We talk about boxing being cruel, and normally I think we mean by that the brutal violence. Fighters literally risk their lives when they climb into the ring. Winners and losers alike often take months to recover from a 12-round bout. Sometimes the damaged sustained is so great, no true recovery is possible–at least not recovery to the point where the fighter can once again compete at the elite level.
But it is cruel beyond the pain, as well. Fights can be won or lost in much less than a second. A single bad night can derail an entire career. And the damage never stops adding up.
At the start of 2017, I felt James DeGale could be posed to enter pound-for-pound discussions. He had defeated high-level, super middleweight contenders in Andre Dirrell and Lucian Bute. Last January he faced fellow belt holder Badou Jack. A win would have given him a convincing claim to the 168-pound World Championship.
I expected him to get it and even thought he deserved it. But the judges saw the fight a draw. DeGale damaged his ear drum and further injured a shoulder. He ended up getting surgery over the summer and waited until last Weekend to return to action, in his native London.
Caleb Truax was his hand-picked opponent. He was supposed to be a relatively easy return. Instead he ended up being an ordeal.
Truax nearly finished DeGale in the fifth and battered him throughout, making him a late, but likely, Upset of the Year finalist.
DeGale has already said he wants to exercise his rematch clause. His surgically repaired shoulder appeared useless for most of the bout and it seems optimistic to expect it will be better in a rematch.
DeGale in just 31. That is a young man. But for a fighter, it can be ancient.