Boxing: Destructive DeGale issues storm warning

Young Olympian steals friend's belt after fellow tyro Brook shows his credentials and Cleverly edges closer to world title
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The Independent Online

Olympic champion James DeGale struck gold again last night when he dethroned the home-town British super-middleweight champion Paul Smith to win the title in only his ninth professional fight. It was a stunning and spectacular success for the 25-year-old Londoner who defied a hostile 11,000 capacity crowd here to boss and bully a long-standing friend.



DeGale threw too many punches from different angles to leave Smith, already cut around the right eye, needing to be saved from further punishment in the ninth round as he took a systematic pummelling on the ropes. DeGale has improved immeasurably in his last few contests and already looks the part of a potential world title contender and successor to Britain's super-middleweight division elite of Joe Calzaghe and Carl Froch.

He was dominant from the start and had to be warned by referee Howard Foster for use of the elbow and a low punch, such was his determination to overpower and earn the respect of 28-year-old Smith, beaten only once previously in seven years and 30 fights. The Liverpudlian tried gamely but could not match DeGale's precocious class. It is clear "Chunky" has posted a DeGale warning for the future.

Nathan Cleverly has a foothold on the WBO light-heavyweight title after a unanimous points decision over a tricky substitute opponent, Nadjib Mohammedi of France, but it was one of the most difficult contests of the Welshman's unbeaten 21-fight career. Mohammedi, shorter and slippery, made Cleverly work hard for a 115-112, 116-111, 115-113 scoring.

There were times when Cleverly, 23, did not look too clever as this was an opponent, beaten only once in 24 fights, who knew the ropes and how to use them. The Frenchman certainly did not lack strength or stamina, declining to sit down between rounds and resisting Cleverly's attacks with some neat counter-punching.

Although he deserved the verdict, Cleverly will need to punch harder and more effectively at world level. What this result means is that if Jürgen Brähmer loses an appeal in a German court tomorrow against a prison term for assault then Cleverly could be declared champion. If not, he will fight the winner of Brähmer's unification bout against Beibut Shumenov of Kazakhstan.

Cleverly was done no favours by the British referee, Dave Parris. Officiating in his last bout before retirement, he deducted a point from Cleverly for holding in the fifth round. Mohammedi, who holds the European Union title – Cleverly is the full-blown European champion – often presented equations that the mathematics student had difficulty in working out but in the end it all added up to a significant points victory which leaves Cleverly, quite literally, with the world at his fists. He admitted: "It was a difficult fight for me and a very frustrating one, but I am happy I got there in the end."

On the night of boxing's big bash which marked promoter Frank Warren's 30 years in the fight game, it was an opportunity to see some of the young talent in his class of 2008. Outstanding among these is the 24-year-old Sheffield welterweight Kell Brook, a fighter in the razzle-dazzle mould of Hamed and Khan. In the second defence of his WBO Intercontinental belt, Brook (left) made short work of his sinewy Ghanaian opponent Philip Kotey, stopping him inside two rounds.

Brook worked him over methodically in the first, scoring a knockdown with a left hook, and the intervention came 38 seconds into the second when Kotey staggered back into the ropes under a barrage of well-picked punches. Said Brook: "I'm ready to step up to world level now." Promoter Warren says he is, though one intimidating prospect is that Brook is now the number one contender to Manny Pacquiao.

It has been something of a trying week for Warren with a number of withdrawals from the bill and also Wladimir Klitschko pulling out of the scheduled world heavyweight title fight with his man Dereck Chisora, who had to content himself with a ringside seat here instead of the thick ear of the action in Germany.

The bruised and lacerated features of another of the Brit Pack, Matthew Macklin, bore testimony to the grim and bloody battle he had to hold on to his European middleweight title against the non-stop Spaniard Ruben Varon. Birmingham's Macklin collected a unanimous points decision but the scores did not reflect the intensity of a contest in which Varon had a point deducted in the fifth round for a low blow from which Macklin needed time to recover. Macklin was not allowed to box at his best but probably deserved the verdict for his cleaner and sharper punching.

Billy Joe Saunders, the youngest of Warren's quartet of Olympians and one he has tipped for greatness, returned after a six-month absence in which he underwent hand surgery to score his seventh straight win.

Hatfield's Saunders, 21, looked sharp and powerful in stopping Tony Randall in two rounds, flooring him in the first and then landing a finishing left hook in the second.

The bout was stopped after 39 seconds of the round in mid-count with Randall obviously in no position to continue. "It's been a frustrating time," said Saunders. "I've been itching to get back and now it's onwards and upwards."

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