James DeGale faces Andre Dirrell in Boston on Saturday hoping to create history by becoming the first British Olympic gold medallist to become a world champion in the professional ranks.
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DeGale’s career has been a series of highs and lows through his amateur days right up to this weekend. His record stands at 20-1 with 14 KOs, but he is only now entering his prime both in terms of maturity and his physical ability.
After losing to bitter rival George Groves as an amateur, the 29-year-old went on to represent Great Britain at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing where he won a gold medal.
However, the success and fame that came with it arguably went to his head as his personality hasn’t always endeared him to the general public. After successfully making the transition to the professional game, another crushing loss to Groves in 2011 set him back.
‘Chunky’ was forced to bide his time and rebuild, fighting in smaller halls as he re-established himself in the super-middleweight division before pushing through the levels in order to reach world status.
A niggling groin injury continued to effect him and restricted him in the ring, and ultimately that also contributed to his reputation going into a decline given the nature of his performances.
Fast forward to 2014 and DeGale signed with Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing. The Londoner was immediately put on the bill for Froch vs Groves II at Wembley Stadium, knocking out Brandon Gonzales in emphatic fashion.
However, despite establishing himself as a mandatory challenger for Froch’s IBF title, a fight with his domestic rival wasn’t forthcoming and eventually the ‘Cobra’ vacated the belt which in turn has set up this weekend’s bout.
Another impressive performance against Marco Antonio Periban in November continued to ensure that his stock soared, and with it he has seemingly learned his lesson. The brash, cocky Londoner has been tempered, and in his place is a man driven by success and a desire to create history.
Importantly, the Harlesden-born star is injury free and focused, and as he has proven over the last 12 months, the bigger the stage and the better the opposition, the more he thrives and puts on a show.
DeGale genuinely believes that he is destined to become a world champion this weekend, and if he does so, it would be a remarkable turnaround for a fighter who not long ago was being ridiculed for fighting in shopping centres with his aspirations of winning a world title looking like a distant dream.
Instead, he is now on the cusp of realising that dream and it would come as no surprise if the bright lights of the USA and his toughest opponent to date brought out the very best in him.