A force to be reckoned with. That’s how the St. Louis Labor Tribune describes Local 1 first-year apprentice Jurmain McDonald.

An amateur boxer, McDonald, 25, had just scored a second round technical knockout over his opponent at a match held during Frost Electric Supply’s annual trade show in November.

Since that fight, McDonald has amassed a record of 9 and 1 with five knockouts. His victories include three wins in the 165-pound weight class in the novice round of the regional Golden Gloves tournament in January, where he was designated the most valuable fighter. He will fight in April in the next round of the Golden Gloves, an amateur competition established in Chicago in 1923 that has launched the careers of many world champion fighters.

“My first love was always basketball, but I always liked boxing, too,” says McDonald, who played hoops at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., before leaving school to work full-time in 2012.

McDonald was packing boxes at Scholastic Publishers in Jefferson City when a construction wireman told him about Local 1’s pre-apprenticeship program. He visited the union’s website, then the union hall and moved to St. Louis a year later.

“I had no electrical experience. I was really green, but I’ve learned a lot and really enjoy being part of a good program,” says McDonald.

St. Louis Local 1 apprentice Jurmain McDonald, center, with Examining Board Member Mike Newton and Business Representative John Kahrhoff.

McDonald was green in boxing, too, still playing pickup basketball games when he met Shad Howard, a professional boxer who encouraged him to give the sport a try. So, McDonald showed up at the North County Athletic Association gym, one of 22 in the city that has produced champions like Henry Armstrong in the 1930s, Archie Moore in the 1950s and Leon, Michael and Cory Spinks in recent decades.

“Jurmain is one of the easiest kids I’ve ever trained,” says Jimmie Howell, his boxing coach. That’s no trivial praise, coming from a 77- year-old former top Golden Gloves competitor who serves as president of the North County Athletic Association boxing gym and heads up the St. Louis Amateur Boxing, sponsors of Golden Gloves competitions.

“Jurmain’s a super-nice young man, but a gifted athlete, too. I don’t have to push him too much. He seems to figure out his opponent and he gets stronger as the fight goes on,” says Howell. 

It’s not easy to balance daily training with work as a construction electrician, apprenticeship classes and spending time with his three children, ages 7 and 3 and a baby just shy of 1. But McDonald says his wife, Tashira, is his biggest fan. “Taking care of my family drives me,” he says. And now his co-workers, friends from church and the union hall are starting to show up at his fights.

After getting home from work at about 4 p.m., McDonald runs for an hour and then trains at the gym from 5-7 p.m. He works out every day of the week, only lightening up his regimen on Mondays.

Howell says McDonald’s busy schedule and lack of ring experience can be advantages. While he has trained some boxers who don’t work regular jobs and have more time to devote to training, says Howell, they often lack McDonald’s discipline and focus. A retired postal worker, Howell has coached many members of the building trades over the years, including Sid Taylor, a promising fighter and member of the Laborers who was killed in a fall on a construction site a few years back. And Howell fondly recalls Local 1 hosting Golden Gloves tournaments at the union hall in the 1970s.

Mike Newton, a Local 1 examining board member, has attended four of McDonald’s fights. He says the boxer has put as much heart into his apprenticeship as he has poured into his new sport. “I’ve been more impressed with Jurmain the more I’ve gotten to know him,” he says. “He’s humble and he gets more accomplished in one day than most of us do in a week.”

As for McDonald’s limited rounds in the ring, Howell says, “Jurmain hasn’t been a boxer, so he hasn’t been hit a lot,” recalling a sparring match where the broad-shouldered apprentice with the powerful legs of a football running back “took apart” a veteran of 55 fights. And, unlike younger boxers who spend more time on their phones than their feet, McDonald, says Howell, has maintained muscle tone and conditioning through years of basketball and weight training.

“Jurmain has a natural ability to counterpunch and slip punches,” says Howell, whose gym, converted from an old meat market, offers its training at no charge to boxers. He has advised McDonald, who has not yet been knocked down, to expect much stiffer competition at his next tourney in April.

McDonald is leaving the decision on when to turn pro to Howell. While he works to emulate the technique of boxers like Floyd Mayweather and Muhammad Ali, his sports heroes were closer to home.

“My favorite and most inspirational athletes are actually two of my closest friends,” says McDonald. He attended high school in Jefferson City with Sylvester Williams, a Denver Broncos defensive tackle, and Joe Prophet, who plays professional basketball in Spain. Williams, who only played football one year in high school, worked in a factory assembling radiators for trucks before deciding to attend college and get back on the gridiron. 

“Sylvester and Joe were the first to give me the blueprint for success because they came from nothing and worked hard to achieve their goals. That’s what pushes me to fight at the highest potential possible and professionally one day,” says McDonald.

For McDonald, the skills training, decent paychecks and benefits of union membership are now coming with a posse of union supporters from Local 1 in the stands cheering him on.

Along with Newton, his gallery has included Local 1 Financial Secretary Jim Douglas; Recording Secretary John Karhoff Jr.; Tom George Jr., apprenticeship committee member; Steve Muehling, business representative; Greg Schwartz and Jeff Witt, examining board; and John Moyle, press secretary.

“Jurmain is a class act and a phenomenal fighter who always brings a crowd with him,” says Douglas. “He’s usually the hit of the ring and even gets standing ovations at his fights.”