James DeGale: “I’m in it to win it!”
Exclusive interview by Dan Emicus
How did you get into boxing initially?
I was a bit boisterous and naughty at school, so my Grandad suggested to my Dad that I do a bit of boxing to release some excess energy. I was 9 when I started and loved it from the beginning. Initially all I wanted to do was spar and I didn’t like the fitness side of it, but once I started having fights, I realised how important the fitness was.
You won a bronze medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Was that the point where you and everyone around you believed that you could go on and win a medal at the Olympic Games?
It was actually a disappointment to get bronze at the Commonwealth Games as I was expected to come back with Gold, and to top it all I didn’t even win a medal at the World Championships! The experience and the buzz I got at the big competitions did however make me more determined to work hard and earn a place at the Olympics.
You then went on to claim gold at Beijing 2008. How did it feel to be triumphant on the biggest stage of all?
It was a dream come true that every top amateur dreams of. Going to the Olympics and winning a medal – what could top that? To go there as the 80-1 underdog, get a bad draw with the reigning Olympic champion Artiev & the reigning World and European Champion Corobov and to come away with Gold will always be one of my greatest achievements.
You turned pro soon after. What made you finally decide that it was the right time to turn over?
Even as a kid I always wanted to turn pro, watching the likes of Prince Naseem and Joe Calzaghe. It was the right time to turn over after the Olympics, I’d hit the pinnacle of my amateur career and going pro was the next chapter.
How did you find the transition period between amateur and professional boxing? Technically, was there anything in particular which took time to adjust and get right for the pro game?
Once I got going I was alright. I signed my first pro contract in December 2008 and my first fight was in February 2009, so I didn’t have much time to adjust. The transition doesn’t happen overnight, but as I’ve got more fights under my belt I’ve progressed more as a pro.
You’re known for utilising a cross-armed Philly shell defense. When did you discover that you were comfortable with this stance? Were you influenced by anyone in particular, or was this development of your style just something that came naturally to you when you tried it?
As a pro you learn and try out all kinds of different moves. We practice moves of different fighters in training, but I guess it does kind of come naturally.
When you were on your way up as a prospect, was there a fights in particular which you would say you learned the most from?
You learn something from every fight, but when I boxed Nathan King in my 5th fight, it was then that I realised how tough the pros was. He was a veteran. He used his head, his elbows and he showed me how tough it can be.
After 4 years as a professional you’ve been British champion, European champion and WBA International champion, while you’re also World ranked. In terms of your accomplishments and your current status in the division, are you roughly where you hoped you would be by this point, or did you not have any specific aims to have reached within such a time period when you turned pro?
The first couple of years as a pro, I was fast-tracked towards winning a British and European Title. I’m pleased with where I am because I feel like I’ve done it the old fashioned way – I’ve won British and European titles. The only thing missing is the World title shot – 2013 is going to be a pinnacle!
You are paving the way for your path to World level, but the same could be said of George Groves. Can you see the two of you crossing paths again at some point in the future, possibly even with a World title on the line?
Yeah, a rematch is probably inevitable and it’s definitely a fight the boxing fans and general public would like to see. I’m on my own route to becoming a World Champion so I’m not chasing the re-match, but if it happens bring it on!
Last time out you beat Fulgencio Zuniga for the WBC Silver title, and the WBC route puts you on course for a meeting with Andre Ward. Do you relish what would undoubtedly be a very technical encounter between two Olympic gold medalists?
The possibility of a fight with Andre Ward is exciting and part of the progression is going toe to toe with the bigger and better names, so I’m not phased by it – I’m in it to win it!
It’s months away, but Froch vs Kessler II is already capturing the imagination of many. What type of fight are you expecting and how do you see it unfolding? Also, if the opportunity were to present itself, would you like to be able to challenge the winner?
I’m looking forward to the fight and if it’s anything like the last one, we’re in for a treat! I’m expecting it to be a war! Think it’ll be 50-50 but I’m leaning towards Froch to win – especially as they’re fighting on his home turf. I’d love to have the opportunity to fight the winner when the time’s right.
The first meeting between Froch and Kessler was of course a few years ago in the Super Six tournament. What were your thoughts on the Super Six format and do you think more events of that variety would be a good thing for the sport? If ever you had the chance to do so, could you see yourself participating in a similar tournament?
The concept was brilliant! Watching the best six super middleweights compete against each other was unbelievable. Would I participate? Of course!
Isaac Ekpo called you out recently. Is that a fight that would interest you, or do you feel he offers little?
To be honest I’ve never heard of him or seen him fight.
What are your thoughts on the super middleweight division in general at the moment?
Personally I think the super middleweight division is one of the best out there at the moment. From the champions, to the prospects coming through the ranks, there’s some real talent. Not really an easy fight when you are at the top.
Things didn’t work out for you in Frank Warren’s stable. You have since signed with Mick Hennessey and Channel 5. Are you now content with everything outside the ring?
So far so good. Mick knows my ambitions and is keeping me busy in the ring to move towards those ambitions so as long as I’m moving forward – I’m content! All my fights being shown on Channel 5 means I’m being seen by the British public and as a result, I’ve got a lot of support which just spurs me on – it’s all good!
What inspired you to open your own gym in Loughton?
Loughton was where my professional career began. My trainer Jim McDonnell lives there and when the opportunity came up to take over the gym space, I took it. I love having the gym kitted out how I want it and being able to train in my own space whenever I want. It’s kind of like my second home!
In terms of your career progression, what’s the general plan for this year?
To keep busy in the ring and train hard, to take on bigger fights and hopefully have a World title shot at the end of 2013, or at least line it up for 2014.
Message to the fans and final words?
The support and encouragement I get from my fans is amazing. Stick with me and I won’t disappoint – 2013 is our year!