Ahead of Saturday’s BOXXER series tournament in Manchester, we meet some of the cruiserweights competing for the crown.
‘Johnny Nelson a big mentor for me’
Sheldon McDonald, in his own words, has “been through a lot” in his life.
The 25-year-old local lad lost his brother to suicide in 2017, a tragedy that would have broken even the most hardy of individuals. But McDonald, taking on board the advice of the bereavement councillors that helped him deal with his grief, channelled his emotions into a positive outlet. Boxing.
“It was a tragedy,” McDonald said. “The one way I focussed was to get in the gym, lose some weight, help my mental health.”
On Saturday night, McDonald will have a familiar face to Sky Sports viewers and boxing aficionados in his corner, Johnny Nelson.
The longest-reigning world cruiserweight champion of all time, having held the WBO title from 1999 to 2005, Nelson knows a thing or two about the division and spotted McDonald’s talent immediately.
McDonald said: “Jonny Nelson actually saw me train during lockdown and he said ‘you’re good enough’. I took that advice and ran with it.
“He is a really big mentor for me, he has really helped my mentality. Just look where he came from, the stories from his career.”
The Sheffield-born Nelson wants McDonald to be the next great to inspire the younger generation of boxing talent in the city.
Boxxer Series quarter-final draw
- Ellis Zorro (11-0) vs Jay Farrell (9-2, five KOs)
- Jamie Smith (3-0, two KOs) vs Jack Fay (1-0-1)
- Ricky Reeves (2-0, one KO) vs Anees Taj (5-1, four KOs)
- Sheldon McDonald (3-0, one KO) vs Ryan Cotterell (1-0, one KO)
“This gym where he’s from is the ghetto,” Nelson said. “I want him to pull up outside in a flash car after his trappings of a big fight and come and train in here… because all he’ll do is motivate the people from around the area.
He added: “I am really inspired by Sheldon’s story because it’s real.
“It’s not about being famous, that is not what he’s chasing. He is chasing it for the right reasons, for a real reason, to commemorate his brother.”
And McDonald believes he can honour his brother in the most fitting way possible, by going all the way on Saturday night and claiming the third Boxxer series crown.
“When you’ve got a positive mentality, positive things really do come back into your life.”
Teacher by day, boxing champ by night?
Being a boxer and a Head of Year at a local secondary school don’t always go hand in hand.
“I get some funny looks when I go in with black eyes and stuff, but they’re all really supportive,” 31-year-old Ricky Reeves – Head of Year 10 at Parkwood Academy in Sheffield said.
Reeves joined the school during lockdown, initially in a behaviour role, but was quickly fast-tracked as a result of being “a fantastic support to the students”, according to head teacher Gemma Cottingham.
“We see Ricky and the way he can perform outside the academy and in the ring as incredibly impressive,” Cottingham added. “But his nurturing and supportive side that we see in the academy is paramount to the full package Ricky can offer.”
Reeves will have the full backing of Parkwood behind him on Saturday night, but with just two fights under his belt so far, he knows that staying calm and focussed in front of such a large crowd and the television cameras will be key to his success.
“A big part of it is going to be me controlling my nerves, controlling the atmosphere,” he said. “I think I’ll take it all in my stride, and just enjoy it – that’s the main thing.”
Even if Reeves gets a few more funny looks as he returns to school on Monday with a black eye or two, he is setting a great example to his students.
“We’re just incredibly proud of him and what he’s achieving,” Cottingham said. “For him to be doing something outside of the academy, above and beyond the massive role he has here, is really inspirational for the students.
“It shows them that there are no glass ceilings to what we can achieve.”
‘I’ve dreamt it every day – 40 Gs going in the bank!’
“Get ready to see some big knockouts. Bash!”
Ryan Cotterell is a confident 22-year-old from Wolverhampton, admitting: “I’m all or nothing in everything I do in life.”
But don’t let the ‘all or nothing’ attitude fool you, as Cotterell gives it everything when in the ring and, specifically, in preparation for Saturday night.
“When I’m in the gym, I’m the most dedicated there, I’ll train the hardest – I won’t skip one press up, one sit up in training,” Cotterell said.
“Boxing just gives me something that nothing else can do, some buzz that you don’t get from nothing else. I just love it.
“All I do is look forward to fight night. I know when I’m walking out there and everyone is calling my name, I’m going to be buzzing.”
Cotterell eats, sleeps and breathes boxing, with one recurring dream dominating his thoughts specifically in the build-up to Saturday’s Boxxer Series.
“I’ve dreamt it every day – 40 Gs going in the bank!”
And Cotterell is clear on how he intends to make that dream a reality. “If I land half a decent shot on someone, they’ll go down easy.”
Watch Boxxer Series in vertical view on Sky Sports app
Enjoy this weekend’s BOXXER series action in a new and different way via our groundbreaking vertical format on the Sky Sports App.
From 7pm on Saturday night, you can watch the exciting cruiserweight tournament via a FREE vertical stream fully optimised to viewing on a mobile device – and you do not have to be a Sky customer to enjoy the action.
Go to the Sky Sports App from 7pm on Saturday to enjoy the action. Not got the app? Download it for free now:
Traditionally, sport has been broadcast in a 16:9 landscape ratio, but the 9:16 stream on the Sky Sports App will mean viewers can watch the boxing event in portrait mode.
Watch The BOXXER Series, a dramatic one-night tournament, in vertical format from 7pm on Saturday May 14.