EXCLUSIVE FROM STEVE BRENNER IN MIAMI
James DeGale jumps up and takes off his shirt.
It’s Saturday night in iconic South Beach, Florida. An organic food cafe is serving dinner for his close-knit team after another day of training.
It was pretty quiet. Until now.
“Not now, I’m eating,” says his father, Leroy.
DeGale, ever the showman, carries on regardless. “I’m gonna have to show you my body,” he barks. “They call me Chunky, but look how lean I am. I am not normally like this.”
The 30 year-old proudly shows off the fruits of the labour he hopes will see him crowned a two-title world champion in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Saturday, his fourth fight in succession in North America.
Living “like a hermit and eating like a guinea pig” for the past nine weeks has helped the IBF super-middleweight title holder morph into the best shape of his life.
Badou Jack, the Las Vegas based Swedish WBC belt-holder, will realise just as much when he steps into the ring with glorious unification on offer. Roaring success DeGale is super-fit and bursting with confidence. His training camp in Miami has been a roaring success.
The addition of Nick Palma, a specialist strength and conditioning coach who also provides nutrition counsel, is, amazingly, something new for an Olympic champion entering the eighth year of a professional career which has seen two successful title defences of the belt won emphatically in Boston 20 months ago.
DeGale, however, is wising up since turning 30. “It’s crazy to think that I have come this far without having done that before,” admitted the no-longer-shirtless Londoner. “It’s mad. I have never looked at the sports science side of boxing. The game has evolved now – fighters have all these guys.
“Up until now, I have just done the boxing work. “I have always made weight on my own, but if you want to be the very best, to be elite, you need all these pieces. Massage? I’ve never had a masseur work on me.
“Jim (McDonnell – his trainer) would have me doing what he called a Holyfield circuit – lifting and pulling weights – but that’s about it.” DeGale desperately wants cake to satisfy his sugar cravings, but it’s not going to happen. He’s forced to settle for a chocolate almond shake with raw cacao.
The grimace says it all. Yet, the rewards will be worthwhile.
“I had to starve myself in the past, but now I’m eating four times a day,” he says cheerily as Palma lets him know the calorie count for the day. “I wasn’t being stupid, like eating burgers and chips. But, I wasn’t eating the right stuff, either. I didn’t have a clue, but look at me now.
“My energy level is totally different. One of the sparring partners jumped out after three rounds the other day. I was just warming up. “People are going to see a big difference. I’m more powerful. I’m more solid on my stance, I am lasting the distance better. Mind, body, and soul, I feel great.”
Jack, 33, is not being discounted. Solid, if unspectacular, his last outing against Lucien Bute followed a title defence against DeGale’s bête noir, George Groves, who delivered his only defeat in 2011. DeGale is the more gifted fighter – his movement, tempo, and jab are far superior – though with Jack among Floyd Mayweather’s promotion cabal, visions of misguided grandeur are being weaved.
“Mayweather has given him belief,” observed McDonnell. “But, trust me, that will run short when James does his stuff.”
DeGale is a frisson of energy. A child psychologist was called when he became a wayward 14-year-old. School became challenging. Bipolarity was whispered. Concentration levels plummeted.
“The doctors said ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder]. I said, ‘Mate, are you having a laugh?’ They wanted to put me on tablets. I said, ‘I am not doing that’,” recalled DeGale. “They thought [impulse-control stimulant] Ritalin would help me get back into school. But, trust me, bro, there’s nothing wrong with me.
“I hated school. I wasn’t academic. I couldn’t concentrate on anything but boxing.” The relationship with his mother, Diane, who is also his manager, is touching and heartfelt. However, she won’t sit ringside and watch her boy fight. “Even thinking about it makes me hyperventilate,” she said. A deadpan DeGale said: “Her lips go blue, you can see it in her eyes. She’s shaking. F**k that. I don’t need it. My sister and mates, fine
” Instead, mum will await a text that will hopefully announce her son joining legendary British super-middleweights like Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn, Carl Froch and Joe Calzaghe. “If I get mentioned with them, boy, when I retire, I will be happy enough,” concluded DeGale.