JAMES DEGALE, a 2008 Olympic gold medallist, raced to win the British title in just nine fights. But after losing to bitter rival George Groves, his career stalled. After fighting Gevorg Khatchikian in the City Academy Sports Centre in Bristol, a low point, he clawed his way back, halting highly rated Brandon Gonzales and Marco Antonio Periban last year. Today (Saturday May 30), he finally gets his shot at the IBF super-middleweight title when he fights Andre Dirrell at the Agganis Arena in Boston.
“My time is now,” the Harlsden man declared. “I’ve got to take this chance with both hands. I’m too good to get many more chances. Because no one’s going to fight me just for a voluntary defence.”
Should he win tonight DeGale would become the first man to win an Olympic gold medal for GB and go on to take a world title as a professional boxer. “A lot of people say I’m obsessed with this making history stuff,” said DeGale. “I am. I want to be the first Olympic gold medallist for Great Britain to become world champion.
“For me to be the first one from my country, it would be unbelievable. It’s a lot of pressure. I’m up against it against Dirrell, he’s a good fighter, a very, very good fighter.
“I can’t let him get into his rhythm. I can’t let him settle and dictate. I can’t be stupid. Once again I can’t be the way I was against Groves, just coming forward… I’ve got to use my feet, I’ve got to use my head movement, get in and out, I’ve to throw loads of shots, come over the top. I’ve got to go to the sides, I’ve got to be elusive. I’ve got to be here, there and everywhere.”
His sheer confidence still rings through, even the hard road his career has taken since the loss Groves has tempered his exuberance, to an extent. “It’s humbled me a little bit,” he said, “but it’s all part of the journey, it’s all part of the story.
“You’ve seen me grow up. I’m 29 now. I’ve got more important things to think about than being stupid… I wasn’t arrogant. I was just confident in my own ability and I knew how good I was and I knew how far I was going.
“I think once I win this fight against Andre Dirrell, I’m going to get a lot more respect.”
But DeGale doesn’t care about being loved. He’s just desperate to win that world title. “Look at Mayweather, it’s crazy. He just got booed. He’s a boxing genius, he just got booed after he smashed up Pacquiao, it’s crazy,” James said.
He has shown an admirable desire to fight the best around. Renewing his rivalry with George Groves would be an appealing option, should DeGale win the IBF crown. “That’s a fight I would like. I’ve just got to win this world title. After I win this world title I can half start calling the shots, calling people out,” the Harlsden man said. “I want to box the best. I want to box Andre Ward. I want to box [WBO champion Arthur] Abraham. [Gennady] Golovkin, if he moves ups, it’s a fantastic fight. He’s a beast, he’s horrible but listen, I’m in boxing for the big names. He’s a small super-middleweight as well.”
He is fighting for Carl Froch’s old title but doesn’t expect to get to fight the Nottingham star, who has expressed little interest in a clash with DeGale. “He should retire as well. He’s getting on. He’s got a lot of money. He’s achieved a lot. He needs to relax,” James said. “There’s no point coming for me.
“He’s tough, he’s durable. There’s a possibility he could hit me with a big right hand, me being a bit stupid, switching off and getting knocked out… But a slim, slim chance. I’d absolutely batter him.”
Major fights would lie ahead for DeGale, but if he wins the title tonight.