The dream is still not over for former world title contender, Gavin McDonnell. The Doncaster-born fighter may be reaching the twilight of his career but is hoping there will be a resurgence later this year that will catapult him up the rankings once again. Despite this being put on hold due to COVID-19, the drive and determination is definitely still present.
“I’m looking at having a European title fight in October, so it’s my last chance to see what we can do. It’s still a bit up in the air with everything that’s going on, but I’ll be fit and ready for whenever they do give the green light. It was originally scheduled for Bilbao in Spain, so I’m presuming it will be the same. We got it all sorted and I was about to start training camp and then all of this happened.
I just want to fight this side of Christmas, I know I’ve got the title fight, it’s there for me and signed. I’ve watched a few of his fights (Andoni Gago), and if I could pick a style for my opponent it would be him. He’s short and the best me beats him comfortably and looks good doing it.”
A European title can open doors to the major world title stage. This would be his second European title, after winning the super-bantamweight version in 2015 against Ukrainian Alexander Egorov.
“It will be nice to end the year as a two-time, two-weight European champion then next year we can really crack on. If I win that, then all of a sudden, I’m back in the mix. I’m really glad Stefy pushed and got me the mandatory shot, I’ll be going to Spain and ticking off another box.”
Training during the current global situation has been difficult and he has now restarted his training with his trainer and long-time manager, Stefy Bull.
“Its been the same for everyone but it has been a bit of a strange one. I’ve been out running, its just the boxing side which has suffered and been affected. I’ve still got bits done here and there but now its just a case of going through the motions before my next fight. I’ve now started back with my trainer, Stefy Bull and we can train full time. When I started back in was just one-to-one. Not knowing when I was going to fight meant I could just go back and enjoy it. We’ve really started to get the wheels back in motion ready for my last push.”
As well as this, the lockdown has also provided Gavin with motivation to be in big fights once again.
“All this has made me realise just how good those special nights are and how good it is when you’re winning. That’s what I want back, and I have the opportunity to do that. I want to fight anyone at world level or in the top 10 and they need to be a big name to get my juices flowing. There might be bigger domestic fights, but I will just take one fight at a time. Firstly, I’ve got to get this European title, which will be a nice end to an awful year for everyone.”
There are a number of benefits to your brother also being a top contender in the same sport. Over the years the pair have gone on their respective journeys together and to this day, should you step into Stefy’s gym, you will probably find them training together.
“My brother was at my house everyday and if we’d have wanted to, we could have knocked lumps out of each other in the garden. We really motivate and inspire each other. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be in boxing. We’ve trained together and travelled the world together. We lived the dream, getting paid and having those big nights alongside your brother, not many people can say that!”
Should McDonnell have his hand raised in Bilbao, other things still need to happen before he can get back onto the world stage. As is widely known, boxing politics can often get in the way of a fighter’s progression, and he is under no illusion that it is up to him to put the pressure on the top contenders.
“The featherweight world titles are wrapped up with the superstars and all that. They aren’t going to be wanting to fight people like me, they want unifications so it’s up to me to get myself in positions where they have to. Although getting in a mandatory position will probably take too long for the stage, I’m at in my career. So, I’m not really looking for those titles anymore, I’ve had those chances, now I just want the glory and the big fights.
I just want a couple of big moments, I’m not here to pinch a few pounds here and there. There will be nothing more satisfying than retiring on a win and choosing when that is, instead of going one fight too many. I’ve got a year or 18 months left in me, which will be around 3 big fights still.”
When a fighter reaches the world stage, there is undoubtedly a lot of pressure on their shoulders, which McDonnell has experienced. However, after those defeats, the pressure is now off and he is just looking to roll the dice one last time.
“I used to put a lot of pressure on myself because I wanted everything so bad. But I’ve had my world title shot, so now I’m just going to enjoy the last part of my career and what will be will be. I’ve been there, seen and done it all but I won’t leave any stone unturned and I know for a fact when the time comes, I will be in the best shape. I’m just going to put the icing on what’s already a good career. I’m in it for the glory and if I didn’t believe I could be in major fights, I’d just knock it all on the head. I want it, and I know I have still got it in me. I still love the sport and everything about it.”
