Eight years after standing on top of the Olympic podium, James DeGale believes Saturday night’s world super-middleweight title unification bout against Badou Jack in Brooklyn will finally earn him the respect he deserves.
DeGale has reached the top of the professional 12-stone division the hard way, swapping sports centres for small-hall venues in the United States as he clawed his way back from a career-threatening loss to domestic rival George Groves in 2011.
Now, reigning IBF champion DeGale knows he will scale the summit if he overcomes Jack, who has a relatively low profile on this side of the Atlantic despite the fact he will bring the WBC belt to the table.
A quick scan of some of the pair’s mutual opponents yields the obvious conclusion that Jack provides limited threat to DeGale’s hopes of taking a step closer to the stadium-filling big-time.
Whereas DeGale dealt with top contenders Andre Dirrell and Lucian Bute with relative ease, Jack trudged to a split decision over the former to win the WBC crown in 2015, then fought a draw with Bute, who subsequently tested positive for a banned substance.
But closer inspection suggests Jack, visibly growing in confidence since his belated ascension to world title class at the age of 33, possesses just the sort of persistence and accuracy that could sway the judges in his favour.
DeGale expressed disappointment with his performance in a supposedly routine defence against Rogelio Medina last time out, in which he failed to put his opponent away early and subsequently appeared to lose focus and momentum.
He cannot afford to do the same against Jack, who landed more than 100 body punches alone against Bute – a fight most considered he was unfortunate not to win – and whose excellent fitness guarantees he will keep plugging on through the later rounds.
A stoppage for either is highly unlikely – DeGale has not managed one since December 2011, and Jack 2014 – although the Stockholm-born fighter did dump Groves with a big right hand in the first round of their bout in September 2015, which he subsequently scraped via split decision.
At 67/100, a points win for the occasionally brilliant but often inconsistent DeGale offers limited value. But 4/1 seems generous for Jack to get the nod via the judges’ scorecards and it would be little surprise to see him end the Briton’s dream in a tight and possibly hotly-contested points verdict.