James DeGale fought in all of the major amateur tournaments going into the 2008 Olympics, yet he was an 80-1 underdog to win the gold medal. However, in the second round of the Beijing Games he beat the American representative Shawn Estrada and then upset reigning Olympic champion and Val Barker Trophy winner (for best boxer at the 2004 Olympics) Bakhtiyar Artayev in the quarter finals before turning back the challenge of the late Darren Sutherland, who held a 4-1 advantage in previous meetings. In the finals DeGale held off the challenge of gifted Cuban Emilio Correa Jr. to become only the ninth British boxer to win gold at the Olympics.
Of those before him none have gone on to become a world champion in the pros, something DeGale says he is intent on changing.
As a pro the 27-year-old London native currently holds a mark of 16-1 with 11 knockouts. After an unimpressive debut “Chunky” set about refining his style into a more pro friendly approach and once he made the adjustment he looked highly impressive. In just his ninth fight he became British champion beating vastly more experienced Paul Smith (29-1, 15 KOs) in scintillating fashion.
Six months later he met amateur nemesis George Groves to unify the British and Commonwealth titles in what was to be his first pro loss, dropping a majority decision by the razor thin scores of 115-115 and 115-114 (twice).
To his credit he bounced back to become European champion, beating grizzled Polish fighter Piotr Wilczewski. He made two successful defences before picking impressively outpointing heavy handed Colombian veteran Fulgencio Zuniga.
DeGale has made two appearances so far in 2013, winning both inside the distance as he moves towards what he hopes will be an eventual world title shot.
“I think I’m one or two fights away,” he told RingTV.com.
He returns from a five-month hiatus against the son of American 1976 Olympic gold medalist Howard Davis Jr., Dyah Davis (22-3-1, 10 KOs) on Saturday at Glow, Kent. (The will be televised live on British TV, Channel 5.)
Anson Wainwright – You return to action on Nov. 16 at Glow in Kent against Dyah Davis. What are your thoughts on that fight?
James DeGale – Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s a decent test. Dyah Davis has been in with some good opponents. He went 10 rounds with Sakio Bika only two fights ago. It’s going to be a good fight. It’s not about treading water no more, I want to get in there and fight good opponents and in the next couple of fights get in there and box for a world title. So I’ve got to get in there and do a job on Dyah Davis.
AW – You last fought in June, forcing Stjepan Bozic to retire after four rounds. What can you tell us about that fight looking back?
JD – To be honest, I think I boxed alright in that fight. I put my combinations together well and I wore him down. I don’t think he could live with the pace and he had to retire. I was pretty pleased with that performance.
AW – You’ve been out of action since then and there have been a few rumors that you were looking at changing your team. What’s the update as far as that’s concerned?
JD – Me and Mick Hennessy had a couple of issues but it’s all sorted and I’m looking forward to moving forward. Mick Hennessy has promised to deliver so we’ll see.
AW – Let’s talk a little about growing up in London?
JD – Growing up in north west London, I’m from Harlesden, to be honest it’s not the nicest part of London. I think 10 years ago it was the gun capital of London. I’m not saying I live in the ghetto but it’s not the nicest place. Everyone knows me around there I’m like a little local celebrity, so I like it. I’m known for the Olympic gold medal and being professional, so it’s nice.
I left school in year nine when I was 14. I was a bit mischievous and naughty so I left school. Well I got expelled in year nine and went and worked with my dad. I started to take the boxing seriously and got picked to box for England and everything basically blew up from there.
AW – How did you first become interested in and then take up boxing?
JD – I did boxing from the age of 10. I wasn’t taking it serious. I was winning national titles on talent alone. I didn’t train, I didn’t run in my life until the age of 16 when I had to take it seriously when I got picked to box for England. I got into boxing from being naughty at school and my parents pushing me saying “James you’re good at this,” they knew I didn’t want to get a normal 9-5 job. They knew properly working wasn’t the right way for me but I was good at boxing and I loved sports, so it was good to carry on that direction.
AW – You were a top amateur, winning countless titles and tournaments culminating in gold at the Beijing Olympics. Can you tell us about your amateur days and about the Olympics?
JD – I boxed for Great Britain from the age of 16, 17 and I was a regular. I travelled the world. Some good times, some of the best times of my life so far, boxing for Great Britain and being with a group of friends doing something I love.
I went to the Commonwealth games, I got a bronze medal there. I went to all the big majors, the Worlds, the European, but I never hit the heights. A lot of people thought I was going to get a medal at them tournaments but I never did. I failed really because I had high expectations of me but I never hit them.
So going into the Olympic games, qualifying for them, I had a chance at a medal but if I won a bronze I’d have maybe overachieved. But at all the majors I didn’t live up to my expectations. I think everyone around me thought if I can get a bronze or get to the late stages I’ve done well. To comeback from the Olympic games, the biggest show on earth with a gold medal – I was a 80-1 underdog – was a crazy experience and a fantastic achievement.
AW – If we look at the super middleweight rankings we have at THE RING, what are your thoughts on your peers?
C – Andre Ward – Good fighter, very good fighter, great fighter, obviously, pound for pound just behind Floyd Mayweather. Not the most exciting to watch but for any man who likes his boxing skill and boxing ability he’s fantastic to watch.
