James DeGale had his hand raised in victory on Saturday night at the Agganis Arena in Boston, Massachusetts being declared the new IBF super-middleweight champion and making history in the process by becoming the first Olympic gold medalist from Great Britain to win a world title.
The build up to this title bout reached boiling point between DeGale and opponent Andre Dirrell with the Americans brothers Anthony and Willie taunting the Londoner at open workouts.
DeGale also endured the taunts at the press conference and the heated weigh in which saw both fighters exchange verbals and even promoter Eddie Hearn get involved in a shout out with team Dirrell.
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There was also the worry last week with rumours spreading that the American might not make weight therefore no world title will be fought for. But both boxers weighed in within the 168Ib limit, suggesting that the rumours were all part of a set of mind games along with the taunts in an attempt to unsettle the travelling fighter.
The Harlesdon man showed no signs that he was frustrated as his mind was purely focused on that world title. At 29 DeGale has matured with age admitting that the sole defeat to rival George Groves was partly down to his own mistakes where he was a young 11 fight novice.
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That loss has turned out in many ways to be a blessing as the Olympic gold medalist kept a cool head in his unanimous decision points win over Dirrell to win the world title.
It was a good start from the Englishman who was imposing more forward movement and throwing more shots and took the first round. In the second it looked close as both slick southpaws were trying to figure each other out, arguably Dirrell could have nicked it with more flush punches and a quicker defence.
But a lighting explosive left hook from DeGale towards the end of the round dropped and dazed Dirrell and with eight seconds remaining the 2004 Olympic bronze medalist was decked again leaving the American with a massive mountain to climb.
Through the middle rounds DeGale appeared to coast and allow Dirrell back into the fight, the American at times showcased his fast combinations and strong jab but Chunky showed how fit his engine is and, even though he may not have imposed himself much on Dirrell in the middle rounds, never looked hurt or bothered.
Going into the 11th and 12th rounds it was close but you got the feeling whenever James landed a punch it troubled Dirrell. The fight was a great world title display from both fighters who showed tremendous heart, while insults shared at the end of some of the rounds between the two added to the excitement. But at the finish both Olympians embraced each other to show signs of sportsmanship.
History was made as the two knock-downs proved pivotal with DeGale winning the IBF strap on points. There must be credit given to Dirrell as he was able to get up after being floored twice and continue till the end, his own mental state was questioned in the build up to this fight with former champion Carl Froch labelling him a 'coward' with the wrong mentality.
There was to a degree no loser on Saturday as Dirrell was able to answer his critics and tough it out surviving two early knock-downs which would have easily disposed the majority of fighters in the Super-Middleweight division. The time has finally arrived for DeGale who will forever be in the record books and like he did with his Gold medal in China, he won his first world title on away soil.
Not In The Shadows Anymore
For a fighter that for many years has been in the shadows of both George Groves and Carl Froch the southpaw can now boast that he is the only one who holds gold out of the three of them. The former IBF champion Froch (who chose to vacate the strap) has stated that he will make an announcement on his future early next month, although recently the only opponent mentioned as a possible foe is the hard hitting Gennady Golovkin, suggesting that even, if the Cobra does return, it won't be for a world title.
November 2013 saw both Groves and Froch headline at the 21,000 capacity Phones 4u Arena in Manchester in their first fight adding massive publicity to the start of a mouth-watering rivalry, while DeGale at the time was fighting in the Bluewater Glow arena in front of a capacity of around 6,000.
This is credit to how well DeGale has grown and matured over the years, the only gold medalist out of the three but watching his rivals make headlines whilst fighting in small arenas must never have been easy.
Seeing his amateur rival (who beat DeGale by a single point) Groves become increasingly popular must have made the blood boil, even more so when Chunky appeared on the under-card of Froch-Groves 2, a sell-out at Wembley Stadium. Now though the belt and growing fame is firmly in the 29 year old's hands.
The Long Wait is Over
Early last year DeGale was set to meet Badou Jack for a WBC title final eliminator fight, only for Jack to get knocked out in a supposed warm up fight against Dereck Edwards leaving number one slot open to debate.
At the time the WBC champion Sakio Bika then opted to fight Anthony Dirrell in a much demanded rematch, making the wait even longer for DeGale to get hold of a title opportunity. The Englishman also had to endure a long period of waiting over Carl Froch's (when the Cobra held the IBF belt) decision on whether he would fight or vacate. The Nottingham man chose to vacate, leaving an April 25th title date at the o2 in the mind of Eddie Hearn, only for Dirrell's manager Al Haymon to win purse bids and schedule the bout for May 23rd in Boston.
The irony of the waiting game saw DeGale's former target Badou Jack actually claim the WBC belt earlier this year beating Anthony Dirrell. The frustrations the Olympian has had to endure have all been a part of building up mental strength and making a greater champion, now the IBF holder, you may argue it's taken longer than expected for DeGale to reach world champion status.
But the reasons for this were out of his control, even in the Dirrell fight where the bout was expected to be scheduled for late April, DeGale was able to focus and make sure along with his trainer Jim McDonnell that there was a respite and he didn't over-train.
Who Next For DeGale?
Now a world champion under promoter Eddie Hearn who believes his fighter will next be out in October defending his belt in London, DeGale has the opportunity to showcase his skills in front of his support and look towards the mega fights in the division.
As British fight fans we hope that WBC mandatory George Groves can beat champion Badou Jack later this year in America to set up a highly anticipated rematch and unification fight which Hearn would want next summer.
The rivalry between the Londoners is at boiling point. There were claims last year there was a backstage brawl between the two with DeGale's mother and Groves's wife getting involved during a Liverpool fight card where both fighters featured.
This year Eddie Hearn also tried to make the vacant IBF strap an all British fight between the two but the Groves opted out suggesting it would be a bigger fight if it was in the summer with more on the line if he is to win the WBC title.
The likes of fellow Brit fighters Rocky Fielding and Callum Smith are also knocking on the door and there serves appetising contests across the boxing boards with the likes of Andre Ward and Arthur Abraham the other world champions (providing they get through their defences this summer).
The feeling suggests that James DeGale with his long time trainer Jim Mcdonnell, promoter Eddie Hearn and advisor Ambrose Mendy will be a world champion for a long time, after his title victory the history maker said "there's no other Super-Middleweight in the world who will beat me" with Mendy also stating that his fighter will not taste defeat again in his career.
Although this is the normality of a newly crowned champion laying their sword announcing how superior they are to the others, you get the feeling that, the way DeGale's career has panned out, and the frustrations he has endured, that maybe this victory has been more special and has meant that much more to him.
The Londoner is the rightful owner of the IBF belt and I can't see him letting go of it any time soon. The career of world champion and history maker James DeGale has only just begun.
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