A British boxer’s career trajectory used to go something like this: British title, Commonwealth title, European title, and then one version of about four – or five, or six, or seven – so-called world titles.
Today, however, the end goal has changed, and a boxer will, if able to do so, trigger an option beyond winning a world title that can only be described as The Money Fight.
It’s an option that doesn’t require a world title. It’s more valuable than one of those. Moreover, it doesn’t even necessarily require a fighter, or their opponent, to be at the top of their game.
Instead, the only prerequisites are they must have a big name, a sizeable profile, and a similarly popular opponent, as well as a promoter and television network willing and able to stump up the cash to bring The Money Fight to fruition.
Yesterday, James DeGale was an IBF world super-middleweight champion. Today, he’s not. The belt he won not once but twice was this morning relinquished and so ends the Londoner’s time as a 168-pound world champion.
Typically a cause for distress, a sign a fighter’s on the wane, DeGale, in deciding to divorce his title on his own terms, has actually avoided the distinct possibility of losing it in the ring – in his very next fight, perhaps – and subsequently triggered The Money Fight phase of his 27-fight, nine-year professional career.
Not a moment too soon, either.
Thirty-two-year-old DeGale, in two distance fights with Caleb Truax, has shown obvious signs of wear and tear – injuries having caught up with him – and is wise and experienced enough to realise the clock is ticking and the window of opportunity about to slam shut. A world champion twice over, he’s seemingly bored of the accolade, realises it leads only to gruelling fights and awkward, low-key mandatory challengers, and instead wants to capitalise on his country’s current obsession with pay-per-view grudge matches and good old British beef.
He watched his good friend Tony Bellew go a similar route towards a couple of fights against a faded David Haye. Bellew, like DeGale, ditched a world championship – in Bellew’s case, the WBC cruiserweight title – in order to feel freedom, swerve some nasty-looking, hard-to-pronounce Eastern Europeans soaring up the rankings, and do what he and every other boxer ideally wants to do in the latter stages of their pro career: he wanted to make life-changing money.
With this is mind, here are a few options James DeGale, 24-2-1 (14), might pursue in the name of this goal, options that will make his decision to dump his IBF title – read: avoid fighting mandatory challenger Jose Uzcategui – a shrewd one.
1) Billy Joe Saunders
You’d be lying if you said you ever saw this one coming, but a fight between former 2008 Olympic teammates DeGale and Saunders has been the talk of boxing in recent weeks and, with options for both dwindling, there’s a decent chance it could become a reality.
Saunders, the WBO middleweight champion, initially placed all his eggs in the Gennady Golovkin basket, hoping the fall-out from the Kazakh’s annulled fight with Canelo Alvarez would leave the door open for a big summer unification fight. But, alas, that never happened.
Instead, Golovkin and Canelo forgot all about their squabble, and the small matter of a failed drug test, and decided to once again make serious bank together, which left Saunders with no option but to look elsewhere for his money fight.
Saunders, like his old amateur buddy, is similarly restless as a world champion, wondering when he’s going to make life-changing money, and seems receptive to the idea of adjusting his middleweight body – which, in truth, never even really looked like a middleweight body – into something closer to a super-middleweight body.
Don’t be surprised, therefore, if Billy Joe, frustrated by a lack of unification options at 160 pounds, dumps his own belt and follows DeGale into The Money Fight phase of his career. Why not? They’re all doing it.
2) Chris Eubank Jr
DeGale and Eubank Jr have been connected ever since they got loose-lipped about some sparring sessions they shared a few years back. Both claimed dominance, both ridiculed their opposite number, and it seemed, despite operating at different weights, the pair were on a collision course of some sort.
Now, with Eubank Jr having jumped from middleweight to super-middleweight in order to participate in the World Boxing Super Series, this fight is perhaps closer than ever.
Certainly, it ticks all the boxes from DeGale’s point of view. Grudge match? Check. Big-name opponent? Check. Money fight? Check.
Irrespective of the fact Eubank Jr has been rumbled as an athletic middleweight with technical flaws, thanks to George Groves, a fight against DeGale would still carry plenty of appeal and still make the two boxers plenty of cash. And that, we’ve come to understand, is kind of all that matters.
3) George Groves
The reasons why George Groves and James DeGale should fight again don’t need to be spelled out, but let’s do it anyway.
They need to fight for a number of reasons:
One, because Groves vs. DeGale is, to my mind, the truest grudge match British boxing has seen for many years.
They hate each other. They really hate each other. Their families hate each other.
Rest assured, this is no manufactured beef designed to dupe the naïve and the uncertain into parting with their hard-earned at the gate or via their remote control. No, quite the opposite. This is as real as it gets.
Two, the dynamic has shifted completely since they last met in 2011. They have, for example, both won world titles – Groves the WBA, DeGale the IBF – and experienced everything there is to experience in the boxing ring. No longer wet behind the ears, they’ve won fights, lost fights, and both had to confound critics who have called for their retirement and labelled them damaged goods.
Three, it’s a bona fide pay-per-view fight. It makes Groves and DeGale wealthy at a time when this is their sole concern and interest and does so because their names have been inextricably linked since childhood. As far as rivalries go, there are few better.
4) Callum Smith
DeGale has already beaten one of the four fighting Smith brothers – Paul, back in 2010 – but a fight with Callum, the youngest, would carry even greater meaning and reward.
Callum, of course, is supposed to fight George Groves in the super-middleweight final of the World Boxing Super Series but has had his patience tested as he waits for a date and venue. A Groves shoulder injury, picked up in round 12 of his semi-final win against Chris Eubank Jr, has proved a momentum-killer and left the Smith final shrouded in uncertainty. Will it? Won’t it? All we know at this stage is that Groves has been declared fit to fight – at some point – and has every intention of meeting Smith in defence of his WBA title. At some point.
Without a date, though, it remains confusing, which is why DeGale, a super-middleweight freelancer with a big name and no promoter, could be a decent back-up option for Smith if Groves’ shoulder continues to kill the buzz. It likely wouldn’t happen as the tournament final. DeGale was never there from the start. But DeGale vs. Smith would certainly appeal as a standalone fight, with or without a title or trophy on the line.