McDonnell retains British crown after draw with warrior Wale

Gavin McDonnell and Josh Wale in their British super bantamweight title fight
Gavin McDonnell and Josh Wale in their British super bantamweight title fight
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It was a decision that drew boos from the crowd, angering thousands who were desperate for a conclusive outcome.

Gavin McDonnell retained his British super bantamweight crown after a split draw decision following 12 hellacious rounds with South Yorkshire rival Josh Wale in Leeds.

As frustrating as the lack of a clear winner the scoring delivered was, it was the perfect summation of a bout where there was rarely more than a gnat’s whisker between two incredible warriors.

It may not have been the most palatable outcome but it was probably the right one.

Neither man deserved to lose, both men had strong claims to the win, each due to contrasting factors.

It was a battle between brutality and skill, strength and accuracy. Ultimately, whichever aspect of boxing you judge to be the superior would determine which fighter you thought was the victor.

For this writer, McDonnell had the most slight of edges, particularly after finishing with three strong rounds and being the more obviously accurate fighter throughout.

But there were no surprises – nor any arguments – with any of the three judges’ scorecards which handed both men victory by a round plus a level score.

Wale could feel aggrieved at being denied his dream of becoming British champion after punishing McDonnell for much of the bout.

He insisted he had learned lessons from his defeat to McDonnell in their final eliminator clash last September and just 30 seconds into the rematch, he showed he was true to his word.

Eight months ago Wale was slightly disappointing as he lacked the aggression and strength from which he has made his name.

There nothing to be disappointed about from the Brampton scrapper this time around.

He walked McDonnell down from the first bell to the last, never giving him the time to establish the lasting control which proved Wale’s downfall in the first meeting.

Wale gave absolutely everything in his quest to make real an 18-year dream. He can be immensely proud of his effort.

It was a fight, televised live on Sky, where both men did their profiles no end of good. The warrior Wale. The skilful McDonnell.

The opening rounds were incredibly tight. Wale pressured in the first but McDonnell’s defences were tight while he managed to get a few shots away.

The second was fast and furious with some tremendous exchanges. McDonnell had the better of the shots including a rattling right hook and a decent uppercut.

But the Doncaster fighter ended the round with blood seeping from a cut on his left brow.

McDonnell looked to be on an upward curve in the third as he controlled the third, quietening Wale’s aggression with good accuracy and smart boxing.

Wale himself was left nursing swelling under his right eye by the end of the round.

He shifted the tide back in his favour after the midpoint of the fourth, imposing himself once again.

Wale won the fifth by a mile, his aggression and spite at its peak.

At his lowest points in the fight, McDonnell engaged Wale too closely rather than attempting to force space by using the jab.

With Wale throwing the big shots, McDonnell often found himself a little overwhelmed though he never once looked like being tumbled.

Wale increasingly began to find the left hook to which his foe had little answer,

McDonnell responded superbly in the sixth, producing some fantastic combinations to rise again in the rollercoaster contest.

The seventh was another close affair, McDonnell continuing his patient and considered work through the first minute before Wale roared back to finish strongly, including landing a big right hook that looked to have done some damage.

Wale was on song and dominated the eighth round, his left hook continuing to meet little resistance with McDonnell sending little back the other way.

It was a simply stunning ninth round performance from Wale as he wrestled full control to leave his trainer and dad Mick beaming in the corner at the end.

The big shots consistently found their way through McDonnell’s guard, rattling the champion and forcing him on the run.

Just when it seemed as though McDonnell was losing his grip on the belt, he steadied himself and went back to his considered worth to halt Wale’s charge in the tenth.

His accuracy improved, something which continued into the 11th when he finally began to fight in the way he should have been throughout.

McDonnell tagged Wale repeatedly and moved, not allowing himself to be backed up but rather dictating the flow himself. The penultimate round was undoubtedly his best.

The resilience and fitness of both men was incredible. Both absorbed barrages of shots and despite the breathless pace of the bout, had the energy to maintain their workrate until the final bell.

The close nature of the bout was emphasised by the way both men went for it in the final round, neither confident enough in what they had done in the previous 33 minutes to go on the defensive.

McDonnell’s control ensured he edged the final round as Wale became a little scrappy in his chase.

Both men raised their arms at the final bell. No one at ringside had any real idea which man would have his hand raised by referee Howard Foster at judgement time.

In the end Foster would raise both men’s hands, to the displeasure of the crowd.

Wale was obviously the more disappointed as McDonnell walked away still clutching his crown.

But the pride of Barnsley will take some solace from the fact he pushed McDonnell close enough over 12 thrilling rounds to secure a third chance of downing his local rival.

The anticipation for the first rematch was simmering. By September’s planned third chapter, it will have reached boiling point.