Alright, so it seems DeGale and his trainer are endearing, but who's really gonna win? you ask. Perhaps you suspect my very choice of subject indicates my opinion -- you'd be right, but not because I let the story sway me.
I looked at the contest plainly -- and with the help of another trainer who failed in his quest for the title during a fighting career but helped his best student garner one: "Iceman" John Scully, who hails from an area near Manchester, CT., and also by the sea -- Hartford.
Scully is a true student of boxing (too many trainers are called that without the credentials) who has kept diaries since his days as an amateur and is compiling them now into a book. He throws reunions for old, retired boxers who rarely get to gather and has further bona fides as a former ESPN commentator.
Scully fought at the same weight as Jack and DeGale -- 168 and then led "Bad" Chad Dawson to a title at 175 as the teacher. His impression of Badou Jack is that he's sneakily good in the way he tags a guy (even if only to the belly) whenever he gets hit. Never lets an opponent feel he has an advantage for more than a millisecond. Another pro: Jack's high guard, which is so anomalous in an age of hands-down boxers who treat defense as an afterthought.
Then there's his victory over ballyhooed American Anthony Dirrell. Scully recalls Dirrell once fighting in an amateur tournament -- more than a decade ago -- in which he suffered such a bad shoulder or arm injury it was as if the kid had been shot. To Scully's amazement, Dirrell not only won the tourney with the injury, he 20-pointed -- beat by a mercy rule -- his final opponent.
If Badou Jack could beat Dirrell (it was a very close majority decision win, but still), he must be some hell of a fighter, Scully concludes. Yet, he still favors James DeGale.
Badou comes in straight, whereas DeGale uses all sorts of angles both to approach and evade an opponent. There's also the downside to Jack's high guard -- and now I'm speaking more of my opinion than Scully's, though he agreed with me.
Jack turns his arms too far inward on defense, very much like his promoter Floyd Mayweather. As Scully said pithily, though, there's a reason Floyd can get away with his moves -- and kids trying to emulate him without the natural gifts are making a huge mistake. Floyd has the hand speed to covert that bicep-contracted guard into a potshot or jab or even flurry (though he rarely uses combo). Jack lacks the speed -- so there's a long transition between his defense to offense.
James DeGale has the fast-twitch muscle to switch with ease. "He's a little bit more versatile and quick on the trigger," Scully said. "He's a two-hand fighter even to the body."
Oh, and he's a southpaw -- so his already Roy Jones-esque improvisations look further distorted to stand-up, righty opponents.
The final bit working in DeGale's favor -- "Iceman" Scully also believes a trainer's shortcomings can be marshaled to boost his acolytes' games. His big losses are "the basis of my training career," he said. "More so than anything, I use my failures."
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