James DeGale comes of age in a bloody steak of a fight with Badou Jack – so what next?
By G.E. Simons
Since his split decision loss in a British super-middleweight title fight against George Groves in May 2011, James DeGale has enjoyed an impressive uneaten run collecting wins in the UK, Denmark, Canada and the US, picking up the IBF World super-middleweight title along the way.
DeGale became Word champion by edging out Andre Dirrell almost four years to the day since collecting that only professional career loss against Groves and has successfully defended the strap three times since, against Lucian Bute, Rogelio Medina and Badou Jack.
Whether by design or circumstance, DeGale has made all three defences on foreign soil against opponents that have all given him more problems than he or the oddsmakers had anticipated or predicted.
His January unification fight with WBC title-holder Badou Jack got 2017 off to a great start in New York and is probably one of the best drawn contests that you will see this year. It was a rough, tough and bloody rare steak of a fight, albeit one with a seam of skill and will running right through the heart of it.
Jack walked away from the encounter and almost certainly into a light-heavyweight future, exhibiting more frustration with the majority draw scorecards than he was entitled to, as neither combatant really deserved to win and neither combatant really deserved to lose.
A more pragmatic DeGale walked away from the Brooklyn ring without a couple of teeth but with a perforated ear drum and broken nose, his reputation greatly enhanced through the incredible toughness, machismo and taste for a proper tear up that he showed in a real mano a mano.
Which leaves us with two fundamental questions. Just how good is James DeGale and what comes next for him?
DeGale is clearly a very, very good fighter with quick hands, athleticism, tremendous footwork and real snap in his punching. He is also the first British pugilist to win both an Olympic gold medal (Beijing 2008), before going on to win a version of a professional World title.
Further, he has lost only once against another very good fighter in George Groves and beaten solid operators in Brandon Gonzales, Marco Antonio Periban, Andre Dirrell and Lucian Bute.
But even in these victories and especially in the loss to Groves and the draw with Jack, he has lacked that extra gear, that reserve of stamina or that mercurial divining rod of something unexpected which elevates fighters and invites them to breath that rarefied air surrounding mount greatness.
In the build up to the Badou Jack fight and in an interview with iFIlm TV, James DeGale described his opponent as “A quality operator.” and “a good all round fighter.”
Ironically he could have been describing himself and there’s nothing wrong with that description especially within the context of a super-middleweight landscape where there are a number of other quality operators, if no obvious standout.
Which leads onto what or who is next for James DeGale.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph and following the Badou Jack decision, promoter Eddie Hearn said “James has just gone through a war and it will take him until the summer to come back. He’ll need that time.”
The Matchroom Boxing supremo is right, but come the summer there are no shortage of interesting options out there, including:
Badou Jack’s vacation of the WBC title has muddied the waters a little, as had DeGale taken the belt with a victory, a first defence against Callum Smith would already be signed. Instead we will likely see Smith challenge Antony Dirrell for the vacant belt in late spring. Victory there would guarantee a terrific unification civil war with DeGale in the late summer. Likelihood of it happening next 5/5.
That DeGale and Groves will meet again is inevitable, whether it is next for DeGale is debatable. The Saint has his own commitments in the shape of a tilt at the WBA Super super-middleweight title against Fedor Chudinov confirmed for early 2017. Get through that and Wembley Stadium could beckon once more for a domestic dust up of the super-middles, with titles on the line. Likelihood of it happening next 4/5.
Chris Eubank Jnr.
Agent provocateur Eubank Jnr. called out DeGale after the Jack fight saying “He (DeGale) came out of a 12-round fight and he’s got no teeth – that’s embarrassing in my opinion.” Middleweight Junior fights Renold Quinlan for an IBO bauble in February and who knows his goading might just draw DeGale into a blockbuster summer payday. Likelihood of it happening next 3/5.
Jack has now officially vacated his WBC super-middleweight title as he prepares for a move to light-heavyweight, barring a move up in weight for DeGale a rematch seems highly unlikely. An appetite remains however with both claiming unfinished business, a residual interest from Mayweather promotions in James DeGale and more dollars to be made with fighters who match up well. Likelihood of it happening next 2/5.
Just as Froch was frustrated by Joe Calzaghe’s retirement before they could meet, so James DeGale was frustrated by Carl Froch hanging them up nearly a decade later. The Cobra clearly retains an itch that would be scratched by lacing them up one more time but his head seems to continue to rule his heart. That said, this is boxing so never say never. Likelihood of it happening next 1/5.