Features, Opinion

Respect, criticism, and Jamie McDonnell

McDonnell vs Inoue

Literal Japanese “monster” Naoya Inoue announced himself to a whole new audience on May 25 when he wasted little time extinguishing any perceived threat carried by emaciated WBA bantamweight titleholder Jamie McDonnell.

Inoue did precisely what you need to do against such an opponent; hit him hard and often and get rid of him before he has a chance to present any significant issues.

After the bout, debate raged on Twitter about McDonnell’s struggle to make weight, his general preparations and where his career goes from here. Some pointed toward his trainer, Dave Coldwell, and all manner of explanations were posited. It was also said in some quarters that McDonnell deserved more respect than he gets from the boxing community and that his loss should be written off with minimal negative analysis.

Let’s look at those two claims. Firstly, I think McDonnell gets plenty of respect. In 2015 he travelled to Texas on two separate occasions to defeat Japan’s Tomoki Kameda in fights he was expected to lose. To think that this was the same fighter who in 2007/2008 lost back-to-back British title level bouts to the late Chris Edwards and Lee Haskins respectively emphasises what a remarkable double victory Jamie had managed to pull off.

How many times have you heard the phrase, “any man that ever steps inside the ring automatically deserves respect”?

If McDonnell is not getting hometown assignments, then that is hardly down to the whims of online commenters. If he’s getting sent on the road all the time then maybe people need to look at his promotional team and ask them why this is the case. Is he a draw in his hometown? Does he sell tickets? There must be a reason why he has to keep stamping his passport so frequently.

The old chestnut of respect within boxing is a difficult one. How many times have you heard the phrase, “any man that ever steps inside the ring automatically deserves respect”? Ninety-nine per cent of the time of course this rings true. It’s far removed from the remit of an indolent,
couch-dwelling waster to sit and discuss bottle, bravery and balls when physically-refined pugilists go to war for our entertainment on a weekly basis. But this should not mean that a cloak of protection is veiled over every boxer whenever they climb inside the ropes, shielding him or her from every ounce of debate or criticism.

There are varying levels to this, and it is often a fairly taboo issue. Three years ago I was at a small hall show and witnessed a Latvian journeyman, with multiple early losses strewn across his lopsided slate, capitulate rather undramatically just 25 seconds into a scheduled six-rounder. Boxing a local prospect, the visitor cupped his gloves around his head at the first sign of force and slumped into the corner without a meaningful punch being landed. He sat there and was subsequently counted out by a bemused referee as the capacity crowd mumbled discontentedly. Such was the chagrin at this submission, the show promoter took to the microphone to apologise to the crowd for such a feeble display and promised that opponents of this ilk would not be invited back.

Can you put Nicholas Walters’ infamous retirement job in the same category as Jorge Linares’ stirring effort against Lomachenko?

Stepping through the ropes was just about all this unnamed professional journeyman did that evening and even though he bears absolutely no resemblance to somebody of McDonnell’s reputation and standing in the sport (they are quite simply worlds apart), should he be exempt from criticism?

Anyone having witnessed me stepping between the ropes over the years would be entirely justified in criticising such feeble attempts at someone trying to box their way out of a wet paper bag. There’s a good reason why we should leave it to the professionals.

The point is, like anything in boxing or life in general, there are levels to this issue, and it cannot always be painted in black and white terms as is often the case on the wonderful bastion of free speech that is social media. Different actions or performances from fighters should really be placed in context and are often not so easily defined.

Can you put Nicholas Walters’ infamous retirement job in the same category as Jorge Linares’ stirring effort against Lomachenko? Was Alfredo Angulo deciding that he just couldn’t give anymore against Erislandy Lara, given the extent of his physical injuries, an acceptable get-out? What’s a more admissible retirement route – Kell Brook’s eye or Guillermo Rigondeaux’s hand? When Arturo Gatti physically crumbled against Alfonso Gomez at the end of his career, after going to the well time and time again for many years, is he forever to be labelled as a quitter? These are the questions we have to take into account when assessing certain fights, fighters and decisions made in the heat of battle, with nothing more than a split second of grace to weigh up all of the consequences.

