STEVE BRENNER, NEW YORK
James DeGale’s nose was broken, some of his teeth were missing and he was being treated for a perforated eardrum after 12 epic rounds. But as he recovered in hospital, the words of Floyd Mayweather would have increased the burning sensation in his ears.
While the Londoner was being patched up at the end of a brutal WBC-IBF super-middleweight unification bout against Badou Jack that ended in a rare majority draw, Mayweather was holding court deep into yesterday morning.
In his hour-long sermon at the end of a highly charged bout, Mayweather swayed from accusing the judges of robbing the WBC champion Jack, who he promotes, of the chance to have won DeGale’s IBF crown to vowing never to return to New York, before expressing his interest in signing the Briton to his stable and making him a “superstar”.
“It was the wrong result,” Mayweather said after judge Glenn Feldman scored the contest 114-112 in favour of the Englishman, while Julie Lederman and Steve Weisfeld recorded a 113-113 draw, meaning both boxers retained their titles.
“I know when a fighter got the best of me. You know when you won,” Mayweather said. “I don’t know what people were watching. Badou Jack was the better man.
“I may not come back to New York after this. I just want to be treated fair, these things are happening because of my flamboyance. Something isn’t right. Are they getting paid under the table?”
Mayweather concluded that the result was bad for boxing but he was wrong. The bout was championship boxing at its most dramatic. It was undulating, exciting fare from the best two protagonists in the division. That they were squaring off against each other was a rare feat in itself.
“No one can deny I’ve got the heart,” DeGale said of his efforts.
Indeed, such was the heart and skill on show from DeGale that a call from Mayweather could be on its way to his manager, mother Diane, who may have been delighted at her decision not to watch the bout, such is her fear of seeing her son injured.
“He had his moments. Do I want to sign him? Absolutely,” Mayweather said of DeGale, whose career is being guided by the secretive mogul Al Haymon, the man who helped Mayweather to reach boxing’s apex.
This was DeGale’s last fight under his deal with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom stable so, in effect, the 2008 Olympic gold medallist is a free agent.
“He has the star power to be a superstar,” Mayweather said with a mischievous grin.
“I would love to work with him. Nobody knows more about boxing than me. I like DeGale. I want to sign him. I’ll keep him in the UK and make him big over there.
“I don’t think he’s with anyone. We are ready to take him to the next level and he’s one of the best fighters out there.
“James DeGale, we are proud of you. We have a tour in the UK soon, I’ll be over there and we can hang out. He’s a cool guy.”
Mayweather officially retired in 2015 — unbeaten in 49 bouts — and is now working as a promoter, although he still devotes plenty of time to promoting himself, hijacking interviews and remaining in the glare of the spotlight.
On Saturday, though, it was DeGale and Jack who were the talk of the town.
The bout was fiendishly tight, the margins for error miniscule. While Jack found himself on the canvas in the first round after a left overhand caught his chin, DeGale was unable to administer the decisive blow.
“It was a flash knockdown, he was slapping a lot,” said Jack, who was born in Sweden but is based in Las Vegas.
DeGale was the more talented operator but Jack refused to go away, and once he had settled into the fight he began to make progress. The Briton, aided by his movement, had started superbly, but found it increasingly difficult to make inroads.
As the contest wore on, sustaining that level became problematic. DeGale’s jab, his most potent weapon, went missing (he connected with only four of 149).
Midway through, DeGale was ahead on the cards, though the more consistent work came from the supremely robust Jack, who would not buckle.
This was his last fight before moving up to light-heavyweight, where he will undoubtedly cause problems.
On a night of jaw-dropping action, Jack accidentally caught the referee, Arthur Mercante Jr, with a left hook at the end of the fifth round as he attempted to split the boxers, while in the eighth round Jack’s booming right hand knocked a bridge of teeth out of DeGale’s mouth. DeGale withstood sustained barrages from Jack, who needed to be fiercely proactive or risk losing his belt.
DeGale was down for the first time in his professional career when caught by a left hand to the head in the 12th round. The crowd at the Barclays Center erupted. Mayweather, a frisson of nervous energy all night long, sensed the moment.
The 30-year-old, however, recovered to stagger over the finish line. “DeGale’s balls in the last round showed what he’s all about,” the co-promoter Lou DiBella said.
Liverpool’s Callum Smith, who was ringside, wants a chance to box for the WBC belt that Jack will vacate instead of meeting DeGale in an all-British affair. But DeGale, whose past four bouts have been in North America, said: “I still want Callum for my British homecoming in May. He’s my mandatory for the IBF title.”
Before he returns to the ring DeGale will enjoy a few weeks of holiday and ensure that his missing teeth are restored to their rightful home.
Hearn stressed afterwards that the gruelling nature of this encounter will ensure that DeGale takes an extended period of recuperation. “It was a taxing fight. You don’t fight again in three or four months after a fight like that. He deserves a homecoming and will be looking at June,” Hearn said, seemingly a little out of kilter with DeGale’s plans.
Either way, the break is well deserved.