Another important member of his life is trainer Stefy Bull, who he joined up with last year after splitting with Dave Coldwell.
“I’d had a little bit of time out and Dave was asking me if I was thinking about knocking it all on the head, but I wasn’t really ready. I still had ambition to do well in the sport. I went down to train with Stefy for a few weeks and said I was going to roll the dice one last time and train with him. I started out with Stefy and now I’m finishing with him so I just want to give him some big nights too after everything he’s done for me. Stefy is my best mate outside of the gym, we are really close and I’m so happy we can finish together. We can be honest with each other and I know I can be straight up with him.”
British boxing is arguably at its greatest point, with a plethora of top contenders. It is hard not to notice the talent that is coming out of Doncaster currently, and there are dreams of a night at the Keepmoat Stadium.
“We talk about fighting there now, obviously with Terri doing so well and flying the women’s flag and my brother can drop straight into big fights. If I picked up the European title and Dave Allen got a good win, who’s to say Matchroom wouldn’t go to the Keepmoat. I’d love to fight in Doncaster again, I had a tune up fight there last year and it was nice to be back and have a bit of fun whilst giving back to the fans and family who’ve supported me. It’s always been my Brother and my dream to fight local together and It can still happen. Imagine all those big fighters from Doncaster on one huge show, that’s the dream.”
Women’s boxing, especially in Britain, is also thriving and one of the most exciting challengers is Terri Harper. Harper trains alongside Gavin at Stefy’s gym and he has definitely been impressed with what he has seen.
“She’s only ten fights in but she’s learning on the job, a bit like I did. She’s coming on faster than most have and handled it at only 23. She will get better and better as her confidence grows, I see her in the gym and she’s even better than she was two or three weeks ago. I look forward to watching her journey and its been really nice to be able to train with her and help her. We’ve been there and done it, so we like to pass some information onto her because we never had that when we were coming up as fighters. She’s like a sponge and soaks it all in, even little things and it’s really nice to be able to help. We can’t go to support her, unless we hang on Eddie Hearn’s fence, but we will be watching from home. Jonas is good but I just think Terri has can handle the pressure with her youth and ambition and she will beat her well.”
As mentioned previously, McDonnell has only lost two fights in his career which were both world title fights.
“I’ve only been beaten by two very good world champions, who are still doing well. Every other fight I’ve pulled it out the bag, it was just those two. Both fighters I’ve lost to have gone onto do well, which doesn’t make my loss look half as bad, especially when they unified!
I just know that I put everything into those fights to get that win but that wasn’t to be. When I first watched Roman, I thought I’d beat him easily, but his timing really surprised me. I got in there and he was so much better than I thought. I give him credit because he stopped me, which no one else has been able to do. Vargas, with his height and reach is probably better, but that would be a great fight to see.”
After losing the fight to Daniel Roman in Chicago, he found that there was not as much buzz around him leading him to feel as though he had been left in the cold by Matchroom.
“Before you know it six months have past, and you can become frozen out and a forgotten man. You then start doubting and questioning yourself which can put you on a bit of a downer and make you feel a bit depressed. You’re told what you want to hear, but it’s a business and there’s a conveyor belt of new fighters coming through. I’ve got no worth to them now, other than my name but I know how it works. Stefy really has perked me up and given me that confidence back, if he didn’t think I could do it he would tell me.”
After a loss, it is important to get back into the ring although it is sometimes hard to drop down a level after being in such big fights.
“It was a case of getting in and going through the motions. When you’ve been all over the world to train and in big fights, making championship weight, its hard to be as switched on for those tune up fights. I don’t really like them, there’s more to lose than gain but I needed a win to become mandatory.”
Not many fighters can claim to have had a career to the level of McDonnell. It’s clear from speaking to him that the dedication to the sport has not waived, and he most importantly still wants to create lasting memories for his friends, family & fans.