Boxing: DeGale picks himself up after letting family down

Support network helps golden boy to rise above defeat, racism and 'betrayal'

The boxing ring is strewn with fallen champions who have slumped into depression after waking up a loser. Ricky Hatton admitted recently that he even contemplated suicide after being beaten by Manny Pacquiao. James DeGale says he can sympathise with those fighters who allow themselves to be driven towards despondency. Sympathise, but not identify.

It is six months since the golden boy of Beijing lost to his most bitter rival, George Groves, at a heaving O2 Arena in London. Accompanying that controversial points defeat was the loss of his unbeaten record, the British super-middleweight title and, he confesses, his pride. Hubris took a bad tumble that night. Losing was bad enough, he says. "But losing to George Groves? The thought if it makes me sick to the stomach."

However, with a little help from his intensively supportive kitchen cabinet, DeGale convinced himself it wasn't the end of the world, or his world title aspirations. His father, Leroy, recalls how they sat him down the day after the fight. "Me and mum simply told him, 'Pick yourself up, son. OK, so it was close and controversial, but you lost. Deal with it'."

"They told me that when a great fighter loses, all that matters is how he comes back," says DeGale over coffee in the pleasant family home in Harlesden, north London. The only rehab the 25-year-old "Chunky" has required is in his gym in Loughton, Essex, where for the past 14 weeks he has been preparing for his comeback against the seasoned Piotr Wilczewski for the Pole's European title at Liverpool's Echo Arena next Saturday, undercarding the Nathan Cleverly-Tony Bellew WBO light-heavyweight title fight.

Those preparations are being overseen by the trainer he was urged to ditch after the defeat. Jim McDonnell was labelled a cheerleading conditioner who got the gameplan wrong. DeGale retorts: "Rubbish! They say there ain't no loyalty in boxing, but there is for me. I stayed loyal to Jim because I have a great bond with him, he's like family. It wasn't Jim's fault I lost, it was totally mine. I have never seen Groves so negative but I shouldn't have fought that type of fight.

"At the end of the seventh round Jim must have got a nod from someone because he said, 'Chunk, they're making it close. You'll have to stick it on him'. I reckon I won five out of the last six rounds. When they announced 'Majority decision, Groves' I thought, 'This is bollocks'. All that work, all that hype. Losing made me feel a bit of a twat. I felt I let everybody down, my coach and my family."

DeGale was then confronted while on holiday to Marbella by a few jack-the-lads who fancied their chances against the Olympic champion. He says he has learned to rise above that sort of thing. Just as he has risen above some of the racism that has followed him as someone of mixed parentage, most recently among Groves supporters at the weigh-in. "I took a lot of stick because they claimed I went over the top with some of the things I said, but it wasn't all that one-sided, you know. It isn't nice to be called 'horseface' and hear monkey chants."

"I even heard someone shout, 'Go back into the jungle'," says DeGale's white mother, Diane; Leroy, of French West Indian descent, adds: "We've never ever played the race card."

DeGale was also shocked when his promoter, Frank Warren, told him he had a new stablemate. "When Frank rang and said he had signed Groves I felt..." – he searches for a word – "... yeah, betrayed. So the next day I went and met [Warren]. He sat me down and I digested it properly.

"It makes sense, it's a great move. If Groves beats Paul Smith [whom DeGale beat to win the British title] in his next fight, and I win this European title, in the early part of next year we'll meet again and the winner will go on for a world title.

" You never know what Frank's got up his sleeve. I am thankful he has given me the opportunity to fight for the European title, which is actually more important than the one I lost. That will get me a world ranking.

"This setback has done me good, [it's] a blessing in disguise. I can sit here and talk about it and I am happy with myself. Last time someone beat me domestically, in the amateurs [against Groves], I was Olympic champion a year and a half later. This time round he's got a dodgy decision over me again and believe me, I'll be a world champion by next year's Olympics. What do they call it, déjà vu?"

Wilczewski v DeGale and Cleverly v Bellew is on BoxNation (Sky channel 456) from 6.30pm next Saturday

Bellew the belter

Both are British, unbeaten – and they detest each other. So when Welshman Nathan Cleverly and Scouser Tony Bellew clash for the WBO light-heavyweight title in Liverpool on Saturday expect a rerun of the DeGale-Groves hostilities, with a result as close, and possibly as controversial. Ring legend Bernard Hopkins awaits the winner. Cleverly, 24, faces a test of nerve in his first defence in front of 10,000 Liverpudlians against the home-town banger who says the bookies have "dropped a bollock" in making Cleverly favourite. Maths graduate Cleverly vows: "I'll quit boxing if I lose to Bellew." He might be spending more time with his calculator.

Alan Hubbard

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future