FREE PRESS FOCUS: The future of Doncaster boxing

Gavin McDonnell v Ryan McNicol
Gavin McDonnell v Ryan McNicol

NO further proof is required that boxing in Doncaster is in rude health than seeing the Dome packed out with a passionate support.

It is relatively easy for Jamie McDonnell to sell out the biggest indoor venue in his home town and spark a raucous atmosphere.

Stuart Brookes v Steve Spence

Stuart Brookes v Steve Spence

He is European champion after all and a thrilling one at that.

But it is much more difficult for those who have yet to – and may never – reach the lofty heights to do just that.

So it is testament to the latest crop of talent that they proved box office smashes.

Each person in the near-capacity crowd will have had differing reasons for being at the Dome last Friday night.

Connor Nixon v Delroy Spencer

Connor Nixon v Delroy Spencer

Most will have arrived there to see one particular fighter but many will have left with a string of impressive performances in their mind and a hunger for more.

The audience produced an excellent atmosphere and one that was well-mannered, something that unfortunately cannot always be said about a boxing crowd.

But the support, largely made up of Doncaster fight fans, had every reason to be happy with all seven home boxers producing victories.

The stories behind those victories are more important than the boxing office figures but provide an equally positive outlook for Doncaster boxing.

Charlie Thompson v Bheki Moyo

Charlie Thompson v Bheki Moyo

There was genuine excitement and anticipation for the professional debut of Connor Nixon, to former Junior ABA champion and England representative.

And he lived up to the expectation as he convincingly out-pointed tricky journeyman Delroy Spencer over four rounds.

Nixon has been tipped to follow in gym mate and fellow Hatfield boxer McDonnell’s footsteps in the future.

Whether or not he achieves that, Nixon looks all set to be a thrilling fighter to watch.

The ‘Pretty Boy’ tag could justifiably refer to his in-ring aesthetics than the boyband looks he is ribbed for in the gym.

It sounds unreasonable to compare an 18-year-old debutant with Manny Pacquiao, one of the all time greats.

But there is certainly a Pacquiao-like quality to the speed of Nixon’s assault and defence.

When Spencer retreated, Nixon followed, his excellent footwork taking him back within range and his lightning quick hand speed tagging an opponent still thinking about trying to get away from the diminutive youngster.

Nixon – boxing at bantamweight on Friday but likely to drop to super fly – admitted beforehand that he was lacking in the power department and that is definitely true.

It will definitely be a long time before the 18-year-old knocks out an opponent, unless his speed hypnotises his foes.

Hopefully, his strength and power will increase as he matures further and builds up in the gym.

He is in good hands with Stefy Bull and Dave Hulley, who helped switch McDonnell from a somewhat wayward prospect into an excellent champion.

But Bull and Hulley will be delighted with the package that arrived at the front door of the Empress Gym in Mexborough.

Nixon’s superb footwork was developed with drills set by late amateur coach Eric Walker.

Though he showed a lot of the characteristics of an amateur fighter in the first round, particularly in his wide stance, Nixon quickly settled down and looked at home in a professional ring.

He is a fighter whose future it is difficult to not get genuinely excited about.

The loudest ovation of the night came for Mexborough middleweight Stuart Brookes who completed a difficult personal journey by returning to the ring.

His brother Scott died in April 2008 after being hit by a car and Brookes was for so long unable to contemplate training without his sibling, a promising unbeaten cruiserweight.

As his name was announced, it was as though the whole of Mexborough had come along to support their returning son.

And the noise was even louder when Brookes’ hand was raised at the end of the bout with Steve Spence.

Before Brookes decided to walk away from boxing, he was unbeaten in 11 fights and looking all set for an initial push towards the English title.

His three and a half year spell out of the ring has understandably taken its toll on Brookes’ technique.

He struggled to find his range and was given a tough ride by an opponent he would have dominated a few years ago.

But the performance was not really that important given the circumstances, and Brookes could have been forgiven for forgoing his previously impressive technique and throwing the wild shots in search for the perfect return.

What Brookes did before provides optimism of what the 29-year-old could still achieve in the sport.

Hard work in the gym could bring the title he is desperate to win for his brother.

Gavin McDonnell – twin brother of Jamie – is another Doncaster fighter targeting titles.

McDonnell has looked very promising since his debut a year ago, demonstrating characteristics that have drawn comparisons with his brother.

The 25-year-old was given a tough time by Ryan McNicol on Friday night in a bout that did little for his development and lots for his frustration levels.

McDonnell failed to dominate McNicol as he did his three other opponents but emerged with all four rounds under his belt.

He seems ready now for a step up in class against an opponent with more than a couple of wins under his belt.

Then McDonnell will have chance to shine.

Completing the Doncaster interest was the McDonnell brothers’ good friend Charlie Thompson.

The Stainforth welterweight picked up a second straight win over Bheki Moyo who again provided a tough test.

It is interesting to watch Thompson’s development against low personal expectations, especially because he is the type of fighter it is so easy to root for.

He knows he is unlikely to follow in Jamie McDonnell’s footsteps but the 26-year-old works incredibly hard at his craft and is determined to succeed in a sport he loves.

A trio of adopted sons lived up to their side of the bargain alongside four home town fighters.

Rotherham welterweight Tommy Coward had the crowd on their feet as he demolished Liam Griffiths inside two minutes while there were impressive debuts for Wakefield’s Andy Townend and Kent’s Adam Dingsdale, the latter of which brought considerable support with him from the south.

The stories of these fighters – Doncaster in birth or base – differ but all point towards a bright future for the sport in the town.

And fight fans seem to agree.