22nd October 2011

It was a brave, or some may say foolish, decision to take on a title fight on the back of a loss. Yet there was steel in DeGale’s eyes as he talked in anticipation of the bout, a fire and grit to take on bigger challenges, to not falter in the wake of defeat.
He repeats his claim that he will be a world champion before the next Olympics, restless to achieve his goals, hungry that he should not be forgotten. His focus and desire for greatness almost overshadows the fear that he is perhaps taking on so much, so early.

He has become a figure of controversy among boxing fans. Loathed by some and loved by others. Wherever he fights, boos and jeers follow. He unwittingly took on the role of the bad guy versus Groves – an arena full of unsettling hostility awaited him. In the pre-fight build-up, he struggled to contain his feelings concerning the old rivalry that stretches back to his days at the Dale Youth Amateur Club.

The animosity between the two young fighters was palpable, and elevated British boxing’s profile once again. Whether desperate to see him destroyed or triumph, he is no doubt a huge draw with a lot of potential. For him to get past his domestic foe is, arguably, a vital step for his professional career.

He has won Olympic gold, claimed both the British and European titles, and is still honing his craft. At times he has been injudicious in his pre-fight theatrics, but love or hate the banter, he has stirred interest in the British boxing scene.

Is he destined to become a pantomime villain of the sport, hostile crowds continually screaming for his demise?

DeGale vs Wilczewski – By Al Stevenson

Those who critique his performances must be mindful of his growing pugilistic repertoire. With his relative inexperience as a pro, he has already participated in two gruelling twelve round fights. Most notable of these is his recent win over Piotr Wilczewski, the seasoned pro from Poland with only the one loss to his long record of 30 wins. In a gruelling match, DeGale soldiered on with pure heart and tenacity to claim a hard-won victory over the tough veteran. He showed both weaknesses and strengths in his performance, eating several looping right hands and suffering a torn eardrum as well as a cut below the eye. Somehow, he prevailed through the storm, using his footwork and razor-sharp reflexes to regain control.

This fight was his chance for redemption after a disappointing – and close – loss to George Groves in May. Those who had judged him on his pre-fight hype for his last outing would have found it impossible to not see a change in his character. He showed maturity, composure and respect in the build-up to facing Wilczewski. He has done so with many of his previous opponents. Yet he is constantly reminded of his trade in insults with Groves, whom he shares a long-standing and very personal rivalry with.

To label him as merely an arrogant talker is to overlook his promising talent, his charisma and his in-ring presence. He has shown hunger for the sport of boxing, a will to never give up, even when faced with unfamiliar territory. For him to have no bitterness and disappointment for his loss to Groves would to be apathetic and uncompetitive. He is known for his hard work ethic in the gym, his close relationship to his family, and loyalty to his trainer Jim McDonnell. The image many construe of him is simply untrue. They mistake his youthful eagerness and confidence for a defected personality.

It is clear he is an emotional character, so passionate for victory that his tactics sometimes fall from him. He can be stubborn, impulsive, and careless; but he is also brilliant, unusual, and extremely refreshing.

We are harsh by nature on our own sporting talents. We place high expectations on them, pile on the pressure, and constantly berate them when they do not produce. We critique and dissect our heroes on a personal and professional level, never giving them the time and room to grow. It would be a pity to see DeGale face a similar fate. Misunderstood and misjudged, he has the ability to go far in boxing, if only he does not thwart himself or take too harshly the criticisms directed his way.

He can turn an easy fight into a war, keeping his hands down instead of holding a tight guard. He does it, he claims, because he simply loves being hit. He both puzzles and intrigues fight fans like no other. He is edge-of-the-seat viewing, full of personality in a sport that needs its heroes and villains to recapture the imaginations of viewers. He is exactly the persona we should embrace in boxing.

He is not the finished product; he is not perfect and he will make mistakes. Like all young prospects, there are improvements to undergo and experience to be gained. He must pace himself and not rush to prove he is world class. If he can maintain his composure and continue to learn, there is no reason why his name should not be around for years to come, thrilling or frustrating us with more exciting battles.

By Jane G.

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