By Steve Bateson: 1-100 were the odds on offer for James DeGale to successfully defend his IBF Super Middleweight crown against Caleb Truax on the 9th December. To put that into context; James "Buster" Douglas was 42-1 to defeat Mike Tyson in 1991 in what is still regarded as the biggest upset in the history of professional boxing. DeGale was such an overriding favourite for this defense that nobody was even batting an eyelid, it was a foregone conclusion....unfortunately for DeGale nobody bothered to tell that to his challenger.
Caleb Truax entered this fight with a 28-2-3 record, amassed mostly at 160lbs, and was looked upon as nothing more than a C level fighter. He was handpicked by DeGale’s team and Frank Warren, working in conjunction for the first time in 6 years, in what was billed as a "homecoming" for the Olympic gold medallist as he stepped into a British ring for the first time in three years. It was a ring rust exercise for DeGale, a chance to brush off the cobwebs after ten months of inactivity following rehabilitation, with all due respect to Truax he was there as a body and a name on a ledger as a means to an end and in reality the word respect is exactly what was lacking.
Truax was a career Middleweight and had one world title challenge on his record, halted in the twelfth and final round of a 2015 WBA shot at Daniel Jacobs. Truax has displayed bravery in that fight but was always second best and was stopped on his feet before the final bell of a contest where it’s likely he would have lost a shutout decision anyway. A 2012 unanimous decision loss to Jermaine Taylor is nothing to be ashamed of either but it was Truax’s third career defeat that made people question his ability to threaten DeGale in any way at all. In April of 2016 Truax was completely destroyed and dismantled by Anthony Dirrell in one round at the Super Middleweight limit. Considering DeGale had beaten Anthony’s brother Andre to win the IBF belt and given that Andre is considered the better fighter of the siblings it was hard to make a case for Truax troubling DeGale, in fact many believed a similar early knockout was the likeliest outcome.
DeGale’s January war with Badou Jack had left him with his front teeth missing and requiring surgery on a torn rotator cuff. He himself has spoken about the doubts he had of a return but in the build up to this fight he had a renewed confidence and proclaiming that we would see the best of him. Even a James DeGale of 60-70% would be favoured in this fight but on the night itself the script was torn up completely.
The first round started brightly for the champion and he was popping his jab off at will. A body assault forced a flinch from Truax and DeGale’s switch hitting style seemed to be causing the challenger problems in adapting. But even from the second round onward the pendulum began to swing and DeGale was coasting, allowing himself to sit back on the ropes and invite the kind of pressure that Truax was more than willing to pour on him.
DeGale was criticised in the past, mainly during his days of fighting in shopping malls on Channel 5, for taking inferior opposition too lightly and displaying laziness as he lounged on the ropes but this was a world championship defense and those watching had hoped those days were long gone, unfortunately that was not the case and this time he was up against a man possessed and not somebody just there to pick up a cheque. Truax was gaining in confidence, the pressure was off because nobody expected him to achieve anything in this contest and the tag of underdog was spurring him on.
Round five is when DeGale realised just how much he’d underestimated his opponent. Truax unloaded a huge right hand on DeGale and suddenly the champion’s legs turned to jelly. Truax was like a dog with a bone as he hammered away at his foe, busting the nose and the mouth of DeGale. DeGale was on his bike and retreating but he could not shake Truax from his tail, the challenger sensed that his dream was becoming a very certain reality.
The rest of the fight followed a pattern of DeGale on the backfoot, desperately trying to get his boxing going, whilst Truax hunted him down and refused to dial down the pressure. It was close, nip and tuck, and a lot of rounds could be scored on the kind of style you prefer to see but at the end of the fight the champion looked like he had been beaten up whilst the challenger looked triumphant.
We’ve seen some terrible decisions all over the globe, it is a part and parcel of our sport, but the general consensus ringside and from those scoring at home and on social media was that we had a new champion. Needless to say, therefore, we were expecting a wide points victory for the defending champion instead. However on this occasion the judges did their job and awarded Truax the victory on a majority decision: 115-112, 116-112 and a 114-114 draw
It was the right result, promoter Frank Warren admitted as much in the post-fight interview, and Truax got exactly what he deserved for the way he conducted himself and applied himself in the fight.
For DeGale it was a whole bundle of badness; he underestimated his opponent, he was so guilty of overlooking Truax whilst talking up championship unification fights and big British blockbuster showdowns with George Groves and Chris Eubank Jnr that he lost focus of what was right in front of his face. Have the injuries and wars taking their toll? Is he the same fighter that won the world title in the first place? Time will tell on those matters but right now it doesn’t look good and he paid the price.
Minnesota’s Truax taught us that hard work, determination and heart can take you a very long way in life. A ten year professional career that began in his home state is crowned by this achievement, made even more worthy considering he got on the road and travelled for the opportunity. It’s a great motivation for any fighter that any feat is attainable if you seize the hand of opportunity when it comes calling. All the long hours in the gym, pounding the roads in the early hours of the morning, the hard dieting is all worth it when you can finally see your hard work pay off.
Is Truax as skilled as DeGale? Not in the slightest but on December 9th he had a bigger heart and he was hungrier for the victory. He sensed weakness and fragility in the overconfident champion and dragged him into the kind of fight that DeGale did not want. Truax entered 2017 ranked at #56 in the Super Middleweight rankings and ended it as the IBF Champion. He deserves his glory and the big fights and pay days that await him in 2018.