by Cliff Rold
For weeks, everyone knew IBF super middleweight titlist James DeGale would be making his return on December 9th. After a rough, thrilling draw in a unification bout against Badou Jack in January, the “TBA” next to his opponent listing signaled this wasn’t about finding a serious challenger.
DeGale would work off the rust and look to bigger things in 2018. Opponent Caleb Truax wasn’t even formally announced until less than a month before the fight.
Truax had won two in a row against average fare after suffering a first round knockout against former titlist Anthony Dirrell. Before that, against his two most notable foes, Truax was stopped in a lopsided affair against Daniel Jacobs in 2015 and, despite scoring a knockdown, lost to a faded Jermain Taylor in 2012.
Truax going in was a solid, professional prizefighter. No one thought he was there to win. Odds makers favored DeGale, one-time Olympic Gold Medalist, by as high as -7000.
Then the bell rang.
DeGale came out boxing in the first minute to feel Truax out before letting his hands go with some hard punches in as the round played out. Truax was a bit more cautious with his punches and was looking for openings.
In the second, DeGale was fighting well of the ropes, landing big shots and not allowing Truax to land too much in the contest. Truax started doing much better work in the third when he was pushing DeGale back (before a) close fourth where both had their moments.
During the fifth, Truax landed some huge shots to get DeGale in trouble against the ropes. DeGale was coasting as Truax was pressing on and landing big punches. DeGale's mouth was busted open and bleeding from a hard right uppercut. DeGale was just coasting and taking punishment from Truax for most of the three minutes.
In the sixth, Truax came out pressing the action. DeGale was moving and boxing, looking to stay away from exchanges while winning rounds on pure skill. The same scenario was playing out in the seventh. The rounds were close, with Truax pushing the pace and DeGale using movement and flicking his jab.
Truax began to really target the body in the eighth to slow down DeGale, who continued to move and hit. Truax appeared to tire a bit in the ninth as DeGale was working his way back in. During the tenth, Truax came back to life when he pinned DeGale against the ropes and started pounding the Olympic gold medal winner with hard shots.
DeGale was trying to rally in the eleventh, as Truax was coming on and looking to continue to do damage. Both boxers had their moments with big shots connecting. The twelfth and final round was more of the…The home crowd was chanting hard for DeGale to raise his level in the round, as Truax seemed to be tiring...
Truax didn’t tire enough and to the shock of the home crowd, and the whole boxing world, Truax was the new IBF champion at 168 lbs. by scores of 114-114, 115-112, and 116-112. Truax’s celebration, his sheer joy, in the ring afterwards was one of boxing’s crowning moments of the year as he became the most unlikely of victors in 2017.
Truax-DeGale is what the upset of the year is all about.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai-Roman Gonzalez I & II
There were hardcore fight followers who knew Thailand’s former WBC 115 lb. titlist could fight; that he was at least a credible threat to the man who ended 2016 still largely lauded as the best fighter in the world in any weight class. Even they didn’t think he’d win. The larger chunk of the boxing world who’d never seen the challenger before had no idea what was coming. Gonzalez, coming off a nail biting war with Carlos Cuadras to win a title in his fourth weight class, was a healthy favorite to hold off Sor Rungivisai on the undercard of Gennady Golovkin-Daniel Jacobs in March. In the first round, the odds favorite was on the deck from a body shot and a brutal affair commenced. Bloodied by head clashes, Gonzalez appeared to outwork Sor Rungvisai over the course of the fight but everything the Thai landed sent blood flying. Even a magnificent effort from Gonzalez in the final round wasn’t enough for the judges, who awarded the fight and title to Sor Rungvisai.
It was a big upset but debate about the rightful victor set the stage for an immediate rematch in September. Sor Rungvisai, again the underdog, took what Gonzalez had to dish out in the first three rounds before dropping Gonzalez twice in the fourth, the second time with a devastating knockout blow. Nine years after winning his first title at Strawweight, Roman Gonzalez’s place as the kingpin of boxing’s lowest weight classes was counted out.
Sadam Ali-Miguel Cotto
Miguel Cotto was taking a victory lap with one final stop at Madison Square Garden before retirement. The four-division titlist and future Hall of Famer struggled to find the right foe and the announcement of Sadam Ali wasn’t met with wild enthusiasm. Most expected Ali to fall apart the way he had in 2016 against Jessie Vargas making it all feel like a foregone conclusion. Ali had other plans and turned the grand farewell in a real night at the office. Rocking Cotto repeatedly with counter shots at close quarters early on, Ali held off a Cotto rally and closed the show with a strong final third of the fight. Cotto, who suffered an injury that may have aided Ali’s cause, walked away from boxing leaving an upset winner in his wake to carry on.
Tony Bellew-David Haye
Former cruiserweight and heavyweight champion David Haye, after injuries kept him out of the ring for a few years, was firmly on the comeback trail. A possible big money showdown with Anthony Joshua could be imagined just over the horizon. All he had to do was get by cruiserweight titlist Tony Bellew. It wasn’t to be. Bellew got off to a good start but it looked like Haye was taking control before a ruptured Achilles tendon and knockdown in the sixth changed everything. Haye showed incredible guts but a one legged man has little place in an ass kicking contest. Bellew dropped him again in the eleventh, sending him through the ropes. Haye beat the count, crawling back through the ropes, but his corner saved him by throwing in the towel. Bellew had the biggest upset win of his career.
Jeff Horn-Manny Pacquiao
While there are many who might also judge this as one of the robberies of the year, Jeff Horn even being in the fight was a surprise to many. In the US debut of a new ESPN investment in big time boxing, they had one of the greatest fighters of all time in the main event in front of a huge Australian crowd against a tough Australian challenger. Pacquiao, no matter his historical stature, showed his age in defense of the WBO welterweight title. Gone was the fighter who once seemed to almost float through 100 punch rounds. He still seemed to land more, and land cleaner, but Horn roughed him up inside, weathered an incredible ninth round assault from Pacquiao, and may have ended Pacquiao’s time among boxing’s belted classes for good.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]