The Pugilist

The world champion Britain didn’t know it had

The Pugilist

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Jamie McDonnell celebrates world title glory in Doncaster (Getty)

While Carl Froch took the plaudits and counted up the pay-per-view customers in the wake of his much-hyped revenge win over Mikkel Kessler, Jamie McDonnell made his way back from a well-earned holiday in Spain and was probably able to stroll through the airport unmolested.

McDonnell won the vacant IBF bantamweight title at the Keepmoat Stadium in his home town of Doncaster on May 10 with an impressive victory over then-unbeaten Mexican Julio Ceja.

Yet outside of boxing’s cognoscenti and his local community, his achievement has gone largely unnoticed.

It seems almost appropriate for a boxer who, it is said, failed to recognise Sugar Ray Leonard at a WBC convention in America – and it seems unlikely that it will bother him one iota.

Unable to secure TV interest in the Ceja fight, McDonnell’s promoter and manager Dennis Hobson used his own money to buy three hours of airtime on Primetime pay-per-view channel, and ticket sales for the bout were only able to reach around the 3,000 mark.

But Hobson was left smiling after his fighter saw off a tough opponent with a well-deserved majority decision.

McDonnell’s trajectory has been nothing but upward since losing back-to-back fights five years ago. After beating Ian Napa by a decision to take the British and Commonwealth titles early in 2010, he took over Napa’s next projected bout – a European title showdown with Jerome Arnould in the Frenchman’s back yard – for which even fight promoter Frank Maloney figured him an outsider, according to McDonnell.

But the Doncaster man stopped his opponent, and after four successful defences of the European strap stepped up to win an IBF world title eliminator against Nicaraguan Darwin Zamora, which in turn set up the Ceja fight for Leo Santa Cruz’ vacated belt.

Despite being just 20, Ceja came into the bout with a fearsome reputation and an unblemished record, having KOed 22 of his 24 opponents, which meant McDonnell was a 9/5 outsider to take the title.

The man Mexican boxing fans call “The Little Chicken” is anything but, brimming with tremendous self-belief and taking the fight to McDonnell in the opening rounds.

Nevertheless the Englishman soon got his game-plan going, keeping Ceja at bay behind his impressive jab, and getting some combinations going on the smaller boxer as the fight progressed.

Using his fast hands and excellent ring mobility, McDonnell was able to frustrate his opponent, whose shots were made to miss with increasing regularity.

When Ceja did connect, as he did to good effect on three occasions in the eleventh round, the Doncaster man simply ate up the hits and regained control – to the extent that he might have even stopped Ceja in the final stanza.

Holger Weimann of Germany scored the bout a draw, which seemed harsh on McDonnell; but with Alfredo Polanco of Mexico giving it to him 115-113 and Brit Dave Parris scoring it a frankly incredible 118-110, Doncaster had its first world champion. For the record, I made it 116-112 in McDonnell’s favour.

Not being a huge power-puncher, and very much being a boxer that uses smarts as much as heart to get by, the new champion may take a while to become box office gold or build up the following of Britain’s other current titlists, Froch, Nathan Cleverly and Ricky Burns.

However, at 5’8” McDonnell is tall for a bantamweight, and uses his reach and mobility to good effect, keeping opponents at arm’s length and making them miss, and opening up attacking opportunities for himself.

He also seems very naturally fit, able to make the weight comfortably, and blessed with stamina – four of his last six bouts have gone the distance with no obvious ill-effect on his performances.

He therefore seems to have a good chance of achieving his stated aim of unifying the 118lbs division, which is arguably lacking in superstars, especially after Santa Cruz moved up to junior featherweight (though Anselmo Moreno, the WBA “Super” champion, could prove a tough nut to crack).

It won’t be too long before McDonnell stops being the “invisible champion” and gets the recognition and respect he deserves for being one of Britain’s great and exciting belt-holders.

Chas Early | Follow on Twitter

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