2016 was a big year for British boxing’s elite when the country’s creme-de-la-creme in the sport did the “Island Nation” proud with the likes of Kell Brook and Amir Khan trying to defy the odds and challenge the axiom that “a good big ‘un will always beat a good little ‘un”; Carl Frampton too was defying the odds by travelling abroad to fight the very best in his weight category; while Anthony Joshua continued his heavyweight foray picking up the pieces of what’s now become a somewhat fragmented division.
However, one name, who I would have expected to have been included somewhere in that ‘A-list’ and raising the UK’s boxing profile on the world scene was missing … namely that of James De Gale(23(14KO)-1-0).
De Gale, in my opinion, is arguably the most naturally talented British fighter out there, but his career to date, in all honesty, doesn’t reflect his ability or what he’s capable of, and doesn’t appear to be at the level it should be. Whether this torpid progress has been due to promotional issues, injuries, or opposition avoiding him due to viewing him as a high-risk / low reward fight isn’t clear cut, but you would have thought with his win over Lucian Bute that his ‘watershed’ moment leading to the coveted elite ranks and submittance to the mythical pound-4-pound list was only a fight or two away.
For some reason or another – post Lucian Bute – this hasn’t been the case, and De Gale’s career appears to have been a bit stagnant for the talented southpaw.
This however could change in 2017, as the Olympic Gold medal winner now has a chance on Saturday to start to readdress the “drought” in his career that he has suffered in the recent past and an opportunity to further cement himself as one of the best in the world, by fighting Badou Jack(20(12KO)-1-2) at the Barclays Center, New York, to unify the WBC(held by Jack) and IBF(held by De Gale) titles in the super-middle weight division.
A win here would not only establish his “coming” as the premier super middle-weight fighter in the division, but if he were to be victorious, a match up with Tyron Zeuge for the WBA belt could be made and provided he came through that successfully(which is highly likely), then it would put him in a good bargaining position and circumstance for making boxing history, in the sense that you could potentially have a situation where there’s 3 undisputed champions each at middle-weight, super-middle weight and light-heavyweight; with De Gale in a prime position to challenge a GGG who might be enticed to move up a weight to replicate his achievement at 160 pounds in the 168 pound division or an Andre Ward(if he doesn’t retire and sees a viable monetary incentive) to defend against De Gale at Light-Heavyweight or back down at Super Middleweight.
That of course, only happens if he manages to get by Badou Jack first.
Both Fighters strengths and weaknesses
Although, there’s nothing fancy about the Swedish born Badou Jack or anything on the surface that really stands out, he’s definitely not a fighter to “sleep on” and comes into this fight with a solid amateur background that consisted of a 150-25 record with 5 Swedish national titles to his name and a stint representing Gambia(the country of his father’s origin) in the 2008 Olympic games.
He has also been coached in the past by former WBA light-heavyweight champ, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, and also trains extensively at the Mayweather Boxing Club in Las Vegas, in an environment steeped in knowledge of the Sweet Science and where there’s no doubt access to a high-level of sparring.
In terms of his style and skill – Badou has a very good solid jab that he likes to alternate from head to body, similar in some respects to the way his promoter and mentor, Floyd Mayweather, would deliver it during his fighting days. This punch is also backed up by a good solid straight-right hand(a punch which De Gale has shown to be vulnerable to in the past) that can be hurtful and that has provided Badou with some KOs in his career.
In addition, he also has good footwork, balance and paces himself well.
However, these attributes are sometimes limited by his contentment to stay in the “same gear” for pro-longed periods of time in a fight.
The Swedish native can also can be a “little” one dimensional in attack: lacking creativity with his combinations.
He’s also a little bit reserved when “going to the body” as well.
And, although he trains around the Mayweathers’ where the philosophy “hit-and-don’t-be-hit” is paramount, his defence is average and in someways the antithesis of the Mayweather shell style whereby he is more straight-up; being seemingly content to rather soak-up punches on his arms and gloves than to use shoulder-rolling and parrying, waist or head movement to evade his opponents blows.
Jack’s also proven that he’s susceptible to right-hands when he was stopped by Dereck Edwards inside a round back in 2014.
This could be a defensive frailty that no doubt the De Gale camp is aware of and might be looking to exploit.
Power-wise – Badou is a solid puncher, but he isn’t what you would consider a devastating puncher(52% KO ratio) and I would expect him to come into this fight with the attitude to slowly wear down De Gale for a UD or late stoppage rather than trying to blast him out or expecting an early night.
