In not entirely unexpected news, James DeGale announced earlier today that he has officially vacated his IBF super middleweight world title.
With a message on his official social media channels, DeGale stated that he has relinquished his belt with the intention of seeking the “biggest fights possible” in what he termed the “final phase” of his career.
— James DeGale (@jamesdegale1) July 4, 2018
His announcement has already generated a large number of well wishes from fans and figures within the boxing world, but plenty of harsh words from critics too.
The perception in the latter’s corner is that DeGale has blatantly “ducked” his IBF mandatory, Jose Uzcategui, who produced a career-best performance in his last fight by stopping Andre Dirrell for the IBF interim title. A purse bid for the two to meet had been ordered by the IBF for this Thursday 5thJuly.
DeGale, the first British boxer to win both an Olympic gold medal and a professional World title, has enjoyed a career that anyone would have been proud of.
After capturing the IBF title in the USA against the home favourite, the aforementioned Dirrell, he defended it thrice on the road against former titleholder Lucian Bute, hard-nosed Mexican contender Rogelio Medina and the then-WBC-boss, Badou Jack in a punishing unification bout which resulted in a majority draw.
All were competitive and exciting contests, but they appear to have taken their toll on DeGale.
After gaining a reputation for his slick southpaw style while rising up the ranks to World title contention, the Londoner has been eating a worrying amount of shots of late. His homecoming bout, in what was expected to be a routine defence against American visitor Caleb Truax, turned into a nightmare.
DeGale was outfought and out-hustled by his unheralded foe en route to a majority decision loss in one of the biggest boxing upsets of 2017. An immediate rematch in the US was agreed, and in April this year DeGale regained his title by close unanimous decision, however, looked far from convincing.
One need not be the second coming of Cus D’Amato to work out that Uzcategui is all wrong for DeGale at this stage of the Englishman’s career.
The relentless, hard-punching, hard-charging Venezuelan is all pain and maim as Andre Dirrell found out in their two fights. In the first fight, Uzcategui was ahead on the scorecards when he hit Dirrell after the bell, hurting him too badly to be able to continue, resulting in his disqualification.
In the second meeting, Dirrell took a hellacious beating and was retired by his corner at the end of the eighth round. Uzcategui takes a good punch (Dirrell’s uncle infamously landed a clean sucker punch on his chin post-fight and he barely flinched) and is the younger (by four years) and much fresher man than DeGale. Even DeGale’s staunchest believers will admit that Uzcategui would have been a handful for him.
The suggestion, however, that Uzcategui is being ‘ducked’ will provoke a defensive chorus of indignation.
As the saying goes, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck: and on a literal reading of the facts, DeGale and his team are choosing to avoid what is a difficult and unpleasant responsibility.
Yet the use of such an emotive term laced with connotations of dishonour, sits uneasily with me. Especially when referencing a man in DeGale who – by his own admission – is at the tail-end of a stellar career, with his best fighting days firmly in the rear window and who has taken significant punishment in his last few contests.
There has been no attempt to keep the IBF belt hostage and DeGale is open in his desire to seek fights which will offer him the maximum financial reward at this stage in his career. Just as Uzcategui is all wrong for DeGale in boxing terms, so he is in economic terms.
There are fights out there for DeGale that would be incomparably more lucrative; the winner of the George Groves-Callum Smith World Boxing Super Series super middleweight final; a grudge match with Chris Eubank Jr. (who has taunted and called out DeGale for years) or a fight with former England amateur teammate and current WBO middleweight world champion Billy Joe Saunders – whether at a catch-weight or the 168lbs limit.
These are the type of fights which are now expected of DeGale following his abdication as a monarch of the super middleweight division – and no less.
Only time will tell as to whether they will be realised. For now, he deserves a pass from boxing fans.
Article by: Paul Lam
You can follow Paul on Twitter at: @PaulTheWallLam