2017 was a bad year for James DeGale; a twelve month stretch that included complicated surgery, losing two front teeth and a title loss. On Saturday night he looks to get back on track, rolling the dice on a Vegas debut filled with enough risks to match any maiden appearance in Sin City.
Like many Brits, DeGale was stunned by the impressive introduction his opponent made to the UK public in December’s first fight. Pre-Degale, Caleb Truax was a name vaguely mentioned on these shores, popping up infrequently on podcasts in reference to the more famous fighters he’d faced, rather than discussed for his own achievements. That all changed at London’s Copper Box before Christmas, as the hungry Minnesotan ripped the title away from a lacklustre DeGale with an aggressive, endearing performance.
The evening was meant to open a new chapter for Chunky. Headlining his first BT Sport card, the heavily promoted homecoming title defence was setup for DeGale to showcase his skills; a routine audition of sorts, to become a leading face on Frank Warren’s flagship broadcast platform. He now finds himself back stateside, supporting Lara-Hurd, on a show only recently added to Boxnation’s schedule.
It’s hard to see the rematch being any easier. Four months on from what DeGale has described as an embarrassing defeat for which he was ill prepared, the 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist faces a buoyed American on his home patch. DeGale has put a lot of his problems down to a fast-track rehabilitation; the injured shoulder shouldering most of the blame for his last two below par outings.
In last week’s interview with Gareth A Davies, he claimed – only now – to be mentally and physically tip-top. He had, however, alleged his injured right arm was feeling ‘even better than the left’, in the build up to Truax I. Getting straight back in with a guy who’s taken you to deep waters usually signals a desire to conquer the demons. But this quick rematch, away from home, has an air of desperation.
Along with the physical issues, the inclusion of Paulie Malignaggi as ‘fight consultant’ hints at tactical concerns. The Magic Man’s been uncharacteristically quiet about his input to preparations; his Showtime contract possibly preventing any explicit vocal support for the travelling Brit. Yet Paulie will be calling the fight for his employer on Saturday, rather than calling the shots in DeGale’s corner, an indicator that his involvement has been minimal, or possibly not worked out.
It’s not all negatives for the challenger. Even in post-fight victory, Caleb Truax described James DeGale as a ‘much better boxer’, crediting his ability to make the first clash a ‘dogfight’ as the main reason for his win in England. Bookmakers install the Londoner as firm odds-on favourite to right the wrongs of last time, too. The shoulder’s had more time to heal and an away-day may turn out positive; removed from the pressures of an expectant hometown crowd.
Should he reclaim his IBF title, there’s a lucrative unification fight in the pipeline, once George Groves and Callum Smith’s domestic showdown has determined the Super Series king. But the fact DeGale is already discussing these potential matchups, along with a David Benavidez bout, should set alarm bells ringing for his followers. Underrating Truax once was understandable. Twice would be ridiculous.
The prospect of losing to a fighter DeGale regards ‘not on his level’ has prompted retirement talk from Britain’s first Olympic champion to win a professional world title. It might seem like familiar hyperbole; a fighter in a tough spot, promising to hang them up in the face of a loss. But with injuries mounting and the supposed counter-puncher recently shipping more shots than he’s avoided, some tough talks have clearly taken place between the team, following the ‘devastating’ loss to Truax. A defeat at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino will leave Chunky wedged between a rock and hard place. Should Degale fail to regain his belt in Vegas, it might genuinely be time to walk away from the table.