Jim McDonnell, the man who masterminded heavyweight Danny Williams’ sensational victory over Mike Tyson, is hoping that lightning strikes twice when his light-middleweight fighter, Takaloo, challenges Wayne Alexander for his old WBU world title on September 10th.
Herbie Hide & Jim McDonnell
DoghouseBoxing.com caught up with McDonnell, 44, the former European featherweight champion and two-time world super featherweight title challenger, just as he’d returned home from a day at the gym.
The talkative Londoner was watching one of the Olympic boxing contests when I called. “First real tear-up I’ve seen since the games started this one.” Boxing, it would seem, is never too far from McDonnell’s radar. “I’ve not stopped today. Things are very busy at the moment,” he added.
The bout ended and McDonnell settled down to talk about Takaloo, his up and coming fight with arch rival Wayne Alexander, and life after Danny William’s superb win over Mike Tyson.
McDonnell’s light-middleweight charge, Takaloo, aims to win the WBU belt for the third time against Croydon’s Alexander. The 28-year-old from Margate faces a stiff test against the former British, European champion and WBO title challenger at the historic York Hall in Bethnal Green, London, in a tantalising match up between two of the country’s biggest punchers.
McDonnell said the challenges facing Takaloo mirrored those faced by Williams, who overcame a torrid opening round to gradually impose his will on the former two-time heavyweight champion, before blasting him to defeat with a barrage of punches at the end of the fourth round.
McDonnell, who has trained Takaloo since 1999, said: “Tak is facing virtually the same set of obstacles as Danny. Alexander is very aggressive and powerful and will be very dangerous early on, just like Tyson was against Danny. Tak is going to have to be very careful, ride the early storm and keep a tight defence and then gradually take over as Wayne starts to tire.”
Not only is the Takaloo v Alexander fight a grudge fight between former gym mates, it is also a crossroads fight where the loser is faces the stark reality of retirement or carrying on fighting as a journeyman for chump change. Both men have suffered defeats this year. Takaloo was floored and outpointed by unheralded Eugenio Montiero, who is now facing a two-year ban after testing positive for a banned substance after his win over Anthony Farnell for the WBU middleweight belt.
Meanwhile, Alexander, 31, was shockingly knocked out by oft-beaten journeyman Delroy Mellis in December last year. He was also knocked down by a body shot against ageing former world title challenger Howard Clarke before getting up to win in the second round in June.
At a recent press conference to announce the fight, neither fighter had a good word to say about the other, both knocking each other’s recent performances and then offering different stories about the time they spent together as gym mates at the Peacock Gym in London. Takaloo said he knocked Alexander out in sparring and the Croydon man replied that although this was true, he had beaten Takaloo so badly in their next sparring session that their trainer at that time, Jimmy Tibbs, had to stop the session. A case of verbal sparring along the lines of “you say tomato, I say tomato!” one might say an argument both get the chance to settle once and for all at York Hall.
McDonnell said that despite his inactivity this year, and having lost so shockingly to Montiero when he was floored and outpointed over eight rounds in non-title bout Takaloo had an “edge” about him as he went about his preparations for what could be a career-saving bout.
He said: “Tak understands the importance of this fight and is really up for it. I mean, he’s been training hard for a long time for this he’s wanted the fight for years and he’s under no illusion that if he loses this it’s going to be a very long road back or maybe even the end of his career.”
McDonnell said that both boxers’ conditioning would be the deciding factor. Alexander has set up camp in Belfast with new trainer John Breen, who, like McDonnell, is a respected taskmaster known for getting his boxers into excellent shape.
McDonnell said: “Alexander says he’s been in Ireland running up hills and sparring hard with [former Takaloo victim] Jim Rock and putting in the work with John Breen. Well if he wants to win this fight he will have to train harder than he’s ever done.
“But even so although I expect him to be totally motivated for this fight and in great shape I don’t care how many hills he runs up and down, he has not had enough time to improve his stamina sufficiently to cope with the 12-rounds fought at a hard pace.
“He may come out like a train but we expect that. Plus, with so much on the line for both of these guys, I expect Wayne to really dig in, even if he gets knocked down. But what will happen is that once the first few rounds are over and Wayne has to look for extra reserves of energy, he’ll find they’re not there, whereas Tak will have some petrol left in his tank.”
In fact, McDonnell believes that Alexander’s newfound dedication could be his undoing and that stamina is something acquired over a longer period than a training camp of eight weeks.
He said: “It took Tak four years to get into the kind of condition he’s in today. It didn’t happen over night and the thing is, when you really step up your training, it takes time for your body to get used to the new regime. It has a real effect on your muscle groups and if you over do it, it can have an adverse effect.”
McDonnell gave an insight into just what could happen on fight night, when Alexander has weighted in at the 11st limit, a weight he has not boxed at since he won the European title in January 2002.
He said: “Wayne’s body will feel different and after he’s made the weight, which he hasn’t had to do for a long time, he may find that in that dressing room on fight night, with the adrenalin flowing, that he feels as weak as a kitten because his body is working differently to how it used to. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tak doesn’t knock him out in a round or two and Wayne blames the loss on over training.”
Of his own fighter’s preparation, McDonnell added: “Tak came out to New York to help Danny get ready for Tyson and he had quality sparring out there.
