Gavin McDonnell once again has the opportunity to become a European champion and it is exactly the chance he has been waiting for as he targets another run at world title glory, albeit up in the featherweight division.
Two-time world title challenger McDonnell, who previously won the EBU belt down at super-bantam, will travel to Spain to take on Andoni Gago on March 26 in Badalona and, for the Doncaster star, it is a chance to once again fully focus on a meaningful fight.
The 34-year-old’s last major contest was back in 2018 where he came up short in a tough encounter with Daniel Roman, who eventually stopped the resilient Yorkshireman in 10 rounds. McDonnell (22-2-2, 6 KOs) is in no doubt though that his move up to 126lbs will reap swift rewards.
“It’s been over two years since I’ve had a meaningful fight when I was in Chicago [vs Roman]. I obviously would have been there quicker is it wasn’t for the pandemic, but everyone was in the same boat. It’s good to have that feeling of a proper camp and something to really push for again,” McDonnell told Boxing Social.
“It’ll be interesting to see how I do at featherweight, as I’ve not had to properly make the weight yet. Although it’s been so long since I’ve made the weight properly, it’s just good to be back in that mindset once more. I’m confident that at this weight, I’ll be bigger and stronger than him and I’ll be leaving a two-weight European champion.”
Gago is by no means a heralded champion but he will enter the clash having not lost since he was stopped in nine rounds by Lee Selby back in 2017. He won the EBU belt back in 2019, although the quality of his opposition will certainly be called into question.
McDonnell is positive that a victory over Gago will be a stepping stone back to world level where he ultimately wants to be. The added bonus of a big win abroad has not escaped him, as he looks to add another chapter to an over-achieving career that was never expected to get out of the starting blocks.
He was never a highly touted amateur, in fact his lack of amateur career makes his achievements more impressive, a fact that doesn’t escape the Doncaster man. McDonnell is certain that his experience of the big occasion will be a defining factor on the night against Gago.
“Gago looks decent. He’s smaller than me though and I do think that everything is in my favour,” said McDonnell. “But he’s the champion for a reason, so I’m going to have go out there and beat him well and in style, as with this win I can push to where I want to be and get back up to world level.
“That’s what I want and winning this fight puts me in a great position to do that. The best me beats Gago every day and this win will open some doors for me. It’ll be another box ticked in my career to go abroad and win a good fight for a big title.
“Looking at my career, I’m proud. I can sit back and say, ‘Look at what I’ve done’. I’ve fought for world titles and won plenty of fights that not many people thought I would have done. I’m proof that no matter how hard you work, no matter what your ability, you can achieve.
“I’ve always had the skill but the difference maker is my frame of mind above anything else. I will always push myself and I’ve also now been in those big fights and I’ve experienced boxing at the top level. I’ve lost at the top and I know what it takes to get there. I’m still fresh and full of belief I can get back up there and win some big fights.”
Since his defeat to Roman, McDonnell has recruited his long-time friend and manager Stefy Bull as his trainer. Bull has experienced plenty of success in recent years, in particular with Terri Harper who holds the women’s WBC and IBO super-featherweight titles and is very much being pushed as a future star.
He takes over from Dave Coldwell, who helped drive McDonnell to victory on some of those big occasions, but the two have since gone their separate ways and Bull is back in the driving seat. Pre-pandemic, McDonnell returned with two wins but his momentum was knocked off the rails when Covid-19 put the sport on lockdown.
Now with boxing having returned, McDonnell has been thrust back into title contention and it is exactly where he wants to be. He is full of belief that he will not be denied and that Gago is not going to be prepared for the level of competition that he will be bringing to Badalona.
“Stefy has always been there and has always been my manager, but most importantly he’s my best mate,” said McDonnell. “I went elsewhere for a while with Dave Coldwell, but he wanted a different path for me and I’ve now been able to go back to Stefy. I knew at some point in my career we would be back together and now we’ve got the chance to have some more big nights together.
“We’ve had a couple of wins since we reunited, over Jason Speight and Nathan Kirk, and I needed them but there isn’t that much motivation for them. But you can’t take your eye off the ball, no matter who it is in the opposite corner and now I’m back in one of those fights that really drive you on.
“I’m used to these occasions and I’m not just going to help boost his profile. I’m going to rip the belt off him. He’s had a couple of fights during this pandemic but that level of opposition is not going to be the same as me. I’m 100% on this and I’m leaving the champion.”
The trip to Spain bears plenty of similarities to Gavin’s twin brother Jamie, who was then the British bantamweight champion and travelled to France to upset the odds and defeat Jerome Arnould to win the European title. It was a win that kickstarted Jamie on his path to winning world titles.
It is a story that has been repeated many times in boxing, but during the celebrations that night Gavin declared he was going to emulate his brother’s achievements, despite never stepping through the ropes to have a pro fight himself and being far removed from his brief amateur career.
It was the start of a special story for Gavin, who has exceeded all expectations, but now he is aware of what it takes to reach the summit in boxing. He’s proven many wrong before and he’s more than ready to do it all again, starting with a win over Gago on March 26.
McDonnell concluded: “My mentally has always been the same. I won’t turn down a fight and Stefy knows that, as do MTK [Global] who are now backing me. I’ll roll with whatever is thrown my way, but I do know that I’ve done enough to not just jump in for any fight now. I want the right fights for my career to push me where I want to be. I’m not in this for the money, I earn well outside of boxing as well, but I am in this for the glory.
“This is a chance for me to have a moment like Jamie had. We’re both happy to go abroad and he’s won on foreign soil in France, so now I’m going to do it as well in Spain. People within boxing know that trip was the beginning of my career, when he won his European title.
“I thought if he could do it, so could I. I hadn’t even been in the gym for a few years but I proved it when I won my first European title. I could turn around and say, ‘I told you so’ and now I’m going to do it again to those people who thought I was finished after the Roman fight.
“I’ll have that one over him after March 26 when I’ll have done it in a second weight division. There hasn’t been much belief in me and everyone always doubts that’s I’m going to win fights, but time and time again I’ve proven them all wrong. I’ll do it again when I walk away from Spain with that European title around my waist.”
Main image: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.