JAMES DEGALE is on the pads. The southpaw, I have to admit, does look sharp. The punches slam into Jim McDonnell’s pads with a satisfying crack. His back doesn’t touch the ropes, not once. He moves, slinging the shots easily into his trainer’s mitts. He doesn’t look like the boxer who laboured in both a stunning loss to Caleb Truax and then a gruelling win for the rematch. He looks good.
But DeGale is no longer a world champion. He relinquished his IBF super-middleweight title and will not face mandatory challenger Jose Uzcategui. This, he tells Boxing News, is “a smart business move”.
“I want the big fights,” he explained. “I got a lot of stick for vacating my belt, but I was world champion for just over three years. It was a long time, I had a long reign. I lost it but four months later I won it back. This is just a wise business move now.
“I can see the finishing line with my career. I’ve only got a couple of years left so I want the biggest fights and the biggest money. It’s not all about money but when you’ve dedicated yourself to boxing for 20 years, you want those last couple of big pay days.”
It has been a long road for DeGale from winning Olympic gold, winning the British title, losing to old rival George Groves, rebuilding, falling back and rebuilding again. He’s entitled to look fondly over his career and, as he opens an old trainer and friend’s boxing club, memories of his days as an amateur at Dale Youth flow easily back. “When you talk about amateur pedigree: Schoolboys, NABCs, a two time ABA champion, Commonwealth bronze, Olympic gold, do you know what I’m saying. When I turned pro, British, European, two-time world champion. I lived the dream. I went to America, boxed some world class opponents. My career has been fantastic and I don’t mean to blow smoke up my arse but I’ve done well,” he says.
At the opening of this refurbished gym in Acton, DeGale entered the ring at the the new Hooks amateur boxing club, run by Steve Newland, to demonstrate the skills that made him a champion.
“Steve Newland, he means a lot to me. He was a massive part of my journey towards to Olympics. He trained me the last bit of my amateur career so anything I can do to help Steve Newland I’ll do,” he told Boxing News. “He’s just opened his new gym, Hooks. He is so dedicated to amateur boxing, he loves it, he loves bringing up the kids, bringing them to all his shows. He’s wicked so anything I can do I do to help.”
Revisiting the amateur scene is a pleasant interlude from the machinations and complications of professional boxing. But DeGale does have an upcoming fight in the works, even if he declines confirm the date and the venue.
“My team’s working hard behind the scenes, something’s coming real big. I’ve got [American manager] Al Haymon behind me. He’s got a plan, he’s got my next move sorted,” James says. “I want to get back in there, get back in camp and get back in the ring.”
A defence against Uzcategui would be a war, no doubt, but it would obstruct the major fights DeGale wants. “I want to get out of boxing with all my faculties and a rich man. I want those big fights. I know I’ve had a couple with Groves. I want to be in those big domestic grudge matches and British boxing is booming at the minute,” he said. “If I can get those last couple with Groves, [Chris] Eubank, [Callum] Smith, whoever it is. Wait and see. I’ve lived the American dream, I’ve been over there, I’ve boxed, I’ve done it. So now I think it’s time.”
Eubank Junior figures prominently in DeGale’s wishlist. “Eubank, he’s run his mouth, his dad’s got a massive issue with me, so I think hopefully his wish is going to come true,” he said. “His wish could be coming true, so we’ll see. There’s a lot of options out there. People think because I gave up my belt I don’t bring a lot to the table [but] who wouldn’t want me on their record?
“Sometimes it doesn’t have to be a world championship. It’s just about the grudge and two quality fighters fighting and making it an event which people want to see.”
With the influential Al Haymon advising him, DeGale could still box in America once more, with David Benavidez, the WBC super-middleweight champion, and WBO boss Gilberto Ramirez obvious targets.
“I think that’s another possible fight, Benavidez. He’s a hungry young Mexcian, he’s game, throws a lot of punches. He’s very ambitious. He think he’s the best, he’s confident and he’s a good fighter. Ramirez I don’t think is looked at as good but he’s still a quality fighter,” DeGale said.
“Worldwide there’s good fights all over the place. I’ve got a lot of options. We’ll see.”