James DeGale is a curious case. For pure talent there is arguably no-one better in the super-middleweight division. But he remains eminently beatable, and this stems from his tendency to take rounds off in the middle of high-profile fights.
DeGale, the IBF champion, is one of the most frustrating fighters to watch in boxing. His speed, the variety of his punches, and his head movement are all excellent, but he appears to either be overconfident or have fatigue issues.
He has good, if not concussive, power, and when he wants to be DeGale (23-1-KO14) is incredibly hard to get a measure of. These attributes make his mid-fight complacency all the more infuriating.
Recovering from a controversial early loss to George Groves in 2011, DeGale put together an enviable run of victories, with three straight stoppage wins in 2014 paving the way for a shot at the vacant IBF title in May 2015. There DeGale encapsulated his unique mixture of frightening talent and frustrating deficiencies, as he almost threw away a comfortable lead, earned in large part by two second round knockdowns, by doing essentially nothing for rounds at a time.
However, he was awarded the unanimous decision over Andre Dirrell to become the first Brit to win an Olympic gold medal and a world title. Lacklustre decisions over faded veterans Lucian Bute and Rogelio “Porky” Medina followed, with that win over Medina being DeGale’s only action of 2016. Inactivity is another reason why DeGale is so infuriating. There is no excuse for a healthy world champion, in their prime, to fight just once in a calendar year.
DeGale’s performances against Bute and particularly Medina have provided fodder for those who argue the 30-year-old is overrated. He was expected to win both fights easily, with a stoppage against Medina thought to be par for the course. In reality, he laboured to a somewhat debatable win over the Mexican, while he managed to stave off Bute who showed he had more in the tank than many people thought.
To his credit, though, DeGale has fought his last three bouts on the road, including going into the lion’s den in Quebec when he beat Bute. His reputation as a road warrior is well earned, and should be applauded, and he has certainly raised his profile in America. Despite this, ticket sales for his unification bout with WBC champion Badou Jack next weekend have reportedly been slow.
Jack (20-1-2-KO12) is a tricky puzzle to work out. He rarely does anything spectacular, unlike DeGale, but he is extremely efficient and boxes well for the full 12 rounds. His rise to champion was unexpected, as he was the underdog in both his title shot and his first defence. A majority decision over Anthony Dirrell in April 2015 won him the strap, and a split decision over DeGale’s old foe Groves solidified his status as a top-tier super-middleweight.
The Swede has also fought just once in 2016, keeping his title despite a majority draw with Bute in April. To avoid the assumption that Jack is therefore automatically worse than DeGale, it is worth pointing out that he absolutely won that fight and that the judge’s interpretation of the action was bizarre to say the least.
Jack will again be the underdog against DeGale but “Chunky” cannot afford his usual tactic of taking rounds off. Jack is busy, he will keep coming forward and will steal rounds if DeGale lets him. DeGale could well blow Jack away. If he comes fast out the gates then this fight could be over early. Jack’s only loss was a first-round knockout defeat to Derek Edwards in February 2014, and his chin is susceptible.
DeGale should win this. That is the accepted narrative going into this one. But he needs to be at his best for the entire fight. If not, Jack could well notch another upset. It is time for Britain’s number one super-middleweight to prove he is the world’s number one super-middleweight, too.by