Two-time super middleweight world champion James DeGale called time on his boxing career Thursday, 10 years to the day that the Harlesden man, then the Beijing Games Olympic middleweight champion, made his professional debut.
“Today is the day I am announcing my retirement from boxing,” said 33-year-old DeGale in a statement, following his unanimous points decision defeat to Chris Eubank Jr at the O2 Arena last weekend. It was time. The dancing feet, the snap of his southpaw jab, the ease, command and movement in the ring have slipped away for the former world champion, who had become the first British boxer to win both Olympic gold and a professional world title.
There were some extremely memorable nights in a career of 25 victories, three defeats and one draw, not least in the USA when DeGale beat Andre Dirrell in the United States, and then took part in a thunderous unification fight with Badou Jack, in Brooklyn, in which both men fought to a standstill and which was judged a draw.
Early in his career, DeGale fought career-long rival George Groves with Groves edging it on the cards, though the decision could have gone to either man.
DeGale ranks alongside Groves – who retired less than three weeks ago himself – as one of the leading modern British 12st fighters, and in a top 10 which contains Joe Calzaghe, Carl Froch, Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Richie Woodall, Robin Reid and the current world No 1 Callum Smith.
“It’s been an unbelievable journey and I’ve had an amazing decade – if I’m honest, the best years of my life – and having started boxing at the age of nine then being selected as part of the England Amateurs squad, I’ve collected many memories along the way,” said DeGale, who, at his best, was a wonderful mover with a high fighting IQ and a genuine toughness. So comfortable was he in the ring, he could even become too relaxed.
“It hard to admit that I’m not the fighter I once was, but I’m human and along the way, my injuries have taken a toll – both on mind and body and these things have contributed to impact my performance in the ring,” said DeGale, facing honesty in the mirror.
“I lost the fight on Saturday at the O2 but I’m touched to have a good send off from the fans in my home city.”
“The day after the fight, someone said to me that one fight does not determine a legacy. Looking back, if someone had told me at the start of my boxing career, when I was in the England squad, that I would become an Olympic Gold medallist, British and European Champion and two-time world champion, I would never have believed them, but I did it and I’d like to think I did it the clean, honest and hard way with discipline and respect to the sport I love.”
It is worth recording that DeGale went to the Beijing Games as an 80-1 underdog to win the gold medal. In the final DeGale won a scrappy and bad-tempered affair against the Cuban Emilio Correa who was docked two points in the first round for biting DeGale’s shoulder. He was awarded an MBE in the 2009 New Year’s honours list.
DeGale added: “I’m proud to say that I’ve made history as the first ever British Olympian boxer to turn professional and to win a world title and I am also proud to have been a road warrior – to travel wherever I needed to be to fight and to win.
“There’s nothing left to prove. A majority of the greats go out on loss and for me, it’s time to hang up the gloves and to move on with my head held high.”
DeGale thanked many figures throughout his career, not least this trainer Jim McDonnell, and US adviser Alan Haymon who have been “supporting and guiding” the fighter through “the last chapter of my career”.
“You put the boxers first and I will never forget you,” said DeGale. “Thank you for the memories. Over and out.”