By Keith Idec
James DeGale didn’t win over the crowd Saturday night in Las Vegas, but he won back his IBF super middleweight title.
DeGale defeated Caleb Truax by unanimous decision in their immediate rematch to take back the IBF 168-pound championship Truax won from him nearly four months ago in London. England’s DeGale won on all three scorecards in what was a competitive but ugly fight full of clinches and head-butts on the Erislandy Lara-Jarrett Hurd undercard at The Joint inside Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
Judges Robert Hoyle and Don Trella both scored DeGale a 114-113 winner. Judge John McKaie credited DeGale with a much wider win (117-110), though the action appeared much closer than that.
The 32-year-old DeGale (24-2-1, 14 KOs), of St. Albans, England, had said he would consider retirement if he didn’t defeat Truax in their rematch. The 34-year-old Truax (29-4-2, 18 KOs), of Osseo, Minnesota, said he wanted a rubber match after losing the IBF super middleweight title in his first defense.
Even after upsetting DeGale in their first fight, Truax was a 4-1 underdog entering their immediate rematch. That didn’t prevent Truax from making their second fight very competitive.
DeGale fought with a cut over his right eye for nine-plus rounds and at times appeared bothered by blood flowing from that laceration. Truax also suffered cuts over both eyes in their bloody battle.
DeGale was a 14-1 favorite when Truax traveled to DeGale’s home country and upset him by majority decision. Truax won their first 12-rounder on two of three scorecards December 9 at Copper Box Arena in London (116-112, 115-112, 114-114) and created doubt about DeGale’s career at the top level.
The 2008 Olympic gold medalist admitted he took Truax lightly entering that optional title defense. The British southpaw also ignored advice from his handlers to allow his surgically repaired right shoulder more time to heal and push back his return to the ring until sometime early in 2018.
DeGale wasn’t especially sharp in their rough rematch, but he was effective enough to out-point Truax this time.
Their rematch Saturday night seemingly was up for grabs in the 12th round, but neither fighter tried to take out his opponent during those final three minutes. DeGale did let his hands go at times in the 12th, though, between constant clinches that also marred many of the previous rounds.
DeGale cracked Truax with a right uppercut in the 11th round. He also landed a right hook to the side of Truax’s head when they were fighting inside in the 11th.
DeGale’s stiff jab stopped Truax in his tracks with just under a minute to go in the 10th round. With about 35 seconds remaining in the 10th, referee Robert Byrd deducted a point from DeGale for repeatedly using his shoulder to push Truax away from him.
The ninth round unfolded like many of the previous rounds, with Truax pursuing DeGale and DeGale landing occasionally when there was distance between them.
DeGale landed a right hook with just under two minutes to go in the eighth round. Later in the eighth, DeGale spun out of a clinch and caught Truax with a right uppercut.
Truax also suffered a cut over his right eye in the eighth round. He already was battling through a cut above his left eye.
DeGale tried to keep Truax off him in the seventh round. Truax was relentless, though, and continued to make it a rough, physical fight as DeGale attempted to hold him.
There was a lot of holding and wrestling during the sixth round, when DeGale and Truax tried to work inside.
Truax was the aggressor again throughout the fifth round. DeGale fought off his back foot, but he was able to land a solid left to the body with under a minute to go in that round.
DeGale tried to work off his jab in the fourth round, but an aggressive Truax mostly smothered him. That often led to clinches during a round in which neither fighter landed many clean punches.
Truax drilled DeGale with a straight right hand that knocked DeGale backward and forced DeGale to hold him just before the midway point of the third round.
Later in the third, yet another clash of heads opened a cut around DeGale’s right eye. DeGale wiped away the blood for much of the remainder of the round, as DeGale tried to fend off Truax.
For the second straight round, DeGale head-butted Truax directly in the middle of his face about 45 seconds into the second round. Truax turned away from DeGale and complained to Byrd, but unlike the first round, Byrd didn’t issue a warning to DeGale for using his head.
Truax’s best moment of the second round was when he landed an overhand right with just under 30 seconds to go in it.
With slightly less than a minute to go in the first round, DeGale butted Truax in the mouth as DeGale moved in to throw a punch.
That clash knocked Truax backward and left him holding his mouth. Byrd warned DeGale for using his head before the action resumed.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.