1 – Carl Froch – Another good fighter, road warrior. He’s been around, boxed everyone and got fantastic results. He’s a three time world champion. Tough, gritty, I don’t think technically he’s the best but his other attributes are very good, his chin, his toughness and his work rate and fitness make up for it.
2 – Mikkel Kessler – Once again he’s in great fights, he has some good wins. I think he’s coming to the end of his career. I’m not too sure his heart’s in it fully. A great champion.
3 – Lucian Bute – Once again a good fighter, technically very good, a southpaw, but I’m not sure how big his heart is. I think if someone stays on top of him that he doesn’t deals with the pressure very well. I think after the way he lost to Carl Froch he’s lost a lot of confidence.
4 – Robert Stieglitz – Yeah a good fighter, I think he’s been protected a little. He never comes out of Germany. I don’t think he’s boxed an elite fighter like Carl Froch or Kessler, Ward, someone like that but he’s mixed at a decent level but once he steps up and boxes someone who’s really good he’ll lose his title.
5 – George Groves – Ugly kid (laughs). Once again decent fighter. He hasn’t boxed any names at all. I don’t know how he’s got into the mandatory position to box Carl Froch. I think his last three fights he’s boxed two journeymen and someone who was ranked number 50 in the world. So I don’t know how he’s become mandatory to box Froch but that’s boxing politics. I don’t know how he’s ranked above me, especially in THE RING ratings.
6 – Arthur Abraham – Once again I think his best days are behind him. I’m not too sure if his heart’s in it. He held the title for quite a long time. I think once he boxes one of the five or six elite boxers out there he’ll lose.
7 – Edwin Rodriguez – Good fighter. I boxed him as an amateur and beat him, England vs. U.S.A in 2006. A very good fighter, come forward, aggressive typical Puerto Rican. I actually like him. I think he’s a good fighter.
8 – Thomas Oousthuizen – A good tall southpaw. I’m not too sure if he can hit as hard as he thinks, a good technical boxer. I think he stepped up last time against Brandon Gonzalez and he struggled there and I don’t think Gonzalez is all that but he struggled. I think about six months ago, it was a fight mentioned for me but didn’t happen. I think he’ll box for a world title but I’m not too sure if he can win it and stay there long.
9 – Sakio Bika – This guys a typical African, a tough, tough dude. I remember hearing how Joe Calzaghe said it was the toughest fight of his career and I can see why. He’s tough, not technically the best but he’s durable, game. Every time he steps up to the elite he gets beat. He beat (Marco Antonio) Periban for the vacant WBC title.
10 – James DeGale – (Laughs) Wow, I’m number 10. I should be right up there, top five. I just need the opportunities and if I get them I’ll take it with both hands and I’ll become a world champion.
AW – How far do you feel you are from challenging for a world title?
JD – Not far at all. I think I’m ranked five by the WBC, four by the WBO, nine by the WBA and five by the IBF, so I’m in the top 10 with all of them. Mick Hennessy has promised he’ll deliver and it’s his job to get me in that position to box for the world title. I think I’m one or two fights away but I’m not sure if the current world champions would take me for a voluntary defense. I don’t think they would, so it’s about persisting to get to that mandatory position so that’s what I’m working at, I think I’m one or two fights away.
AW – Over the next couple of months there are some intriguing looking fights at 168 pounds. How do you see some of them going:
Ward-Rodriguez – I think he’s got a decent chance against Ward. I don’t think he’ll win but he’ll put in a decent performance and go 12.
Froch-Groves – Do you know what? I think it’s an intriguing fight. I don’t think it’s a one horse race what people think it is. I think for eight rounds it’s going to be very, very competitive but I think Froch is going to get him late on and stop him late.
AW – What are your goals in boxing?
JD – My goals in boxing is to be the best I can be and win a world title. I want to make history and become the first British gold medalist to win a world title and I will be world champion in six months. I have huge confidence in myself and I think if I get the right fights at the right time I’ll definitely be a world champion. I don’t want to be a world champion and that’s me done, I wanna stay there for a long time.
AW – Do you see someone like Andre Ward as a role model?
JD – Definitely. I look at Andre Ward and as I say he’s probably second in the pound for pound list. He’s a good fighter, he has a great boxing brain. He’s not always the best to watch and he gets a bit of stick for being boring but I love watching him. He puts his shots together nice, moves his feet great.
AW – Away from boxing what do you enjoy doing?
JD – I’m just a down to earth real family man. I love my family, I love my friends, I socialize with my friends when I can. I’m a full time professional. I’m always in the gym, always training, it’s my job. I take it serious. You can’t mess around with boxing, you‘ve got to train extremely hard.
My hobbies are just socializing with friends, I like eating good food, I’m a food man. I like to go to nice restaurants. I don’t mind watching a bit of Football, actually any sport. I love listening to my music.
AW – In closing do you have a message for the super middleweight division?
JD – To be honest, the top super middleweight like Ward, Froch, Stieglitz, they know who I am but I’m not sure if they know how good I am. Oousthuizen, Rodriguez they’re all possible fights for me in the very near future. I want them big fights. I want to box for that world title. Just watch out, if you’re willing to fight me I’m here.
Photos / Ben Stansall-AFP, Julian Finney-Getty Images,Dean Mouhtaropoulos-Getty Images