Can Jamie McDonnell be as big as Bruce Woodcock?

Jamie McDonnell celebrates retaining his European bantamweight title against Stephane Jamoye at the Doncaster Dome on Saturday night (22 January 2011).
Jamie McDonnell celebrates retaining his European bantamweight title against Stephane Jamoye at the Doncaster Dome on Saturday night (22 January 2011).

AFTER reading our exclusive about Jamie McDonnell becoming the first Doncaster boxer to fight for three titles on the same night since Bruce Woodcock, a friend stopped me in the street.

The story also stated that McDonnell would surpass Woodcock’s achievement of having won three European title fights if he beats the British champion Stuart Hall.

Bruce Woodcock at the Gaumont - DFP Nostalgia.

Bruce Woodcock at the Gaumont - DFP Nostalgia.

But my mate was adamant.

“Doesn’t matter what he does”, he said, “he’ll never be as big a hero in Doncaster as Bruce Woodcock.”

Although I tried to argue the case for Jamie I wasn’t entirely convincing.

And, in the end, I almost conceded that he was probably right.

Almost, that is.

The trouble is, once you reach a certain age, most of your idols are rooted in the past.

If you ever saw Alick Jeffrey play in his pomp could you mention current goalscoring king Billy Sharp in the same breath?

And would it be fair to try and compare current Dons stalwarts Scott Spaven and Craig Fawcett with stars from yesteryear if you had seen David Noble kicking goals for fun, or Tony Kemp running rings round the opposition?

The golden years of the Belles are similarly rooted in the past when they could field a star studded side packed with internationals.

There is bags of potential in the current side but it would be hard to compare any of them with the likes of Gill Coulthard and Karen Walker in their prime.

In cycling Olympian John Tanner and record breaking All-Rounder Kevin Dawson have competed with distinction in recent years but would either have come close to challenging the legend that is Tom Simpson?

The Knights have heroes from the past but are an exception as their current standing in the game is higher than it has ever been - and would any of their former stars from more than a decade ago have been good enough to win a place in today’s team?

So can McDonnell follow in the Knights’ footsteps and break the mould?

Bruce Woodcock fought in an era where boxers - like many sporting stars at the time - were working class heroes.

It was a time when few could afford cars and footballers travelled to home matches, sometimes carrying their boots and kit, on the bus with the supporters.

Even the gym was packed to the rafters for Woodcock’s training sessions and, when he fought for the British heavyweight title in London in 1945, the old rail works where the boxer was employed had to close as 500 men took the day off to go and watch him.

It was a different time, and a different place.

Sporting venues, especially football grounds, were packed out for almost every match as people went along to be entertained after the end of the War with few competing attractions.

I never saw Woodcock fight but those who did talk about him almost with reverence.

It’s almost impossible to gain the same respect these days.

So, in a way, my friend is right.

But I have known Jamie since just before he became a professional and seen almost all his fights.

He’s a likeable lad, and no Flash Harry, although he admits himself he didn’t take the sport seriously enough at the start.

But, like the boxing heroes of days gone by, he’s a man of the people himself.

Apart from his boxing skills, which were obvious from the start, the biggest attribute that has always impressed me about Jamie is something Woodcock was renowned for - his courage.

In fact courage and bravery are not exactly the right words to describe it in Jamie’s case.

More accurately it’s what fighting men call ‘bottle’.

You might think all boxers have it - but I’ve seen plenty who don’t.

Anyone who climbs in the ring deserves a medal but there are degrees of bravery and some fighters will fold easier than others.

Jamie won’t.

Hit him on the chin, and he’ll hit you back harder.

Try to outlast him, and he’ll show you the true meaning of ‘will to win’.

Like Woodcock, the 25-year-old Hatfield bantamweight will never give in.

If he wins September’s massive triple title clash, and goes on eventually to challenge for one of the main world crowns then Jamie will deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Woodcock.

And if he were still alive today Bruce, whose modesty and sportsmanship matched his prowess as a boxer, would fight any man who tried to deny the fact.