James DeGale fought hard to reclaim his world title from Caleb Truax last weekend
The 32-year-old surrendered his belt in a shock defeat to Truax in December, losing in front of his home crowd on what had been billed as a triumphant return to the UK after years spent fighting abroad.
A series of hard-fought battles against the likes of Andre Dirrell, Lucian Bute, Rogelio Medina and Badou Jack finally caught up with the former Olympic gold medallist in January last year as he elected to take an extended break in order to remedy his issues.
In June, DeGale announced he would undergo an extensive shoulder reconstruction that would keep him out for “a while”; he later admitted Dr Lennard Funk informed him it would be a year until his movement was fully restored.
Reliving his unanimous decision loss to Truax at London’s Copper Box Arena in December, DeGale told Express Sport: “My last performance was terrible, it was shocking. But there were a lot of factors why I performed like that. I looked past-it.
The 32-year-old was cut badly in the third round above his right eye
“My shoulder was the main reason. If I’m being honest, I came back too quick from the operation. I shouldn’t have boxed then.
“That is why I performed like that but this time around I went back to the drawing board, I trained hard and I locked myself away.
“Me being me, I just wanted to come back, I wanted to earn money, I wanted to pay off my mortgage. I just rushed my injury. From that I got criticised a lot and people doubted me once again.”
People don’t realise that the cut was horrendous, I had five stitches in my eye
Just as he did when he first won the IBF strap, DeGale hit the road to reclaim his belt earlier this month, competing in a relatively low-key affair on the undercard of Jarrett Hurd’s unification clash with Erislandy Lara at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas.
Scores of 117-110, 114-113 and 114-113 ensured it would be another fruitful excursion away from the pressure of the British crowd and DeGale claimed he was pleased with how he fared.
“I would say it was a good performance. Given the circumstances with my eye cut so early on in the fight, I would say it was a good performance,” he continued.
“People don’t realise that the cut was horrendous, I had five stitches in my eye. I had four stitches on my forehead and I had one stitch in the corner of my left eye.
“I was cut to bits in the fight but it just shows you that I had to stick to my gameplan, I had to be switched on and I had to be clever in there – and I did.
The 32-year-old won gold at the 2008 Olympic Games
“I basically got through it and it was about winning the rounds. As soon as I was cut in the third round it was just about winning the rounds and keep winning them to get back the title.
“I was extremely worried that the fight would be stopped after I was cut, as soon as I was cut it was just pouring into my eye so I knew it was bad.
“I went back to my corner and it felt like my cut kept on bleeding throughout the fight but Truax’s didn’t. Bit of a weird one that. I don’t know if they used a stronger adrenaline or whatever but my one kept on bleeding and his stopped.
“I’m pretty sure if I wasn’t cut, I would have gone on and won a lot easier.
“I started off well, I started off really well. The first two rounds were brilliant, I got on my jab. I moved my feet well and I was just waiting for him to tire and later on I would have got him but I got cut and I had to grind out the win.
DeGale is now eyeing a match-up with the winner of George Groves vs Callum Smith
“When you watch the fight and you study it round-by-round, I didn’t really get hit. It was just the cuts that made it look like it was a fight, a bloodbath. It looked pretty horrible. But when you watch it, I didn’t really get hit.”
Such was the manner of DeGale’s defeat in the first meeting between the two men, he vowed to hang up the gloves if he lost – or even performed badly in victory – last weekend.
But having done what he needed, if not exactly how he wanted, Chunky is looking to the future once again, promising improvement as a two-time world champion.
“There is much more to come, fact,” he declared, confidently.
“It [shoulder] feels tired and it’s not as strong as the fight goes on. After four, five rounds it’s still sharp and kind of strong.
“But after that it starts tiring. That is just going to get stronger over time and my surgeon said after a year, that is when it is fully healed.
“He said it will take ages to get the strength back and for it to be like normal.”
Describing the scene in an image which has since gone viral, showing DeGale riding in the same ambulance as Truax on their way to get stitched up at a local hospital, the 27-2-1 star said: “I was just chuffed to bits, I was over the moon that I’d won back my world title.
“This guy really, really thought he was going to beat me again. All I needed to do was be a little bit better than the last fight and I thought I would beat him. This is no disrespect to Caleb Truax, but he is not in my league.
“He got a lot of confidence from the last fight and he thought ‘if I just stick pressure on him and I make him fight the way he fought last time, I can beat him’ but that wasn’t going to happen. I moved my feet this time, my front arm was a lot better and I knew I was going to win.”