One thing I will commend McDonnell on is his capacity to travel the world as a “road warrior”. The Doncaster man is part of an auspicious club of globetrotters who have ploughed a furrow across the earth in an attempt to capture championship glory or, in many cases, make some coin and feed a family back home.

Glen Johnson
Glen Johnson

Arriving in Florida aged 15, Jamaican Glen Johnson picked up the gloves late and amassed a respectable amateur career before turning to the paid pro ranks. After winning many of his early bouts in his adopted home state, Johnson did not have the following or promotional backing required to coax the big names into his backyard and plied his trade on the road in search of title opportunities.

Across a remarkable 77-bout career that began in 1993 and only ended as recently as 2015, Johnson boxed the likes of Bernard Hopkins, Sven Ottke (in Germany), Silvio Branco (in Italy) and returned to Germany to knockout undefeated Thomas Ulrich.

Johnson made a reputation for giving his all in every contest and represented a tough opponent even at the advanced stages of his career. Glen had three fights with Clinton Woods, all in England, that resulted in a win apiece after an initial draw. He knocked out Roy Jones Jr and outpointed Antonio Tarver during a sensational 2004 with all of these wins coming away from any recognisable home base.

Even at the end of his career, Johnson was busy extending prospects and taking lumps off contenders in such far-flung destinations as Congo, Denmark and Puerto Rico. This is a man who deserves the highest of praise for his ring achievements as many of them came when the odds were stacked against him, in situations where he was merely brought over to lose.

Finally, a man who was not averse to packing his suitcase and jetting across the water to upset a hometown hero or two (or four as it turned out) was a certain Affif Djelti.

After losing his first four pro contests, it was hard to see the rugged French-Algerian doing anything of note in the professional ranks, but Djelti is a classic example of brushing off losses, learning from experience and getting on with the job.

Boxing from 1990-2004, Djelti was in his 41st year when he travelled over to Carlisle to upset local boxer Charlie Shepherd with a six-round KO. Djelti was physically strong, could punch a bit and had previously displayed durability in his previous visits to UK shores, in the form of a 1997 points loss to current BoxNation pundit Barry Jones and a 1999, 12-round decision loss to the talented Colin Dunne. Given that Djelti had in his previous bout negotiated the distance with the extremely heavy-handed Jorge Barrios in Argentina, Shepherd’s handlers should’ve known that the visitor was a handful.

Sensing the Shepherd fight was an aberration, UK promoters Matchroom were eager to invite the Frenchman back to try and relieve him of the IBO title he had acquired from Shepherd (the IBO and WBU belts were must-have items back then on SKY). They matched Djelti with Scotland’s unbeaten Ian McLeod, only for Djelti to defeat McLeod on points.

Affif doled out a holy trinity of defeats against UK prospects when just three months later he returned (in Coventry) to knock out local man Dean Pithie in the same sixth round he had dispensed with Charlie Shepherd.

In 2001 Matchroom put up Alex Moon as the final roadblock to Djelti’s glorious IBO reign and he got rid of Moon by knockout in -you guessed it- round six!

Suffice to say, Djelti was never brought back across the water again and instead busied himself by winning the European title and defending it on the road – he was well into his forties by this point.

In 2003 the travelling puncher finally landed a big fight in his native land, defending the EBU belt in his hometown of Rouen. Unaccustomed to fighting in front of his own people no doubt, ironically Djelti was knocked out by Boris Sinitsin and retired soon after.

Operating at the time as a fledgeling reporter and commentator on Sky, Adam Smith said after the Moon fight that Djelti had acquired a certain level of respect among British fight fans for his stirring visits. So there is a lesson to be learned in all of this after all. Maybe it’s best that Jamie McDonnell just keeps on fighting on the road, enhancing his reputation through appreciation and gaining respect the hard way.

Steve Wellings
Honorary graduate of the Prison Canteen. Covering boxing since 2005 ~ Wolves fan ~ wannabe boxing raconteur.

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