- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
British super middleweight contender James DeGale has already accomplished a lot in his career, but not his ultimate goal, which is to win a world title.
"The belt means everything to me and more. I am here to make history, and it doesn't happen without that title," DeGale said this week.
He will get his shot at the title he wants so badly when he faces fellow southpaw Andre Dirrell for a vacant 168-pound belt in the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions card on Saturday at Agganis Arena in Boston (NBC, 4:30 p.m. ET, with additional live coverage on NBC Sports Net beginning at 6 p.m. ET).
"I could win on Saturday night and retire a happy man -- that's how much I want to beat Andre Dirrell," DeGale said. "But when I do win that title, I am going for the rest of the belts, creating a lasting legacy for my country, my fans and myself."
Also on the televised card, light heavyweight Edwin Rodriguez (26-1, 17 KOs), 30, of Worcester, Massachusetts, will square off with untested Craig Baker (16-0, 12 KOs), 31, of Baytown, Texas, in a scheduled 10-rounder that will take place after DeGale-Dirrell. Since the NBC telecast is scheduled for only 90 minutes, DeGale-Dirrell will open the broadcast and Rodriguez-Baker could begin on NBC and finish on NBC Sports Net.
As an amateur, DeGale was king of the hill, winning a 2008 Olympic gold medal. As a professional, he has won the British and European titles, and his one loss was by a razor-close majority decision to countryman George Groves in 2011.
Since that defeat, however, DeGale has won 10 fights in a row. He became the mandatory challenger for the world title that the injured Carl Froch, the countryman he really wanted to fight, vacated. Now, DeGale stands on the precipice of achieving his ultimate goal.
If the 29-year-old DeGale (20-1, 14 KOs) wins the belt, he will become the first boxer to win an Olympic gold medal for Great Britain and also win a major world title. Remember, while Hall of Fame former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis is British, he won a 1988 Olympic gold medal for Canada.
"I'm going to show everybody who I am. I'm driven to become the first Olympic gold medalist from the U.K. to win a world title, and I'm doing it for my country," said DeGale, whose fourth-round knockout of American Brandon Gonzales last May in a title eliminator made DeGale the mandatory challenger.
DeGale said becoming the first British fighter to win Olympic gold and a pro world title is a huge deal for him.
"I could win on Saturday night and retire a happy man -- that's how much I want to beat Andre Dirrell. But when I do win that title, I am going for the rest of the belts, creating a lasting legacy for my country, my fans and myself."
"I'm obsessed with making history," DeGale said. "It's what drives me to work so hard in the gym and succeed in the ring. I need to stay focused and keep my eye out on the prize. That's what I have to do.
"I am just a normal boy from northwest London, and I can become the first Olympic gold medalist from England to win a world title. The support I am getting has been fantastic, and I can't wait to bring the belt home for the fans. It's been a 16-week camp, come fight night, so it's been a long time. My body and mind feel ready to fight. I am so sharp and in a very good place."
DeGale will be fighting in the United States for the first time because Warriors Boxing Promoter Leon Margules, on behalf of Dirrell adviser Al Haymon, beat DeGale promoter Eddie Hearn at a March 10 purse bid with an offer of $3.1 million, meaning each fighter will earn $1.55 million apiece.
While the fight will represent DeGale's first shot at a world title, it will be the second chance for Dirrell (24-1, 16 KOs), of Flint, Michigan, a 2004 Olympic bronze medalist. His only defeat came by a disputed split decision to Froch in a 2009 world title bout during the Super Six World Boxing Classic in Froch's hometown of Nottingham, England.
Dirrell, 31, has won six fights in a row since then, but he was sidelined for long stretches because of a head injury and promotional and management issues. After re-signing with Haymon last year, Dirrell got much more active, winning three fights during a five-month stretch between August and December to set him up for the title bout.
"I always knew my day would come. I put in the work. I love this sport so I give it what I owe," Dirrell said. "I'm happy to get a shot at another title. I'm not going to take it for granted. I'm going to put in my work and perform to the best of my ability, and that will make me a world champion.
"I'm glad to be getting in there with somebody who believes he can win. I want someone who will test me like I'll test them. That's a real championship fight. I'm much hungrier than I was early in my career and I'm more focused mentally. With age comes wisdom. Everything I went through is all a blessing."
Dirrell's title shot will come just one month after his younger brother, Anthony Dirrell, lost his version of the super middleweight world title to Badou Jack by majority decision. Like DeGale, Andre Dirrell is anxious to get his hands on the belt.
"A title means everything. It completes you as a fighter. That's the top of the food chain in this sport, and that's the pedestal we're all trying to reach -- world champion," Dirrell said. "Everybody wants to be a world champion. The greats had it and now we want it. It would mean more for my city, my family and my friends, and it's something I'll always be able to look back at. It would put me in the record books for life."
That Dirrell is about to fight a significant bout has been a long time coming for him after so many down moments during a layoff that he thought might never end.
"There was a time when I didn't want to do interviews. I didn't want to go to fights. I didn't want to hear fans online and on social media," he said. "I closed them all down because I didn't want to hear people ask, 'When are you fighting again?' Talking about talent wasted, or saying, 'I'm glad he's gone.' It hurt because there was nothing I could do. I was powerless even with all the power in the world."
So both fighters look forward to their showdown and the rewards that will come with a victory, but outside the ring they have been cool with each other -- professionals with no need to talk trash.
"I like to lighten the mood and stay comfortable. This is all a part of the game," Dirrell said. "Let's have fun now. It's ass-kicking time when we get in that ring, but outside it's all love."
Said DeGale, "Andre is a classy fighter and he showed in the press conference that he is a classy guy, too. When two fighters who believe in their ability 100 percent and know they are going to win a fight, it is going to be explosive. There's nothing but respect between us, but ultimately, we're going to take each other to dark territory on Saturday night.
"It's going to be a brutal battle -- and one that I am going to win."
Andre Dirrell and James DeGale will get a shot at a super middleweight title in the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions card on Saturday -- and they can't wait to get in the ring to win it.