Whether he can do that or not is another question, as “Chunky(a nickname De Gale picked up in his youth)” has a very good defence: using his arms and gloves effectively to block punches in addition to swaying and bending at the waist(which he does very well) to evade his opponents on-coming blows.
The Londoner also fights from a south-paw stance and likes to switch-hit which adds an extra complexity to his game, and is an important factor in this fight as it will no doubt cause Badou some adaptability issues that he will need to overcome.
De Gale also possesses very good hand-speed and a nice “relaxed” jab that he likes to keep constantly ‘peppered’ in his opponents face, in addition to an effective offense which is bolstered by a solid left hook and hard straight left-hand that he also likes to singly lead with, from an unorthodox setting, on occasion.
And in ways, similar to his Swedish born counter-part, De Gale paces himself very-well and also possesses very good footwork and range too.
Power wise – De Gale isn’t what you would call a knockout specialist or power puncher and has a similar stat percentage(58% KO ratio)in this territory as his opponent. However, I would say that this part of De Gale’s game is maybe a little under-estimated, as he has shown he can ‘bang’, especially if he lands with that quick left-hook to the head that he throws with authority. He’s also got that natural ‘killer instinct’ to try to finish his opponent as quickly as possible when they are in trouble as well.
De Gale, for all his talent, does have vulnerabilities and particularly with punches coming over the top of his jab. He can also carry his hands quite low at times, that leave his chin exposed and vulnerable.
Whether Jack has the speed or “tools” in his arsenal to exploit this remains to be seen.
Interestingly, this fight exhibits an extra psychological dimension, in the sense that both men are in their 30s and at a juncture in their career where a defeat for either man would represent a significant set-back that would be likely hard to rebound from in order to reach a similar position as they are now, particularly for Badou – who is now 33 years of age and at a stage where retirement for a boxer can “loom” heavy on the mind. It’s an extra burden that also comes on top of the tension of fighting in a unification match that will also act as a segue to a heightened public profile, bigger pay-days and honours.
In this department, I favor De Gale to come out on top mentally. I feel that not only will De Gale’s vast amateur experience(that includes a winning a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing ) and longevity in the pro game help him to cope with the occasion, but also his naturally confident, laid back and candid persona which seems to transfer over in to his attitude in the ring – where he always appears calm and collective even when cut or in situations where the fight isn’t going his way.
And to Chunky’s credit: he hasn’t seemed too fussed or been mesmerized by Floyd Mayweather’s involvement and all the media attention that followed in the build up to this fight(or, at least he comes across that way judging by some of the recent interviews he has given.)
In addition, he also has a loyal and experienced man in Jim McDonnell in his corner, who himself was a good amateur and has fought at “world level” in the pros having had the privilege of gracing the ring with greats such as Azumah Nelson and Barry McGuigan(whom he holds a win over and was the last man McGuigan fought before the Northern Irishman retired.)
If anyone needs testimony of McDonnell’s focus and commitment to his boxers, while working in the corner, there’s some nice video footage of him on Youtube where during the Andre Dirrell vs James De Gale fight he is ‘pestered’ live and on-the-air at ringside by a TV Network pundit for his thoughts & analysis on how the fight was progressing, mid-bout, and Jim, while totally transfixed on the action and without so much as a glance, gives the guy the brush-off as he was “too busy” for that.
I’ve no doubt in my mind that Jim McDonnell understands the “gravitas” of this fight and has made sure that James has prepared adequately and is in the best shape of his life .
Badou, will also take some confidence going into this fight as having defeated not only the main opponents who “standout(Dirrell and Bute)” on De Gale’s fight resume as well, but also having defeated another talented fighter in George Groves, who, as it currently stands, is the only man to have given the “slippery” Southpaw from Hammersmith a defeat(no matter how close it was).
Overall, I feel that Badou Jack won’t be quick enough, a bit too static and predictable to cause De Gale any major problems, and that Chunky’s defense, coupled with his work-rate and skills, will be too much for the “Swede” to negate.
I actually see the fight playing out similarly to De Gale’s fight with Andre Dirrell, except he won’t have a similar level of hand-speed to deal with, but might have a more guarded and cautious opponent that’s harder to breakdown.
My prediction is De Gale will win a unanimous decision with some close rounds.
I also wouldn’t discount a KO for De Gale either.
Even though Londoner hasn’t scored a KO or TKO win in a while, he has scored knockdowns(particularly with that dangerous left-hook)in bouts, and for this particular fight he looks to be focused, sharp and in an unusually extra special shape making a KO outcome a bit more likelier than it has been in the past.