By Keith Idec
Those are all adjectives James DeGale uses to describe the worst night of his life as a professional prizefighter. What disgusts DeGale most is that the former IBF super middleweight champion should’ve known better.
DeGale’s handers urged him to wait until sometime early in 2018 to make his return from shoulder surgery in June. There was no rush, they told him, because DeGale’s next fight was a voluntary defense of his 168-pound title.
It simply wasn’t necessary to come back December 9. DeGale disregarded their advice.
Overconfident and stubborn, DeGale decided it didn’t matter that his right shoulder wasn’t completely healed. The British southpaw assumed he is so much better than Caleb Truax that it wouldn’t matter in his first fight following a physically punishing draw with Badou Jack nearly 11 months earlier.
For the first time in eight-plus years as a pro, DeGale wasn’t at least in good condition entering a fight, either. Jabbing and hooking with his right arm proved problematic, too.
Before DeGale knew what happened, he was a former champion critics considered finished before his 32nd birthday.
“I was horrendous,” DeGale said. “Anyone would’ve beaten me that night. You could’ve put anyone in the ring with me that night, and they would’ve beaten me. Because with this shoulder, I wasn’t fit as well. I took everything far too lightly. I overlooked him. But don’t worry, I learned the hard way, man. I’ve done it all my life, learned the hard way.”
DeGale’s disclaimers aside, Truax (29-3-2, 18 KOs) pulled off one of boxing’s biggest upsets of 2017 when he defeated DeGale (23-2-1, 14 KOs) by majority decision in their 12-rounder at Copper Box Arena in London. As incredible as that stunning victory was for the affable fringe contender from Minnesota, who was ranked No. 15 by the IBF at that time, it disgraced DeGale in the United Kingdom.
The 2008 Olympic gold medalist was supposed to easily out-box Truax in the first fight of his new deal with promoter Frank Warren and get back on track toward title unification fights at 168 pounds. Hindsight has changed DeGale’s perspective on how he should’ve approached his return from surgery that repaired a torn rotator cuff and additional issues in his right shoulder.
“The whole camp, the sparring and everything, I knew I shouldn’t be boxing,” DeGale said. “But if I’m being honest, this is the way I was thinking – I was thinking it’s Caleb Truax. I can beat him with no hands. I’ll just move my feet and jab. And when I get through it, I’ll just start the year off again, but I’ve still got my title and whatever. I’m getting paid. That was my mentality at that time.
“But once again, you can’t think like that. You know what I’m saying? I’m champion of the world. I’ve been champion of the world for 2½ years. So I should’ve been more sensible and I shouldn’t have boxed. But it was my fault because my team and [adviser] Al [Haymon] did say, ‘Just leave it until next year.’ But no one was gonna tell me I wasn’t gonna box in December. So I only blame myself.”
The 34-year-old Truax considers DeGale’s “excuses” more signs of disrespect. The University of Minnesota graduate admonished DeGale for overlooking him for the second time in four months.
DeGale adamantly denied that he is looking past Truax again. The former champion claims the time since losing to Truax has been unbearable, that he has prepared properly to avenge his unforeseen defeat.
“I promise you I am not taking this guy lightly,” DeGale said. “I promise you. Do you think I’m taking this guy lightly again? The past four months, I’ve had a gray cloud above my head. I haven’t wanted to go out. I don’t wanna see no one because I’m embarrassed about the performance, how I performed that night. Do you really think I’ve taken this guy lightly again?
“I’ve taken this guy extremely seriously. If anything, I think he has overlooked me. I think he’s thinking, ‘DeGale is saying his shoulder, his shoulder. There’s nothing wrong with his shoulder.’ I think he has overlooked me. I think he’s seriously underestimating me.”
Determined to fix his flaws and remain motivated during training camp, DeGale added Paulie Malignaggi to a team still headed by Jim McDonnell, DeGale’s longtime trainer. Malignaggi, a retired two-division champion who’ll call the Truax-DeGale rematch for Showtime, helped DeGale make tactical adjustments and implored him to remain focused for three minutes of every round.
Malignaggi told BoxingScene.com that DeGale’s training camp convinced him that DeGale will win impressively Saturday night and continue to perform at the elite level. DeGale, who turned 32 two months ago, is listed as a 4-1 favorite over Truax, even though Truax beat him on two of three scorecards nearly four months ago (116-112, 115-112, 114-114).
If DeGale doesn’t defeat Truax in impressive fashion Saturday night, the former champion claims he’ll seriously consider retirement.
“At the end of the day, I’m far too good for him,” DeGale said. “Trust me, I’m far too good for him. Both of us at a hundred percent, I’m levels above him. And I don’t mean it in a disrespectful way. If I can’t beat Truax – and I’m not saying he’s a bad fighter, because he had to get in there and do what he’s done. But if I can’t beat him and look good, then I’m gonna have to consider what I’m gonna have to do after this fight.”
Showtime will air the Truax-DeGale rematch as the second fight of a tripleheader scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT. In the main event, IBF junior middleweight champ Jarrett Hurd (21-0, 15 KOs) and IBO/WBA super welterweight champion Erislandy Lara (25-2-2, 14 KOs) will meet in a 12-round, 154-pound championship unification match.
“[Fans] must’ve thought that was a weird performance,” DeGale said regarding his loss to Truax. “They must’ve thought, ‘How can he go from beating [Andre] Dirrell, [Lucian] Bute, [battling] Badou Jack in a fantastic fight, injured, and then lose to Caleb Truax like that?’ Anyone with a brain cell could see there was something wrong with me that night. Anyone with a brain cell could see something was up. I’m really looking forward to redemption on Saturday night. This guy embarrassed me and I promise you, it’s my turn to repay the favor.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.