James DeGale, one of boxing's most flamboyant fighting men, became the new golden boy of the Olympic rings when he won the middleweight title here yesterday but will he stay around to be the face of London 2012?
He now has to choose between a million pounds and going for more gold in his home town in four years' time. And he admits to a dilemma. After defeating Cuba's Emilio Correa by a nail-bitingly close margin of 16-14, the 22-year-old from the same Harlesden estate as Britain's last boxing gold medallist, Audley Harrison, will be offered a fortune to shed his vest and headguard.
This was a victory which provided the perfect riposte for under-fire coach Terry Edwards, who has been thinking of walking away because of the open warfare with his bosses at the Amateur Boxing Association. Edwards has always maintained that Britain could become the new Cuba and it was intensely satisfying that DeGale's triumph was achieved at the expense of a countryman of Mario Kindelan, who thwarted Amir Khan's golden dream when Edwards was in the youngster's corner in Athens four years ago.
Correa, whose father, also Emilio, was a welterweight gold medallist in 1972, lacked the finesse for which his country has been famed, even sank Tysonesque teeth into DeGale's chest when he trailed on points in the opening round, the Korean referee giving two extra points to DeGale, who then had a 6-1 lead. It was an early indication of desperation by the Cuban.
"I was boxing nice, boom boom boom boom. I got four up and then he got me in a little hold and bit me chest," said DeGale. "I went 'oh!' " But he powered on to acquire Team GB's 19th gold overall of their glorious Games – and it was one of the finest and most fiercely fought.
The Cuban, also 22, did his utmost to entice DeGale into a brawl, both of them frequently entangled on the floor in a manner more WrestleMania than noble art. It wasn't a pretty fight, and it continued at the press conference afterwards when the Londoner pulled up his vest to display the crimson bite marks. Sitting alongside him, Correa scoffed in Spanish: "I had my mouth open, but it wasn't a bite." "He's chilling there now, but he knows he bit me," laughed DeGale. "Have a little butcher's," he said, showing Correa the bruising. "Don't lie, man." It wasn't love at first bite between them but it wasn't the bite on the chest that mattered, it was the gold medal dangling over it.
They had fought twice before and each time DeGale lost narrowly, but yesterday he showed that not only can he box, he has bottle. "It was a bit boring and a bit scrappy," he admitted. "Not the nicest of fights but I got the gold medal and that's all that matters."
Now comes an even bigger scrap, with the ABA. "My money is not that much. I need to buy a nice car and give my mum something. I'd love to stay on and win a gold in my home city in 2012 but it's going to be hard to say no to a million pounds.
"But if he [Terry Edwards] stays, I stay, though the money has to be right with the ABA. All this shit that has been flying around this week has been terrible for us. This team are like brothers. We all respect Terry."
Edwards has now got boxers into the finals of all three Olympics he has attended, and the three medals here, a gold and two bronzes, represent Britain's best boxing performance in 52 years. The coach believes they need to retain the squad and boost the funding to do even better in 2012. As DeGale says: "They have to come up with some sensible cheddar, man, not silly money. I've been on £1,500 a month only, these past four or five months. I've even had to sell my car. I hope Terry stays and everything works out cushty and I'll be knighted. But we'll see."
After disappointingly low-key semi-final performances by light-heavyweight Tony Jeffries and super-heavy David Price, this was a restorative for British pride. Not that it really needed it.
If the victory had echoes of Harrison's four years ago, it was more like Chris Finnegan's back in 1972 when the hod carrier from Buckinghamshire also won the middleweight gold when not really considered a prospect. Like Finnegan, "Chunky" DeGale is an extrovert southpaw and one of the ring's cheekiest of chappies. A bit of a bad lad and playboy in his youth – he was even thrown out of drama school – he has been considered one of boxing's underachievers, a Tim Henman of the ring.
But now the hip-hop golden boy has the world at his fists and a fortune waiting to be clutched inside them.Reuse content