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Boxing: In Conversation with... Johnny Nelson & Sheldon McDonald

Saturday's Cruiserweight edition of the BOXXER series is nearly upon us. Expect fireworks from Victoria Warehouse, as eight prospects, local heroes and heavy hitters compete for huge prize money and a life-changing opportunity...

Undefeated cruiserweight prospect Sheldon McDonald (3-0) and his mentor, former cruiserweight world champion Johnny Nelson, sat down with bet365's Alex Olds to discuss this Saturday's upcoming Boxxer series event in Manchester.

AO: First things first...How are you feeling? How has training been going?

SM: I’m feeling good. I was in camp for my last fight on March 11th and I haven’t stopped training since then. I weighed in at 88kg for that fight and on Saturday night, I will be fighting at cruiserweight (91kg). I’ve been maintaining the weight really well and  my energy levels have been consistently high.

There’s been lots of things for us to work on, particularly given the format of Saturday night. I’m in a really good place both mentally and physically.

AO: Do you think the tournament format will suit you?

SM: I’ve seen a lot of the other fighters saying it will suit them…But genuinely, this format suits me down to the ground. It’s perfect for my skillset and the way I like to approach fights.

AO: How do you fancy your chances of winning?

SM: I’m quietly confident and keeping focused. I’ve not been on a stage like this before, with the interviews, the production, the size of the crowd….

I’ll be blocking all of that out and keeping my focus. If I can do that and execute what we’ve been working on in the gym, then I’m very confident that I can win.

AO: Are you looking out for anyone in particular in the quarter final draw?

SM: I’m not looking out for anybody. I need to be ready for anyone and any style, if I’m to win a tournament like this.

I’m not scared of anyone. Looking at the numbers, I’d like either Ellis Zorro or Anees Taj, with them both being above me in the rankings.

AO: How would you feel about an all-Sheffield dust-up with Ricky Reeves, who is managed by Ryan Rhodes (former stablemate of Johnny Nelson)?

SM: There have been rumors circulating on social media that there is a rivalry between us….

But there isn’t. No needle at all.

The way I see it, it’s two chances for Sheffield to win. If we have to fight, then it’s business and we’ll get it on….

Other than that, good luck to him.

The journey so far...

AO: How have you felt in your three pro fights to date?

SM: They’ve gone very smoothly. It took a bit of work to adjust from the amateurs, but I’ve had three clear wins now and so I think it has gone really well thus far.

AO: How much amateur experience have you got?

SM: I started late and therefore only had 8 amatuer fights. The first was a tribute fight to my brother, the next seven were all part of the amatuer championships…which of course is a tournament itself.

I came through that with a National Development Championship under my belt.

For the amount of amatuer fights I’ve had, it has taught me an awful lot. It may not have taken long but I have gained invaluable experience in the amateurs.

AO: You’ve sparred with the likes of Richard Riakporhe and Lawrence Okolie…How did you find that?

SM: Me and Okolie have mutual friends…so I went down there on my own and did four rounds with him. It was amazing to see how an elite fighter runs their camp and to be in that environment was a fantastic experience.

Johnny took me down to spar with Richard and we sparred twice…

They both gave me great feedback and I felt good being in there with them both. They’re both great guys.

AO: How did you get into boxing?

SM: When I was a kid, I’d often get into trouble…I was very energetic and mischievous. My dad was a Thai boxer and he’d just finished around the time when I came along. He always had me in the gym.

My Nana says it’s his fault that I’ve found my way into boxing….“he was always roughing you up, checking you about”....

From an early age, I’ve always done lots of sport. I’ve always been around boxing and although I played football, boxing always felt imperative for self-discipline etc. I never did so competitively, I was mainly focused on football.

But then the lockdown came. I couldn’t play football anymore and I knew I was talented at boxing, so it was time to lose some weight and get back into boxing. I started training with Johnny and he said I was good enough to turn pro….and here we are.

