The Big Interview: Jamie McDonnell tackles the weight issue as he reveals what happened in build-up to Naoya Inoue fight
It needed just one glance to know something was not right.
Granted, it has been a long time since Jamie McDonnell last looked good when he has stepped onto the scales for a weigh-in. Making the 118lb bantamweight limit has been a well-documented battle for several years.
But last Thursday in Tokyo was different. He had never looked as bad before.
His face was so drawn, his eyes so sunken, it could only be compared to the look of a starving man – an image more typical of an urgent charity appeal rather than a vision of athletic excellence.
Here he was, 18 hours away from what had been rightly termed the toughest fight of his career, the biggest threat to a four-year reign as WBA bantamweight champion, and nearly six thousand miles from home to boot.
But the 32-year-old looked like he should be rushing to hospital rather than preparing to step in a boxing ring.
So, there was little surprise when, less than two minutes into his clash with pound-for-pound star Naoya Inoue, McDonnell’s title reign was over. Ended on a stoppage after twice being put down by Japan’s latest fighting sensation.
The least surprised person in the whole equation – McDonnell himself.
After his battle to make the weight and what occurred between the weigh-in and first bell on fight night, he was far from confident of retaining his title.
“Everything went perfect – the training, the camp. The one thing that went wrong was the day of the weigh-in,” he told the Free Press.
“I had to get the last little bit of weight off but for probably the last two or three pounds it just started slowing down.
“It was just a chore. It killed me, honestly.
“It took every bit of energy I had. I was just exhausted. I could hardly walk to the weigh-in. I was virtually carried there.
“It took everything out of me.
“I made the weight – I was under it in fact. Then I had to rehydrate.
“We don’t start eating until a few hours after because you need to get the fluids in you first and make sure your body is processing them.
“But I think I took that much out of my body and exhausted myself that much, the fluids I was putting in I couldn’t keep down.
“I was just spewing up. I couldn’t hold any of my liquid down.
“I was sick five or six times and as I was climbing into bed about half 11, I was just projectile vomiting all over the bathroom.
“My trainer and strength and conditioning coach came up but there was nothing we could do. We just had to try to get some fluids back into me.”
He did manage to hydrate again and ballooned up in weight so that by the time he entered the ring on Friday evening in Tokyo, he looked much more like the Jamie McDonnell of old.
But the damage had already been done and he certainly did not feel like himself.
“When I woke up fight day I was still pretty much f****d,” he said.
“This was just from me making bantamweight.
“My body is too old and I’m too big for that weight now.
“I made the weight but I didn’t recover in time.
“I knew myself I wasn’t feeling good. I didn’t say anything to anyone, I just wanted to get in and fight.”
From the fight first being mooted, McDonnell was confident of victory. And his confidence continued through what he still, despite the struggles at the end, labels the best training camp of his career.
Inoue, seven years his junior, was looking for a world title at a third different weight in only his 16th professional bout.
An explosive puncher, he had stopped 13 of his previous opponents early. It was a record that saw him reach seventh on the global pound-for-pound ratings.
McDonnell was called crazy for even considering taking the fight. Yet, with the experience under his belt of overcoming odds away from home, he saw no reason why he could not do it again.
By the time he was making his way to the Ota-City General Gymnasium, McDonnell’s confidence in victory had already waned.
And it got no stronger during his final preparations.
“Dave [Coldwell, trainer] said afterwards that he knew in the warm-up,” McDonnell said.
“He said there was nothing in my shots.
“Dave was tapping me with the pads in the warm-up and I was feeling every shot.
“When I was hitting him with body shots when he had the body belt on, there was nothing in my legs.
“I thought I might have found a way once I got in there, found a bit of energy from somewhere.
“But I had a feeling that it wasn’t going to end good.
“That only came after that last bit of making the weight.
“I was very confident of winning the fight, all that time.
“And I still believe now that if I turned up on fight night like I normally do that I would have beat him.
“I know I would have.
“Take nothing away from Inoue but I would have beat him if I’d have turned up like I normally do.”
That he was far from the ideal condition for an elite contest made the ultimate outcome an inevitability.
Particularly so against a fighter that hits as hard as Inoue.
But McDonnell admits it was a rather innocuous shot from the 25-year-old that spelled the beginning of the end.
He said: “When he hit me with that little shot on the top of the head early on, it did me.
“I can remember thinking I was in trouble.
“He pummelled me with a few shots and that was it.
“I could have been in there with our lass and I would have got beat.
“That’s only due to that last bit of weight that just did me.
“I don’t think them shots he hit me with would have bothered me normally. And once he started loading up, I would have just moved off.”
Though he does not say goodbye to bantamweight in the manner he would have chosen, McDonnell now knows it is time to leave behind the division where he has enjoyed phenomenal success.
Reflecting just how much the weight has been a struggle perhaps is the news that he will bypass the super bantamweight division entirely and move up to featherweight and its 126lb limit.
After a few years of slog, McDonnell is determined to enjoy whatever time he has left in the sport.
“Let’s go to feather and enjoy my last few years of fighting,” he said.
“I want to get strong for featherweight and see if I can win another world title.”