Gavin McDonnell set to go to Hull and back again for world title dream
He may be Doncaster through and through but Gavin McDonnell has a certain affinity with Hull.
More specifically the city’s Ice Arena where he will once again compete this weekend.
So far it is two fights for two vacant titles and two wins at the Humberside venue.
Ideal then that he will contest the vacant WBC super bantamweight title with Rey Vargas on Saturday night in the very same arena.
Plenty has changed for the 30-year-old since he last stepped out into the tightly-packed, atmospheric hall.
No longer is he known as Jamie McDonnell’s twin, the fighter looking to follow in the footsteps of his world class brother.
This weekend he will be Gavin McDonnell, the main event star, out to show that he himself is world class by claiming one of the WBC’s famous green belts.
On the wall of his home in Hatfield is a large canvas picture from his first appearance in Hull, almost three years ago to the day.
Around his waist is the Lord Lonsdale belt - the British title he claimed that night by stopping the fancied Leigh Wood.
When he started out his journey as a professional boxer, with no amateur experience worth speaking of, few would have expected a British title would have been in his future.
So when he did achieve that, it could so easily have been the pinnacle of his boxing career.
But McDonnell says it was only the beginning.
“From that night to these next three years, it was just the start of the main part,” he said.
“I was so happy to win that British title.
“I could have retired after winning the European title because that is what I wanted to do.
“It all started for me the night our kid won the European title and I said I could do it as well.
“But every fight and every win moves the goalposts and sets them further away.
“You lift your goals and think ‘when I win this, I’ll want another.’
“It’s the same with this world title. I’ll want another and then it’ll be another weight.
“I’d like to eventually retire on top, on my own terms but it all depends.
“I could happily retire after winning this world title but then I’ll want to set myself up for life.
“I do want the belt more than anything but I know with the belt will come the money.”
Talk of money does not last long in this conversation. The prestige of winning a world title, and a WBC one at that, has McDonnell as excited as he has ever been for a fight.
This is a lad who was out drinking – and drinking a lot – at weekends while his brother was making his own way up the boxing pyramid.
And this is a lad who struggled to move himself out of his brother’s shadow as he tried to make his own way in the sport.
A world title of his own was never on the agenda for McDonnell. Yet he has earned his shot, and done so in just 18 fights.
“When I go out running in the streets, I think about it and get a bit emotional,” he said.
“It’s the dream. My dream is to fight for a world title but this is the WBC, the ultimate.
“I’ve got the chance to go out there and put myself on the same level as our kid.
“No one ever believed in me.
“But I believed in myself and I worked hard for it.
“It just shows that if you do all you can then you can get there.
“I just think it’s meant to be.
“That’s why it doesn’t put the fear into me, fighting an unbeaten Mexican banger.
“I know our kid did it to win his first world title.
“I don’t want to be given anything. I just want to be respected. I want to be talked about in the same way our kid is.”
There is no doubting that McDonnell is up against it as he chases his dream this weekend.
Opponent Vargas is undefeated, stopping 22 of his 28 opponents and is widely regarded as the top up-and-comer in the weight division.
The 26-year-old is trained by the much-respected Hall of Famer Nacho Beristain, whose previous charges include the great Oscar De La Hoya.
McDonnell himself is under no illusions about the size of the task facing him this weekend, accepting he is the underdog.
“I’m just expecting the hardest fight of my life,” he said.
“He’s going to be big, fast, sharp. He can bang. It’s everything you don’t want.
“He’s very good and I’ve not got size on him like I’ve had with others.
“He might not have fought at a massively high level but if someone has got it in them to be world class, you’ve got to start somewhere.
“This could be his first test. It could be mine.
“He’s had more fights but I’ve had good fights, against good fighters.
“Him coming over here might be key. No home advantage, no home comforts or home support.
“I’ve got all that in my favour and it might lift me, it might be the difference.”
McDonnell is never satisfied with his own performances and it is arguably that heavy self-criticism that has taken him so far in his career.
In the past he has had to be reined in during camps to ensure he is not over-training and he is constantly thinking and analysing.
So the idea that he could drive away from Hull this weekend without the WBC title is something he cannot bear to contemplate.
“I’m suicidal half the time when I win and think I could do better,” he said.
“When I win and I know I could do better, I feel down.
“I’m my own biggest critic. You know how good you can be.
“I’ve had loads of little testers, even tune up fights and you get hit with silly little shots that wind you up.
“What it does do is give you a big kick up the a**e for this one.
“I know I’ve got to be 100 per cent for this fight.”
Contemplating victory is much easier than defeat and McDonnell has no trouble doing that.
He is daring to dream. And who can blame him?
“When I win it, I’m probably going to shed a few tears.
“I’m quite an emotional man anyway.
“I won’t cry in the ring I don’t think but I’ll definitely shed a tear in the changing room and I’ll probably cry all weekend.
“But I’ll be crying champagne and I’ll be doing that for two weeks solid.
“It’s going to be a great night. I think about it all the time.
“And I get a bit emotional because this is the dream.
“There’s not many people I know can say they’ve fulfilled their dream.
“This is my mine and I’m so close to living that dream which is why I’m going to do everything possible.
“I think it’s written in the stars.”