AO: You used to play football to a high level, right?

SM: I played for Sheffield FC at U18 and U21 level, as well as some other really good semi professional teams in the Sheffield area….

It was a great experience and competing at that level taught me a lot that will come in handy for my boxing career.

Sheldon on Johnny Nelson

AO: If you’re a cruiserweight from Sheffield, there aren’t many better to have in your corner than Johnny Nelson…

How much of an inspiration for you is Johnny?

SM: He’s a huge inspiration for me. Coming from a similar area and background to me, to fight through all the obstacles and hurdles as he did at all levels of the domestic game right through to world level….where he reigned supreme as WBO champion.

It’s the stuff of dreams and is undoubtedly a huge inspiration for me. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor, in this tough, hard game.

AO: What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned from Johnny?

SM: To work tirelessly on my mentality. Having the right mentality is essential to long term success in this sport…

You look at all the trials and tribulations of Johnny’s career….the losses, the set-backs, the lack of confidence at times…only with the right mentality was he able to overcome all of that and finish up on top.

He’s incredibly mentally strong and more than willing to give those nuggets of wisdom to me.

AO: Can you emulate Johnny’s success and bring Sheffield another cruiserweight world title?

SM: I really do believe I can. I don’t have my head in the clouds…I know just how tough it will be. But when you accept that, understand it and have the right belief and team around you….why not?

I believe I will resonate with fans up and down the country and that will spur me on towards title opportunities. Especially here in Sheffield…

Kell Brook retired the other day and I believe I can do my best to succeed him as Sheffield’s star in the boxing world.

Johnny Nelson on Sheldon McDonald….

AO: Can he win on Saturday night?

JN: I honestly believe Sheldon can win on Saturday night. It will be a big test of his character. If he doesn’t, so be it. Brendan always said we can win, lose or draw…but it’s the ability to learn and grow with each fight which creates champions.

Not many fighters have the mentality to match their ability…but this young man has absolutely the right mentality to succeed. He may not have as much experience as the other fighters in the tournament, but believe me, he has nous and skills beyond his years in the game or that which his resumé would suggest.

My job is to create motivation, desire…a dream for Sheldon. He has already achieved beyond his goal, which was to turn professional. In Sheffield we are synonymous with success in boxing and I want Sheldon to become a part of that history.

This tournament is made for Sheldon. I would be VERY surprised if Sheldon is not boxing in the final. VERY, VERY surprised.

I expect him to win it. The other fighters will know very little about him. But this tournament will introduce the other lads and the British public to Sheldon McDonald. I firmly believe this young man can become British champion within the next two years.

I can’t wait…

AO: Are there any other fighters you’re keeping an eye on?

JN: My old stablemate at the Ingle gym, Ryan Rhodes, has a fighter too - Ricky Reeves, also from Sheffield…so there is obviously a bit of competition there. But competition is good; it’s healthy and I’ve seen Sheldon more than holding his own with Ricky in sparring.”

AO: What did you see in Sheldon?

JN: Real ability.

And I never realised then just how good he is…I’m not sure he did either.

Sheldon told me at the beginning he wanted to buy his mum’s council house. That is exactly what I wanted at the start of my journey. I’m from a council estate and when he said that I thought ‘You are doing it for the same reasons as me’.

Sheldon doesn’t need boxing. He is studying accountancy at university and he doesn’t need to box. He has already got a plan B and I like that…Fighters like that are dangerous. You don’t know what motivates them per se - this isn’t Sheldon’s only option.

Sheldon McDonald is currently priced at [11/2] to be victorious on Saturday night.

You can watch all the action unfold from Manchester on Saturday night, May 14th, in BOXXER's Cruiserweight Series.

Eight-fighters, one prize...Life changing opportunity.

bet365 are proud to be the official betting partner of the BOXXER Series.

Final remaining tickets to the Boxxer series are available from Boxxer.

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