James DeGale has heard enough boos during his career to not let boxing away from home bother him. DeGale stands on the threshold of becoming a star in the United States, even if he is in slight danger of being a forgotten man in Britain.
DeGale defends his IBF super- middleweight title tonight in Washington DC, against Rogelio Medina, a 27-year-old Mexican nicknamed “Porky”, who has decent power but slow feet.
For DeGale to keep his career on its upward trajectory, simply winning is not enough. “I’ve got to smash him to bits,” the Londoner said. “I need a knockout.”
Anthony Joshua won a world title to go with his Olympic gold medal two and a half years after making his professional debut, but that same route was a near seven-year haul for DeGale, that took in sports centres in Bristol and Hull, a hotel conference room in Canada and several appearances at the Bluewater Shopping Centre, in Kent.
The past 11 months, though, since winning his world title in Boston, have been rather sweet. This will be his third bout in a row in North America, his second since Al Haymon, the man who guided Floyd Mayweather’s career, became his adviser. Haymon has big plans for DeGale.
“I see Anthony Joshua and I think to myself: ‘Wow, I want to box in London,’ ” DeGale said. “But boxing is a short career and I’ve got to go where the money is, where I’ll achieve more or win more belts.
“You can’t beat boxing in front of your own people. Eddie Hearn [his British promoter] wants me to box Martin Murray, George Groves or Callum Smith — this type of person. They are brilliant fights in Britain, but worldwide, am I going to get the kudos?
“The plan is to make money, win titles and get big fights.”
The first big target is Badou Jack, the WBC champion who beat DeGale’s old rival, Groves, last September. Jack — who was born in Sweden, boxed for Gambia at the 2008 Olympics, when DeGale won gold, and now lives in Las Vegas — defends his title on the same bill in Washington tonight against Lucian Bute, the former IBF champion from Canada, whom DeGale beat in November.
Provided both win tonight, the plan is for DeGale and Jack to meet in September. Becoming a unified world champion would make DeGale stand out from the crowd in the United Kingdom, where there are 11 world champions.
“No disrespect to other world champions but I’m in the top three best and most well-known in the UK,” DeGale said. “There are people like Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury and Kell Brook, but I’m right up there.
“I really want the Jack fight. We are the best two in the division and we’ve got the belts. Apart from that, I swear to God I’m thinking about moving up to light-heavyweight.
“I would want to choose my fights up there because I wouldn’t want to fight [Sergey] Kovalev [the WBO, WBA and IBF champion], he’s an animal and a really big guy. But I’m thinking more like Adonis Stevenson [the WBC champion], he’s not the biggest light-heavyweight.”
DeGale is earning big money now, but stays grounded, largely because his mother, Diane, remains in charge of everything.
“I do some dumb things but I can only blame my mum because she does everything for me,” he said. “I’ve got three properties now so I invest my money well. I don’t know the business side — my mum does all of that, I would be lost without her, literally. I can just about fill out a form. My mum and my sister, Eloise, do everything.
“It’s bad really but I suppose you get put on this earth to do something and I’m lucky that I’m good at boxing. I’m so lazy. I don’t even pack my bag when I go away on a foreign camp. All I’ve got to do is just train, box and earn money.”
Things have not always been straightforward for DeGale, 30, but he now has a clear vision of the way ahead.
“I look back at some of my old fights and it looks like I get bored in them,” he said. “When I boxed in Bristol there were about 1,000 people there and two in the press conference. I was embarrassed. My whole vibe before the fight, that whole period, I wasn’t really on it.
“But my journey has been interesting. I’m going to batter ‘Porky’ Medina. but you’ll see the best of me when I’m boxing the best.”