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DeGale's time to reassert himself


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http://static.boxrec.com/wiki/0/0f/James_DeGale_3.jpgBy Mark Turley: A week before the much hyped Froch v Groves, WBA and IBF title event in Manchester, our third super-middleweight, Harlesden’s James DeGale (16-1), will try again to reassert his credentials for world honours. Despite some recent momentum, there is a lot of dissatisfaction surrounding the progression of his career. At 27, and with five years of dust gathered on that Olympic gold medal, DeGale is like an 800 metre runner who has ended the first lap 20 metres behind his rivals. If he can’t kick on from here, he will finish in the pack and be forgotten.

On Saturday night he faces Florida’s Dyah Davis in Kent, knowing that a slip-up would be catastrophic. You suspect from the way DeGale has expressed himself in the pre-fight publicity, that a loss on Saturday might even signal retirement. It may be a worst case scenario, but if things did break down in that way, ‘Chunky’ would be remembered as perhaps the biggest waste of talent in the history of British boxing.

This can be a strange sport in some ways and since losing to Groves, by such a tight and controversial margin in May 2011, the feeling is that ‘Saint GG’ has pushed on, while DeGale’s career has stagnated, despite picking up the European and now the WBC ‘Silver’ Championships. A smooth, naturally gifted operator, his last three fights have provided routine wins against mediocre opposition and the naysaying of the doubters has grown stronger, regardless of the results. DeGale has suspect stamina. DeGale lays on the ropes and loses his concentration. DeGale lacks the power to mix with the elite. He can’t bully an opponent or break down a solid defence. A quick scan of any boxing forum where ‘Chunky’ is being discussed will show such views aired repeatedly. There have been calls for him to sack trainer and mentor, Jim McDonnell and it is to DeGale’s great credit that he has been wise enough to ignore them.

Perhaps it is the old British ‘build em up and knock em down’ mentality. Perhaps our collective memories are tarnished by the disappointment of our last great gold medal prospect, Audley Harrison, who repeatedly failed to deliver on his biggest promises. Perhaps DeGale is paying the price for the arrogant persona he portrayed before the Groves fight, but you can’t help but feel that the man lampooned in an infamous Youtube video as ‘James DeFail’, in which he is shown uttering the immortal words, “the buture’s fright, the buture’s Chunky”, has been given a rough ride. Injury setbacks, promotional changes and an image problem may have hampered his progress slightly, but he is ranked 9th by BoxRec and the WBA, 3rd by the WBC, 5th by the IBF and 4th by the WBO. It is hardly indicative of a career on the rocks.

Despite that, it must jar his nerves that his lifelong rival, Groves, since edging that decision at the London O2, has gone on to gain a world title shot at a huge arena, on a Pay-Per-View event, while Chunky finds himself defending a minor championship at Glow, situated just off the M25 in the soulless, consumer monolith that is the Bluewater shopping centre. The reality is that Groves’ opponents have been no better than his. Neither man has mixed it with top-ten fighters as yet. All that separates them is that slender points decision. Yet there are many tipping Groves to become a World Champion next weekend, while the powder has still not ignited under DeGale’s career. You sense that could be about to change.

“It's time now for me to make a statement because it's not about treading water, trust me, I do want the big fights and I want the big names.” DeGale said, to Sky in October, with words more measured than the past.

“I know they're out there and big nights ahead, but now my only focus is on Davis, November 16th and delivering a big performance for the fans. I'm not overlooking him, if anything I'm more focused on him because I know where a good performance here can lead me."

The man standing in his way insists he is coming to fight. Dyah Davis described himself in the Daily Star as a “world class opponent” and is supported by legendary pundit Al Bernstein who summed him up “a very good ring technician who likes to control the tempo of a fight…He has good hand speed, an excellent uppercut and is also capable of throwing good combinations…his effort in this fight will be the best he can mount.”

At 32, Davis (22-3-1) probably has only one more chance to try to propel himself into the big time. A last round, TKO defeat to WBC champion Sakio Bika last June sees him currently occupy a position very much as a fringe contender. Ranked 23 by BoxRec, with a 38% KO rate and a chequered career that has seen him drop decisions to domestic level fighters, he should not possess the weaponry or intensity needed to outgun or outbox the Brit.

Provided DeGale’s head is right, Saturday should be the night when he leaves these kinds of contests behind. If he is ever to fulfil his potential, the time is now. A convincing win should seem him challenge either for the WBC or WBO World Championship in the near future and give him what he really wants - an opportunity to silence the critics.

The undercard on Saturday features former British and European light-welter champion Lenny Daws coming back against Welshman Tony Pace, a fascinating battle between Arfan Iqbal and Southern Area Light Heavyweight Champion Leon Senior and light middleweight prospect Adam Battle in his 8th contest.

The main event is live on Channel 5 at 10pm.




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