James DeGale Bids Farewell
The announcement came as no great surprise, James DeGale calling it a day was widely expected, but it still comes with great relief to me. I did fear that once DeGale had time to reflect and forget the pain Chris Eubank Jr had inflicted, like so many do, that he still felt he had one last run left in him. But thankfully, DeGale has made the correct retirement call.
I have been on this planet far too long and have had to witness so many great fighters suffer sad, brutal endings to their great careers. So many refuse to accept reality until a younger fresher fighter’s fists batter home the truth that their day in the sun is over.
Degale might have lost his final fight on Saturday night, but he went out with pride, spitting defiance to the end. Eubank Jr did his best to put his man away, but DeGale a fighter to the bitter end, refused to go, hoping for a miracle that never came.
Other than another ex-fighter who yet again tries to make it about him, there has largely been positivity and goodwill towards DeGale, something that has not always been there throughout his career.
The boos rang out on his debut and DeGale has been fighting for respect ever since, never quite capturing the love of the British public. The feeling is that DeGale has underachieved, not quite reaching the heights many expected. I find that viewpoint incredibly unjust, a two-time world champion, British and European titles plus the small matter of an Olympic title, what does one have to do, how many others can match that impressive resume.
DeGale has suffered more than most with injuries, clearly impacting what he could do in the ring. The loss to his bitter rival George Groves in 2011 set him back more than we could have imagined at the time. Three ‘lost years’ followed, DeGale went from the O2 to having to fight in sports centres as he struggled to stay relevant, a career seemingly sliding into obscurity.
But DeGale persisted, and he finally got his chance. DeGale had to travel to the States to win a world title, so often in the past a mountain British fighters found hard to climb. Andre Dirrell found a rejuvenated DeGale too hot to handle and DeGale finally could call himself a world champion.
But as quickly as the glory came, the decline started when DeGale seemed at his peak. Two successful defences were followed by the Badou Jack fight, which took away much of what DeGale had left. An incredibly hard fight, a fight where DeGale proved his class and made his point, but it left permanent damage to his career, the end was inevitably coming.
The two fights with Caleb Truax were concerning, Eubank Jr cemented what we all thought, the final nail hammered home to DeGale.
DeGale deserves respect, and I hope with the passing of time his achievements are more appreciated than perhaps they are today. Nothing ever came easy for DeGale, inside and outside the ring, and he should leave the sport with his head held high.
Boxing struggles to do compassion or sentiment. Sadly bitterness, jealousy, hate even often are more commonplace in a sport where acceptance is hard-earned, and rare. It’s been a long time coming, but for DeGale that acceptance and respect does seem to be there now, better late than never.