, so I vacated and moved on.”
Jamie faces late substitute Fernando Vargas on Saturday night on the huge Charles Martin vs Anthony Joshua bill at the O2 Arena in London. And yes, Sky will be showing his fight this time.
“I think this [fight] will kick start the year. [Lee] Haskins has got the IBF title, maybe that’s a domestic fight that could happen in the summer.
“It all depends on what kind of money’s available, I might move up [to super-bantamweight] and try and catch the likes of [Scott] Quigg, [Carl] Frampton and [Nonito] Donaire. You have to time it right though. It’s not bad money at bantam but I could make a name for myself at super-bantam and make a lot of money.”
So if there are no historical milestones McDonnell wants to meet in boxing, what are his long-term goals?
The answer, by now, is obvious. However, he does not pursue cash just to splash it on lavish items, he merely wants to provide the best life possible for his young family, to whom he is fiercely dedicated.
“I always say, ‘Just get me the most money you can, I don’t care who it’s against.’ You’re getting punched in the face, you’re not going to do it for nothing. I’ve got to try and get as much as I can for my family,” he said.
“I’m going to get out on top, call it a day having earned enough money. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have all the belts in your cupboard, but at the end of the day they don’t pay the bills.
“Two or three more big fights, earn a couple of million say, set myself up and I’ll get out of the game. I’ve paid my house off now and I’m only 29, that’s what I always wanted to do when I started out.
“If I can come out of the game with a bit of something and my health, I’ll be happy. But if my career ended now, I’d be happy.”