“Back in England I’ve had him sparring four or five rounds with big, strong guys, then putting a lad called Darren Barker, a very tidy boxer and good prospect, in for the last two or three rounds. Obviously, in the last couple of rounds Tak is not as sharp as in the early rounds and with Darren, who’s very sharp and a good technical boxer, being fresh, Tak’s not had it easy and Darren has kept him on his toes.
“Alexander’s nowhere near as sharp as Darren, so the only thing Tak will have to worry about is Wayne’s power, which Tak knows all about from when they trained together. He’s been working on defence and being very focused early on that is when Wayne is at his most dangerous.
“But saying that, people go on about how hard Wayne hits without remembering that Tak is a great puncher too.
“Not only that, but he’s been in tougher fights than Wayne and been 12 rounds more times than he has and I think he’ll take Wayne apart in about six to eight rounds but like I said, it could be earlier.”
It all adds up to what should be a thrill-a-minute, good old-fashioned grudge match not seen on these shores since the early 1990s when Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and Michael Watson were slugging it out.
The win was confirmation of McDonnell’s total belief in Williams’ ability, even after Williams dispensed of his services after that nightmare performance against Sinal Samil Sam in a bid for the European title last year. He said that life in the aftermath of the big man’s victory had been “unbelievable.”
He added: “It was the best thing that’s happened to me since I was a boxer. I’m so proud of Danny and the way he carried himself all the way through. I’ve always said that Danny is the best heavyweight in the world and the only person who could beat him was Danny. He’s got to build on this now, but he was awesome out there and handled the pressure superbly.
“Plus, I’ve got say this. Tyson was excellent. Even though he is 38, the way he closed Danny down and the speed and technique he showed it was the best he’d looked in 10 years, so in my eyes, Danny’s performance was all the better. He sucked up the early pressure, then took Tyson on at his own game and took him apart.”
McDonnell said that being able to spend a six weeks in the States with Williams was a big plus, as he was able to shadow Williams every inch of the way and crack the well-documented Enigma code that Williams’ psyche can be.
McDonnell said: “It was just what me and Danny needed. There were no distractions, he had good sparring and I was with him every minute of every day, which meant the mental preparation was spot on. We visualised everything that could happen. From getting to the arena, the ring walk, the fact that the referee would be crap, getting hurt early on and then imposing himself as the rounds passed. No stone was left unturned.”
So what of McDonnell’s career as a trainer and the added cache Williams’ shock win gave him, after being labelled in some quarters merely as a fitness coach?.
“Yeah, that label used to really wind me up. I mean, you look at guys like Lennox Lewis and they have one person for everything. Someone who sorts out his conditioning, someone who sorts out his diet, his massages, and then Emmanuel Steward would come in and sort out his boxing technique. I do all of that and take my work very seriously.”
Turning the subject to Lewis, I asked whether Danny had missed out by not joining Lewis during his training camps and gaining the kind of experience in the way Larry Holmes did as Muhammad Ali’s sparring partner. Being a subdued, easygoing character, and family man, would time spend with Lewis helped instil in Williams the kind of winners’ mentality displayed by the now-retired former heavyweight champion.
“Oh I’ve no doubt that would have been good for Danny, but that’s in the past. I can only look at what we’re doing now. But even so, now that Danny’s getting a taste of what it is like to be in the big league, he knows he’s got to take himself away and prepare properly and that’s what will happen from now on, which will only make him an even better fighter. It’s not that training hard has ever been Danny’s problem, but to beat Tyson he went that extra few yards that separate a good fighter from a world-class one. There’s more to come from Danny Williams, believe me.”
But with new-found status, would the so-far humble Williams get caught up in the glitz and glamour?
“No. Before he even beat Tyson, Danny said that if he won, he would work to be even harder to keep humble and it’s not in Danny’s make-up to be a big shot. He’s too nice a guy to do that, it’s just not in his make-up.”
Talking of status, how had life been for McDonnell since he became an ‘overnight success’ in his role as a trainer?
He said: “Yeah, I’ve been around for years as a fighter and trainer but you’d think I’d come out of nowhere. Funny, but that’s just how it is I suppose.”
I asked Jimmy what Tyson’s trainer, the respected Freddie Roach, had said to him after the fight? He said: “I only had a quick chat with him beforehand so I don’t know what his thoughts were afterwards.”
I moved on to the subject of training in America, considered by many as the place to be for boxers looking to become real world-class fighters. However, McDonnell was distinctly unimpressed and even scathing of what he found, saying. “There’s more sparring out there but the quality is mixed and you have to look around for training that’s beneficial to your fighter. But people go on about how much better it is in America but I’ve seen some shocking trainers out there, guys who haven’t got a clue absolutely crap. These guys hang around in gyms shouting orders but they don’t have any idea what they’re doing. Put me in a test with any of them and with the knowledge I’ve acquired over the years I guarantee I’ll come out on top.”
There is no doubt, the win has made people sit up and take notice. The latest mooted addition to McDonnell’s camp is Scotland’s former British super-featherweight champion Alex Arthur. McDonnell was confident that Arthur could rebound from his hammering at the hands of Michael Gomez.
“Thing was, Gomez was just a bit too clever for Alex that night, but he’ll have learned from that. Alex just needs to sort out that upright style of his, become more elusive and I think he’ll go on to bigger and better things. He’s got it in him to be a world champion.”
So the future is looking bright for McDonnell and a win for Takaloo against Alexander would be a nice birthday present for the trainer, who turns 45 on the Sunday after the fight.
Tickets for Takaloo v Alexander are available from the Sports Network box office on 01992 550888.