By Cliff Rold
James DeGale (24-2-1, 14 KO), 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist and two-time former IBF super middleweight titlist, might be a three time titlist some day. If he is, it won’t be necessarily be because he regained the IBF strap again. Perhaps down the road he will but for now he is a former titlist by choice.
If he wanted to keep that strap, he had to face a mandatory challenge in the form of Jose Uzcategui. Uzcategui (27-2, 23 KO) has come a long way in recent years. He’s not the guy who lost to Matt Korobov in 2014. Instead, he dusted himself off, won five of his next six, and garnered new fans when he was hastily disqualified in his first fight against Andre Dirrell and ate a sucker punch after the fight from the opposing corner.
Uzcategui would have had a good chance of beating a DeGale who has looked to be aging fast since two highly physical fights against Rogelio Medina and Badou Jack. DeGale was upset by journeyman Caleb Truax at home to end 2017 and was less than impressive in avenging the loss earlier this year. Uzcategui looks like a much stiffer test than Truax was either time.
In a public statement, DeGale said, "I'm in the final phase of my career where I have a few good years left where I can be involved in massive fights and really leave a legacy in the division's history. My team have been working very hard behind the scenes and we've got some very big and exciting news to announce soon."
There will be fans who call this a duck.
They aren’t wrong.
Anytime a titlist with a single belt gives it up to face someone other than their mandatory, and they aren’t doing it to change weight classes, duck is the logical conclusion.
Not all ducks are created equal. Some ducks are about taking easier fights for bigger money; some are about easier fights for roughly the same money amongst options.
And some are about choosing between equally difficult options with the economic incentive weighing clearly against one direction.
The tea leaves aren’t hard to read here.
Given the heavy UK presence in the World Boxing Super Series tournament at 168 lbs., it has always stood to reason the winner would be a strong possible foe for DeGale on the back end. There’s not a lock right now, but this feels like the way the wind could be shifting. While injuries have delayed the final, we have the expected all-UK showdown coming between WBA titlist George Groves and undefeated Callum Smith.
Assuming that final comes off as expected sometimes in the late summer of fall, the winner versus DeGale is an obvious, instant attraction. It’s the sort of showdown that will put asses in seats, maybe even stadium seats, along with UK pay-per-view money. That’s especially true if the winner is Groves.
Groves is the first man ever to defeat DeGale, winning a narrow majority decision in 2011. They’ve had plenty to say about each other in the years since and the war of words would sell.
Given the form he showed against Truax, the winner of Groves-Smith would probably be the favorite against DeGale. If the choice was as binary for DeGale as Uzcategui or the Groves-Smith winner, this had to be an easy decision to make. Some might argue that it isn’t that binary; he could have chosen to fight the mandatory and then fight the Groves-Smith winner. However, given the infrequency of appearances in modern boxing, the risk there could be not just losing before getting to the bigger payday but also seeing the bigger payday forced in another direction.
Timing matters. There is no current guarantee that has been publicly disclosed indicating DeGale will challenge the WBSS winner, but the timing would certainly be there for him to do so.
In competitive terms, ducking is one of those things that can be hard to encourage. Fans aren’t accountants. They should just expect to, want to, see good fights.
In that sense, what’s probably going on here isn’t a bad thing for anyone but Uzcategui who at least walks away the fully recognize IBF titlist now. The pieces on the board aren’t being moved to see a bad fight.
We’re not looking at the duck for an easier fight option.
We’re probably going to get a good matchup and a bigger event.
Lenny Z-Felix Saucedo is proof that a great fight can break out at any time. During these dog days of summer, with the boxing calendar light on fights people are really invested in, we got an ESPN classic in the variety of Ward-Burton or Lee-LoCicero. Boxing is great…Jose Ramirez-Danny O’Connor is this weekend. That might not be so great…At least next weekend we have Pacquiao-Matthysse, right? Right? They’ll keep us posted…No matter what, we’re two weeks and change from the WBSS cruiserweight final. Murat Gassiev-Oleksandr Usyk? Yeah, boxing is great…Happy 4thto everyone who celebrated the holiday.
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]