By Mark Staniforth
Beaten by the narrowest of margins by his former amateur rival, then denied any prospect of a rematch by the British Boxing Board of Control, this has not been the best of weeks for James DeGale.
DeGale slunk out of the O2 Arena in London last Saturday night with fans and even some fellow fighters pouring scorn on his failure to back up his pre-fight boasts against George Groves.
The reaction was nothing new for DeGale, who has been battling the boos since winning his Olympic gold medal against a back-drop of cat-calls from dissatisfied Chinese fight fans in 2008.
DeGale's apparent crime on that particular occasion was to deign to jostle with the crowd favourite, Cuban Emilio Correa, who even bit DeGale during the fight but was cheered all the way to narrow defeat.
With his brash, outgoing personality, DeGale was never going to be everybody's favourite fighter, but the speed with which he has gone from gold medal hero to pantomime villain has been patently absurd.
When DeGale made his professional debut less than six months later at Birmingham's National Indoor Arena, he was pilloried by local fans despite a perfectly credible debut win over Georgia's Vepkhia Tchilaia.
"I'm bamboozled as to why I was booed," DeGale admitted afterwards. "Maybe it's because I'm up there on a pedestal after Beijing. Joe [Calzaghe] had this problem earlier in his career too - and look what he achieved."
The boos have pursued DeGale throughout his career so far, bringing plenty of unfair comparisons with the treatment meted out to his predecessor as a British Olympic boxing gold medallist, Audley Harrison.
But while Harrison was mocked for spectacularly failing to live up to some quite preposterous early-career boasts, DeGale did nothing more than to give voice to a belief that every young boxer must carry - that one day he could win a world title.
At times on his professional journey, it seemed DeGale was simply being made to pay for having the audacity to win Olympic gold. Former amateur team-mates, in contrast, have been routinely cheered the length and breadth of the country.
Frankie Gavin, who is not exactly shy and retiring in his ambitions (nor should he be) has emerged as one of the nation's most popular fighters. Olympians Tony Jeffries, David Price and Billy Joe Saunders have not heard a solitary boo between them.
Clearly, the circumstances surrounding the build-up to Saturday night's fight were slightly different. DeGale over-stepped the mark during the pre-fight hype, and Groves' fans were well within their rights to let him know what they thought.
Yet even then DeGale's outbursts must be put into context. DeGale and Groves had shared a spiky rivalry for years, and DeGale clearly, and perhaps rightly, believed Groves had piggy-backed him into the spotlight.
The hype is an occupational hazard. Fighters have exchanged vicious barbs and even pre-fight punches for years. Rarely has harmless verbal bluster been held against a fighter quite as much as it has DeGale.
He didn't help his cause with his performance on Saturday night. Seemingly burdened by the pressure of wanting to prove himself to his former amateur club-mate for a final time, DeGale flopped badly.
But only the most hardcore build-up-to-knock-down merchants would dare to suggest on the evidence of Saturday night that DeGale's defeat has brought a permanent end to his world title dreams.
Repaired and recuperated, DeGale will come again. When he does, he can expect to be booed to the rafters like never before. DeGale will fully expect it, because it has come to be the Great British way.
Who knows what some of the country's current top amateur stars have made of the treatment meted out to DeGale. Some are not backward in coming forward. Can they expect the same treatment if they have the audacity to win gold in 2012?
Great British boxing gold medallists don't come around too often. We should treasure them, and accept their occasional ego trips simply as an understandable by-product of having achieved such an illustrious sporting pinnacle.
It is a strange sporting nation which takes so much vindictive pleasure in rushing to excoriate the true winners amongst us, flawed though they may be, whilst reserving the garlands for the also-rans.
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