Donnybrook Gym Invades Montreal Casino

Montreal’s Donnybrook Boxing Gym opened its doors less than six months ago, but tomorrow night it makes a statement at the Montreal Casino with two fighters on the latest Groupe Yvon Michel card, both likely to make enough noise to drown out the buzz and bells of the slot machines and turn more than a few heads. Needless to say, it’s an important night for a fledgling fight gym in a city full of fight gyms.

Co-owned by Shakeel Phinn and trainer Ian MacKillop, Donnybrook may not be the most spacious of places to work on your ring craft, nor does it have a wide array of expensive exercise equipment, but so what? It’s got some punching bags, a professional grade ring, more prospects and top-level amateurs working away than you can shake a stick at, plus a positive vibe that’s attracting a growing clientele. On the second floor of an industrial building near highway 15, it’s a spare, no-nonsense, utilitarian type house of pain, with everything a serious pugilist needs to prepare for their next tilt.

Ian MacKillop getting Shakeel Phinn ready for another sparring session at Donnybrook.

One of the gym’s newest fighters is Jessica Camara, a boxer making her pro debut on tomorrow night’s card. Originally from Cambridge, Ontario, Camara was drawn to the fight game after going through a difficult time as a teenager, difficulties which culminated in criminal charges following a violent fight at her high school. Determined to redeem herself, Camara focused on performing countless hours of community service while exploring career opportunities in law enforcement and outreach work, but at the same time she found the ideal outlet for her anger issues at Syd Vanderpool’s boxing gym.

A serious amateur career followed which led to a national championship and a bronze medal at the world championships, as well as a move to Toronto to work with renowned coach Adrian Teodorescu, before he became gravely ill. At a major international tournament in Bulgaria she met Montreal’s Caroline Veyre, also a successful amateur fighter, and the two hit it off. Eventually a move to Montreal became the obvious choice and that’s when she reached out to Shakeel Phinn, wondering if he could recommend a place for her to train. Soon enough, Jessica “The Cobra” Camara became a Donnybrook devotee.

When Shakeel is asked about Camara, the current Canadian Boxing Council super middleweight champion quickly sums her up. “Jessica?” says Shak with a laugh. “Hard-hitting beast. She’s gonna get a KO. You watch. Knockout of the night.”

The Cobra and The Jamaican Juggernaut spar.

Indeed, Jessica singles out famed power puncher Mike Tyson as the fighter who most inspired and influenced her, the result being she has been anxious to turn professional for some time. “My style is really better suited for the pros,” she says. “I like to come forward, move inside, work the body, land big shots.”

“We’ve sparred,” says Shak, “and believe me, Jessica is not your average female fighter. You gotta be on your toes and keep your hands up because she can really punch. She’s dangerous. I love having her at the gym.”

MacKillop, who trains both Shakeel and Jessica, echoes Phinn’s assessment: “She’s very skilled. Extremely strong. My biggest problem with her is finding sparring partners. She’s actually stopped guys in the gym. One guy spun around twice after getting tagged and just said, “I’m done,” and left. She’s been sparring with Adam Green who will be fighting for the Canadian middleweight title and I was worried he was going too hard on her, but she handled it no problem. I’m very impressed. I’ve never felt power like that from a female fighter. She’s not trying to hurt people here, but she’s flooring people and hurting them, so I had no choice but to let her spar with Shak. He’s significantly bigger, but she holds her own.”

While Jessica will be making her pro debut on the undercard tomorrow night, Shakeel is the event’s headliner, a fact which has raised a few eyebrows around The Fight City. After all, Phinn is not a GYM fighter while Jo Jo Dan, who also appears on tomorrow night’s card, is a far more experienced pro with more than a few titles and a world championship fight against Kell Brook in 2015 to his credit. But Yvon Michel decided to reward the fighter who has appeared on three of his recent casino shows and scored impressive wins each time out, which is in keeping with the purpose of his Casino de Montreal series: give young prospects the chance to gain experience and exposure.

But while Shak is well aware of the significance of being a headliner for the first time in his career, it’s not a distraction for “The Jamaican Juggernaut,” just extra motivation to stay focused and keep moving forward.

“I’m not signed with anybody and I’m headlining a Groupe Yvon Michel show, which is crazy,” says Shak who sounds more confident than ever. “He has so many guys he could put at the top of the bill, so this really means something. It’s definitely a boost and tells me I must be doing something right. I feel like big things are on the way. I don’t know much about my opponent but I couldn’t care less. I’ve had a great camp and I’m ready for anything. I’m 26 but with hardly any mileage on me, not at my peak yet, so everyone better watch out. This is just the beginning.”

Phinn (right) sparring with prospect Christian M’billi.

As it is for Jessica Camara, who can’t wait to finally get into the ring and get her professional career underway.

“I feel like I have a great team at Donnybrook. Ian and Shak are like family to me now. Ian has so much experience and he shows me a lot of pro style things, how to set up punches, how to pay attention to my opponent and set traps. Ian knows all the tricks. He’s made me a beast.”

It’s a Groupe Yvon Michel event tomorrow night and no doubt many will be there to watch Jo Jo Dan, Bruno Bredicean, Roodsy Vincent or Michael Gadbois. But with two fighters, one in the main event, it could be a very big night indeed for the crew of Donnybrook Gym. Perhaps the first of many.            — Michael Carbert

Photos by Manny Montreal.

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