Camden Council caretaker to a boxing champion, the story of Jim McDonnell

Simon O'Donnell (right) with trainer Jim McDonnell

Simon O'Donnell (right) with trainer Jim McDonnell - Credit: Gavin Ellis/TGSPHOTO

James McDonnell, affectionately referred to as “Jimmy Mac” among the capital’s boxing fraternity, was born on September, 12, 1960 and hailed from Camden Town.

James DeGale and trainer Jim McDonnell during the work out at Stonebridge ABC, London.

James DeGale and trainer Jim McDonnell during the work out at Stonebridge ABC, London. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Having just turned 60 years of age we reflect on his achievements in the ring in the amateur and professional codes.

As a youngster he was keen on football and boxing, with the latter finally winning him over when he joined St Pancras ABC.

McDonnell had a very successful career with the north London club, reaching three national senior ABA finals, boxing for England and also securing a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane in 1982.

He lost his first two ABA bantamweight finals, first on points in 1979 against Renard Aston (Vauxhall Motors ABC), then a year later via a second round stoppage at the hands of the very talented Ray Gilbody (St Helens ABC); before finally coming good in 1982.

Then boxing at lightweight, he outpointed Gary Felvus (Keighley ABC) at Wembley Arena to finally become ABA champion.

A few months after his ABA final triumph he was in Australia, representing England at lightweight in the Commonwealth Games and boxed three times to reach the final, outpointing Zambia’s Oscar Nkhata, Ugandan William Galiwango and the host country’s Brian Tink.

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In the final McDonnell met the tall rangy southpaw, Hussein “Juba” Khalili from Kenya, and a thrilling battle ensued.

The Kenyan, a world-class performer, got the nod eventually and McDonnell returned home with a silver medal.

It was soon time to leave the amateur code and working as a caretaker for Camden Council, as “Jimmy Mac” made his professional debut at the famous old York Hall fight venue in Bethnal Green on March 22, 1983, outpointing Phil Duke over six rounds.

McDonnell became part of the successful Terry Lawless stable and was promoted for much of his career by Mickey Duff’s National Promotions; although in the latter stages of his paid career he came under the promotional wing of fast rising Barry Hearn’s Matchroom empire.

Boxing regularly at featherweight at the major London fight venues, McDonnell’s neat pressure fighting style attracted fight support in north London and across the capital too as he continued steadily to learn and hone his trade, before landing his first paid title, the Southern Area crown against Clyde Ruan on March 26, 1985 at Wembley Arena, 99.5-96.5 on points.

He was now well on his way in the hardest game and it was also an eliminator for the British title.

Two contests later, Jim was the European featherweight champion, knocking out Spaniard Jose Luis Vicho inside four rounds to claim the vacant belt at Wembley Arena on Bonfire Night 1985.

A successful defence of his European crown followed in July 1996 against Italian challenger Salvatore Bottiglieri at Wembley Stadium, with McDonnell winning 118-115, 119-115, 120-116.

Still undefeated and seven fights later McDonnell boxed the very classy South African Brian Mitchell, who held the WBA super-featherweight strap.

The contest took place at the Elephant & Castle Leisure Centre in south east London in November 1988 and was Jim’s first paid loss as Mitchell kept his crown 119-113, 117-112, 118-110.

But it was a valiant attempt from the Camden man against clearly a superior and more skilful opponent.

Now under Hearn’s banner, McDonnell faced former WBA world featherweight champion Barry McGuigan – the “Clones Cyclone” – at the G Mex Centre in Manchester on May 31, 1989, stopping the former world champion, with a bad cut over the right eye after one minute and 43 seconds of the fourth round of a scheduled 10-rounder.

Next up for “Jimmy Mac” on Bonfire Night 1989 at the Royal Albert Hall in London was the fabulous Azumah Nelson from Ghana, who was over to defend his WBC super-featherweight title.

An immense and pulsating battle ensued, as McDonnell was down four times in all and was knocked out after one minute 40 seconds of the 12th and final round. Judges were split when the end came, two going for the champion with scores of 106-102, with the Swiss judge going for McDonnell by the same tally.

Ten months later and back at the Royal Albert Hall, McDonnell was knocked out in four rounds by useful American, Kenny Vice from Louisiana, in his last ring hurrah for almost eight years.

The curtain finally came down on his ring career in Kosice, Slovakia of all places on February 20, 1998, as he lost a six-round points against Slovakian Peter Feher to finish with 26 victories and just four defeats.