In the summer it looked like James DeGale would end the year having only graced us with his presence in the ring on only one occasion; a fourth round stoppage win over veteran Italian, Cristian Sanavia. Fast forward to the winter months, and things are very much on the rise for the 2008 Olympic champion. A new promoter, Mick Hennessy, and more outings in the ring. As the year draws to a close DeGale will have fought three times which, considering how bleak things looked for him earlier this year, is pretty good going.
Following his victory over Sanavia, DeGale struggled with tough Frenchman Hadillah Mohoumadi. Despite emerging with his European title still in his possession, it was a performance which flattered to deceive. Post-fight, DeGale put the lacklustre showing down to his recent in-activity; and I tend to agree with that. With more activity, the better he will be – according to James.
To some extent those words rang true this past Saturday night in Hull when DeGale fought durable Columbian Fulgencio Zuniga for some WBC Silver title. Improvements were seen like James had said, but bad habits still remain; bad habits which, if DeGale wants to conquer a world title, will have to be eradicated.
Zuniga had been in with some of the top names, and only a prime Lucian Bute and prime Kelly Pavlik were able to claim a stoppage victory over him. Small name value, then, for DeGale’s record, but far from a world class operator – although, with 22 stoppages in 25 victories, one could argue that it was banana skin kind of fight for DeGale. That said, the legitimacy of one’s power isn’t necassarily in the numbers.
The durability of Zuniga was tested to the full in this one. After the opening two frames, where DeGale dictated things from the centre of the ring and threw out flashy combinations, he managed to floor Zuniga with a perfectly timed left uppercut. A stoppage was close as DeGale moved in for the finish, but the fussy Italian referee separated them – thinking he had heard the bell to signal the end of the round. No bell had sounded, and Zuniga made it back to his corner.
DeGale dominated the rest of proceedings, looking like he had his man hurt on numerous occasion’s but he was unable to force a stoppage. The final three rounds provided some moments of worry when, as is becoming the norm with DeGale, he willingly retreated to the ropes and gave Zuniga the opportunity to work on him. No telling or troubling punch was landed upon James, and he cruised to a unanimous decision victory. All three scorecards read the same: 118-109 for James DeGale.
It was a much improved performance from DeGale here, there’s no question about that and, moreover, the hope is that we will see more improved performances with each fight. However it’s clear there is still plenty of work to be done in order for him to achieve his dreams of one day winning on the world stage. His willingness to retreat to the ropes won’t go unpunished against the better fighters of the division. If that is his way of getting a breather – retreating to the ropes – then the least he could do is learn how to fight off of them, or, learn how to tie up to prevent his opponents from teeing off on him. When watching DeGale try to defend on the ropes I can’t help but be reminded of Amir Khan. Either he just can’t fight off the ropes, or he doesn’t know how. It’s probably a combination of both.
DeGale’s promoter, Mick Hennessy, or Mad Mick to some, made a fair point in the aftermath of the fight. This was only DeGale’s 15th professional fight. For someone with so little fights, he has already achieved a lot – more than some fighters will achieve in their whole career. There is still a little bit of perspective required when it comes to DeGale and where he’s at in his career – not just by fans, pundits and writers, but by James himself. There’s nothing wrong with having ambitions of reaching the top, but for now, he still needs ‘development’ fights – and I believe Mick Hennessy realises this.