THE latest Ultimate Boxxer features a former Olympian looking to push his career along. Steven Donnelly is included in the line up for Friday’s (September 20) super-welterweight tournament at London’s O2 Indigo – after he pestered the promoters on social media.
The 31-year-old from Ballymena is 5-0 (1) and has a proven track record over three rounds. He had 110 amateur bouts after taking up boxing at 13, many in internationals. Donnelly won bronze at the Commonwealth Games in both 2014, at welterweight, and last year, at middleweight.
On his way to bronze in Glasgow, Donnelly was a unanimous points winner over Custio Clayton, a Canadian who’s ranked in the top 10 by both the IBF and WBO after winning all 17 fights.
The highlight for Donnelly was his appearance at the Rio Olympics. He qualified through World Series of Boxing and missed out on a medal in Rio after losing a split to Mohammed Rabii in the quarter finals. Donnelly thought he did enough to defeat Morocco’s 2015 World champion – and says he wants to put the record straight in the pros. Rabii is currently 9-0.
Donnelly, trained at Belfast’s Glennon ABC by Gerard McManus, is 5ft 10 ½ ins tall and describes himself as “a very fast counter puncher who can switch.”
There’s weight behind his counter punches as well. At the 2014 Commonwealth Games, he took around 30 seconds to unravel Pakistan’s Hassan Asif with right hands.
“This is what I needed,” said Donnelly of Ultimate Boxxer. “It’s got me motivated. This can take me where I want to be. I have been training hard just to fight journeymen who weren’t throwing back and making me look bad. It’s not enjoyable fighting journeymen, it does nothing for me. The money isn’t great either.
“When this came up, I was all over Facebook, Twitter and Instagram telling the promoters I wanted to be in it.
“I thought my next fight was going to be another six-rounder against a journeyman at Ulster Hall, nothing that was going to get me motivated.
“This is a huge opportunity to be seen and recognised – and I had to get myself in it.”
The promoters must have been impressed by Donnelly’s credentials. His CV is way better than anyone else in the line up, including quarter-final opponent Aaron “Bam Bam” Collins, a southpaw from Frimley who only took up boxing four years ago after losing five stones and has compiled a 6-0 record against journeymen.
Donnelly is a huge step up from the opponents Collins has faced so far and while there’s always the chance that over three rounds, Donnelly could be outhustled, he showed as an amateur he can box, fight and his boxing IQ is high.
If, as has to be expected, Donnelly beats Collins, he will face either Kent southpaw Lewis Syrett (6-0) or Sean Robinson (9-0-1) in the last four. Robinson is the Southern Area champion at 154lbs and a clever boxer. He won the vacant belt in March with a points win over lofty Marleybone southpaw Josh Ejakpovi, who is also in the Ultimate Boxxer line up. The score was a too wide 98-92 and had the fight only been over three rounds, a case could be made for Ejakpovi nicking it. In the dying seconds of the third, he had Robinson on the seat of his trunks with a well-timed back hand.
Over 10, Robinson, a 23-year-old from Ruislip who’s since kept the belt by drawing with hard-as-nails John Brennan, had the time to find his range and figure out a difficult opponent. Ejakpovi (12-1) is a tall – 6ft 1ins – left hander with long arms who likes to wait and counter. Against Robinson, he couldn’t go through the gears in the second half of the fight when it was slipping away from him, much to the disappointment of manager Mickey Helliet.
Helliet thought that was a winnable fight for Ejakpovi and 33 year-old Josh, nicknamed “Hollywood” because he’s had parts in films, rolls the dice again. Over three rounds, he could be hard to beat. He will be fancied to beat the willing Kaan Hawes, whose sole defeat in seven (one draw) came in Ultimate Boxxer in May, against Kieron Conway.
The winner of Ejakpovi-Hawes meets either Kingsley Egbunike (4-0) or Lenny Fuller (5-0) in the semi-finals. From Maidstone, Fuller came to the pros via the unlicensed circuit and looks full of fight, while Egbunike appears a more textbook boxer. The winner is likely to be whoever controls the pace.
Given his amateur credentials, Donnelly has to be the favourite to prevail, possibly with victory over the cagey, hard-to-get-to Ejakpovi in the final.
The Verdict Hard to look past Donnelly as the latest winner of this entertaining tournament.