The moment of truth has arrived for James DeGale.
When the 29 year-old was a troubled teenager growing up in London, watching Prince Naseem Hamed light up Madison Square Garden sparked a dream which will be realized this evening here in Boston.
DeGale’s first professional fight in the United States is also his biggest.
Standing in the way of history is the skillful, not to be underestimated Andre Dirrell, the American 31 year-old with just one defeat which came against Carl Froch whose vacated IBF super middleweight title the pair will fight for.
The stakes are high. Indeed, they are huge.
Yet this is a fighter who has experienced enough lows in life to realize when opportunity knocks, it must be taken gleefully and emphatically.
In the seven years since that golden evening in Beijing, DeGale has gone from a gregarious, supremely talented if slightly over-confident performer who lost his only fight in 21 to bitter rival George Groves in 2011 to a worried athlete forced to fight in a Kent shopping center on Channel Five.
Mismanagement and lack of focus held him back. However his switch to Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom boxing stable in April 2014 which has ensured greater TV exposure (Hearn signed a new six year deal with Sky on Thursday) means the limelight DeGale craves is shining brightly.
“I will always remind myself about 2008 and what I achieved because it was such a special time, “ said the Harlesden born fighter.
“It’s so hard to get motivated when I was fighting at shopping centers. I wasn’t getting the right fights that would take me to the world title.I was involved in some stupid fights
“The flat atmosphere must have come across on the TV and that was not doing me any good. Fighting at Bluewater in front of 1000 people was hard for me. Before that I was the being billed as the Golden Boy on Amir Khan’s undercard.
“Now I really feel I have momentum behind me, everything is coming together after my seven years since Beijing. I have loads of ups and a couple of downs.
“I thought a world title would come sooner. I thought it would be four years after the Olympics so I am three years behind schedule.
“This is a career defining moment.“
Dirrell, backed by his gaudy, loudmouth brother Willy who antagonized the Brit, his family and Hearn with brain numbing cries of ‘here’s the champ’ and ‘you’re a loser’ at Wednesday’s media workout fancies his chances too.
With this event being marketed under the Premier Boxing Champions banner created by Al Haymon, the reclusive man in the shadows whose aim to take over the sport shows no sign of slowing, you would do well to realize a title is actually on the line.
Indeed, Dirrell’s pre-fight diatribe insisting he and DeGale should forget about any belt and instead consider the impact the fight will have on their respective records was stomach wrenching.
It was as if he was wearing an earpiece with a line straight into Haymon whose desperation to control boxing means organization titles are not part of his bigger picture.
DeGale, however, forcibly turns the other cheek.
He plans to watch his beloved Arsenal next weekend at the FA Cup final wearing a new belt with the words of Arsene Wenger who wrote a pre-fight letter of support lodged firmly in his pocket.
“I have just bought a new house in St Albans so I am looking for a place on the wall to put my gold medal and the world championship belt, “ he added.
“It has five bedrooms so is definitely big enough for a trophy room.
“I remember when I was 12 watching Naz and thinking I want some of that.
“It’s incredible to think back to where I was – how I had trouble at school, went to ballet for a bit , tried acting school the lot. It’s crazy that I am now in this position. I’ll always have a small percentage of haters but it’s unbelievable how my popularity has grown.