By Ben Jacobs
James DeGale needed to produce a big performance at Wembley Stadium last month, something he certainly delivered. On one of the biggest nights in British boxing history, the 2008 Beijing Gold medallist produced his most impressive performance as a professional stopping Brandon Gonzales in four rounds. His trainer Jim McDonnell looked back on the fight and onwards to the future in a telephone conversation with BoxingScene.
“I think Eddie Hearn made a statement at the press conference before the fight in which what he said was so true. He said James is about the bright lights and the big fights. Eddie said it’s not just about getting the win, but it’s about making a statement. I think James did make a statement and he did come alive on the big stage. He was so motivated and looking forward to it, nothing fazed him. I remember when we got to the venue Naseem Hamed came up to him, James is a massive ‘Naz’ fan. He said, ‘Wow, James, this is a big fight mate, this guy is very dangerous.’ James said, ‘He’s getting banged out.’ I could see his mannerisms and mental state were fantastic.”
DeGale had been under scrutiny in prior fights for fighting on the ropes too often, something which McDonnell attributes to a long-term injury that his charge was carrying.
“James was boxing injured for 18 months, he had never had an operation in his life, but we spoke to Gary Lewin [England football physiotherapist]. Gary said it was a similar injury to Arsenal and England player Theo Walcott, but worse,” Jim explained.
“He got him x-rayed and found two tears on his muscle. He said, ‘You can’t box’, and James said, ‘I’ve got to box.’ James was getting criticised for being on the ropes, but he couldn’t bend his knee. He’s now had the operation done, it was called Gilmore’s groin, but he’s still not 100%. He’s probably around 95% now. He does strength and conditioning in the groin area every day so for his next fight he should be 100%.”
Given Gonzales’ reputation as a quality operator, the four round dismissal of the American came as something of a surprise to some. Jim stated that the plan was always to start fast.
“James was actually working on getting this kid out of there in the first round,” he insisted.
“I watched this guy [Gonzales], did my homework and I found out he had been rocked in two fights in the first round, so I was aware of it. Then you had the fast start at Wembley and it nearly came off when James hit him with a big shot.”
McDonnell was not impressed with the fact that Gonzales arrived only six days before the fight, nor was he impressed with some of his trainer’s behaviour prior to the bout.
“As far as I know, Virgil Hunter has never boxed 12 rounds, I have and James DeGale has. He doesn’t know what goes on in a fighter’s mind. There was the whole thing with them coming here six days before the fight when they should have been here 21 days before to acclimatise. No disrespect, but that’s incompetence and inexperience even though he’s a trainer of this and that. He came here saying James is depressed, but James had so much confidence with them coming late and the fact that Gonzales hadn’t boxed 12 rounds.
“I watched one of his fights in the lead up, only an eight rounder and he gets back to his corner and he said something along the lines of, ‘I’m tired.’ Virgil Hunter spent the whole minute saying to him, ‘Brandon, you aint tired!’ He kept repeating it over and over again. He didn’t give him any technical advice. You could see at the press conference that it was all about Virgil Hunter, he was doing all the interviews. I was thinking while looking at his fighter, he’s yawning, he’s still got jet lag. He wasn’t ready!”
Moving on from Wembley, thoughts are now turning to who DeGale may face next given that he is now the IBF’s mandatory contender.
“One of the rumours is that Froch might vacate. He has a dream to box in Las Vegas and if he does that, good luck to him. He’s a true champion, he’s been one of Britain’s best. I wish him all the best. If he decides to keep the IBF then his next fight will be James DeGale. But whatever he decides to do, best of luck to him.
“Mikkel Kessler is another true warrior, he’s mixed with the best, he’s only lost to the best and he beat Carl Froch. You’ll see the best of James in the big fights and a name like Kessler whets his appetite for the fight. He will be so pumped, focused and on it. We’re working on loads of stuff and there’s a lot more to James that people don’t know. If it happens it’ll be great, everyone knows who Kessler is.”