James DeGale v Lucien Bute
Videotron Centre, Quebec City, Canada, 03:00
Live on Sky Sports 1
James DeGale has clocked up some miles. The 2008 Olympic hero made history six months ago when becoming the first British Gold medalist to win a world title after he claimed Andre Dirrell's IBF belt in Boston. The Degale roadshow moves to Quebec this weekend for his first defence against Lucien Bute.
Degale's career has been more of an adventure than most Olympians though life was probably sweet enough when Frank Warren paid 'Chunky' a chunk to turn pro soon after Beijing. The properties DeGale rents out now are a legacy of his amateur efforts but defeat to bitter rival George Groves in a 2011 domestic spat temporarily derailed DeGale.
Though he was exposed to a terrestrial audience on Channel 5 with Mick Hennessy, DeGale seemingly stuttered through the next three years with recurring injuries holding him back. When a third promoter Eddie Hearn came calling, DeGale marched to the tune. Timing has probably been the key but with Sky behind him and an Al Haymon alliance flattering to the bank balance, DeGale really hasn't looked back.
Injury free throughout 2014, DeGale (1.232/9 to win the fight) was in the form of his life stopping all three of his opponents including previous world title challenger Marco Antonio Periban who was certainly out of shape but flattened in three rounds. That was the platform for DeGale's heroics last time in winning the big one. DeGale had Dirrell down twice in the second round yet only squeaked home by two points on two of the scorecards having allowed the American back into the fight. That sort of approach cannot be repeated on away soil again.
DeGale had been clamouring for a big showdown with Carl Froch before the Nottingham star retired but instead he faces the man who was hammered by Froch in five brutal rounds three years ago. Some feel Bute hasn't been the same since that beating.
Bute (6.611/2) had been tipped for the very top and indeed favoured by the oddsmakers for that very fight against Froch but he's only fought three times since with breaks of 14 and 19 months in between. Bute rebounded from his worst night with an unconvincing win over the rugged but average Denis Grachev then stepped up to light heavyweight against Jean Pascal in a Canadian super-fight. Bute showed heart in defeat that night but his defiance was encouraged by Pascal's apathy more than anything. Froch would've closed the show early.
In August Bute returned to action after a hiatus and down to 168lbs too when he sparkled in a four round win against Andrea Di Luisa. It was a fight he was expected to win but nonetheless Bute seemed a bit more like his old self with his confidence better too. The question remains how much of the old Bute still exists and will that be good enough anyway?
DeGale is faster than Bute and is a difficult conundrum for any opponent with his movement, switch-hitting style and fast hands. Recent stoppages and knockdowns flatter DeGale a little on balance though I do feel he is punching from angles and in bunches more these days. A DeGale stoppage isn't out of the question given the doubts about Bute and his overall resistance (he's 20/21 to win by KO/TKO on the Sportsbook). More likely is this develops into a boxing match with DeGale's speed and freshness the keys. I'll back DeGale to emerge convincingly enough on points at 7/5.
Either way, the opportunities for DeGale are plentiful despite the defeats of Martin Murray and old nemesis Groves recently. Callum Smith is ready to take his chance in 2016 and even the retired warrior Froch is musing about making a comeback. DeGale is in the mix with them all so don't be surprised if Froch pops up with an unexpected comment or two after DeGale gets the business done at the weekend.
Degale on points @ 7/5 on the Betfair Sportsbook