John O'Donnell

Last time we spoke with John O'Donnell (read the piece here ), the 30 year old was making noises in the British welterweight scene on his return to boxing.  His antics outside the ring, issuing open letters to the British champion Sam Eggington, were catching the eye of boxing fans online.  Some may have ridiculed him for the action but it did exactly what was intended; it returned the name of John O'Donnell to the consciousness of boxing fans in the UK.

2015 saw O'Donnell (30-2-0) come back after two years out which have been well documented.  Two fights in the year have eased him back into the sport that he couldn't stay away from.  The most recent came on December 5th at York Hall as he went the distance with Jan Balog of the Czech Republic.  It wasn't the finest performance from the Irishman, but as he tells me the occasion and the opponent didn't lend itself to showing off his best attributes:

"I'm not going to lie, I know I shouldn't but I find it hard getting up for a journeyman type of fighter.  I knew he was there to survive and make up the numbers.  Everyone who knows me knows that the better opponent I face the better I perform.  That's the way I am.  It was nice to get six rounds in the bag and he was tough, he was a middleweight who had come down to the weight."

The stars weren't aligned that night to see the best of John O'Donnell.  He was fighting first on the bill and the venue was still to fill out.  The opponent never came to win and didn't enter with an impressive record.  But that could be the last time O'Donnell faces that scenario.  Shortly after that bout he got a phone call that meant he could have a renewed focus; due to an injury to Australian Billy Dib an opening had come up for the chief support slot on the undercard to the David Haye comeback.  It is O'Donnell's promotional outfit, Goodwin Promotions, who have been tasked with providing the undercard for the event and through the pulling of various strings, at short notice had provided O'Donnell with a slot at the top of the undercard on the return of the former British heavyweight champion. 

"It's massive to be involved in it and I'm really looking forward to being part of the undercard for David Haye" says O'Donnell.  "I'm feeling good and can't wait.  The weight's good and everything is brilliant.  I got the phonecall a couple of days after boxing last time out, about the same time he did.  I've been calling for the big fights for a long time and people have been giving me stick calling for them, but the thing is I will fight anyone.  I've never backed down from a challenge and I never will, put them in front of me and I will fight them.  People can think what they want but I'll get in the ring and fight anyone."

For January 16th on the HayeDay card, O'Donnell will be facing 26 year old Shayne Singleton (21-1-0) from Colne.  Having spoken with Singleton recently (read our piece
here ) he is a man that is looking to move himself into British title level, having lost to the current champion Eggington in March 2014.  So how aware is O'Donnell of his short notice opponent?  "Honestly the only time I've heard about the kid was when he boxed Eggington.  Eggington pulled him apart but I can't tell you too much about him as I don't know too much about him.  If I'm honest I think I do a job on Eggington, and Eggington did him in five so that says what I think I will do to Shayne."

It is the kind of confidence we have come to expect from O'Donnell since his ring return.  He has been in the market for the big fights, his promoter Steve Goodwin engaging in a Twitter exchange with former British champion and world title challenger Frankie Gavin where they seemed close to getting a matchup put together.  His continued pursuit of Eggington also doesn't seem to slow down, although the Birmingham champion is currently mandated to fight Bradley Skeete for the title.  Whether that takes place or not is currently debatable due to promotional politics between the two fighters and there is a possibility Eggington could drop the belt or Skeete may end up going a different direction  For O'Donnell though he isn't concerned which one he may end up in a ring with.  "For me, I'm not too bothered and whoever has that title is the one in my way and I'll go through them."  O'Donnell is a man with focus.

January 16th isn't just a huge platform for O'Donnell to reintroduce himself to boxing fans worldwide but also has the added bonus of being an eliminator to fight the British champion, whoever it may be at the time.  For O'Donnell, despite this only being his third fight since returning, he has still had a treacherous time in getting to this position.  "It's a final eliminator and one I've been calling for a long time" he says in his calming Irish accent.  "I've been scheduled in two eliminators already against Dale Evans who ended up getting a shot at Eggington and another kid who pulled out.  So we went back to the Board and said 'what more can I do?'.  There kids keep pulling out of something happens so what more am I meant to do?  I'm glad now they have realised and this is a final eliminator which is great and just the icing on the cake."
Josh Kennedy
It may seem premature that O'Donnell, two fights into his boxing return, is being lined up for a shot at the British title in a weight division not short of talent.  But this is a man with pedigree.  Still yet to reach an age when many fighters at his weight peak, he has already held English and Commonwealth titles when he was active between 2004 - 2013. In that time he has graced some of the biggest venues in the world, so does he think that the experience he has had will be beneficial against Singleton when the two meet in front of over 10,000 fans at the O2?   "I love fighting on the big cards.  But I've been there and done it before, it's just another day at the office for me.  I've fought all over the world on big cards, fought on Maywether undercards, Adonis Stevenson, Carl Froch and Darren Barker plus topping bills myself so I've been there and done it.  It's just another fight for me.  If he's making it into a big night, which I think he is looking at his interviews, then it becomes bigger for him than it is for me.  I've been on big stages and it's another massive one but I've seen these things before."

We talk about what 2016 could have in store for O'Donnell if he comes through on January 16th.  "When, not if" I am corrected in another display of the confidence he has going into this fight.  "I haven't sat and had a chat with Steve since the announcement of this fight, we haven't had the chance.  With the promotional side of it, it's all bollocks.  It will be however long it takes to sort out Skeete and Eggington then I'll be ready to fight the winner whenever and wherever."  So is there a possibility that he would look to take another fight before a shot if the opportunity presented itself?  "If I get a chance to take another one before then that would be brilliant but if not I'll be ready.  I've been in the position where I've been out for a couple of years then went back to the gym and didn't feel one bit rusty when I got back into the ring.  It doesn't seem to affect me too bad, not that I'd recommend anyone to do it!  I'm back now and enjoying my boxing, I have a great team around me and the sooner I can get that British title fight the better.  That title is one that has eluded me these last few years and it's one I just want to get my hands on."

He assures me that the short notice for this fight doesn't worry him.  "Obviously you'd want longer preparation but it was only a month ago I boxed and I was training hard in the gym all the time then only had a couple of weeks off ticking over.  I got straight back in the gym after the phone call, I didn't think I was boxing until March so was able to step straight back into it."  Both O'Donnell and Singleton seem to be at a crossroads in their career and this fight represents an opportunity for each of them to reach a more permanent platform where they can show off their talents.  Neither has yet to reach the peaks that they believe they can and that this fight gives them the chance to do.  A win for either man on January 16th would catapult their name to the top of the waiting list of fighters that want to get their hands on the coveted British title.  It seems fitting then that our conversation ends with a final display of the confidence he is exuding with a week to go.  "O'Donnell wins next Saturday, guaranteed!" he tells me.  This is a man who is displaying the self belief to match his undoubted talents, it would take a brave person not to take his word for it.