In front of a hostile crowd at the Echo Arena in Liverpool, James DeGale dominated hometown fighter Paul Smith to lift the British super middleweight title in his ninth professional fight.
DeGale (9-0, 7 KO) controlled from the get-go, showing a different class of speed and ability, a higher level and greater skill set than Smith (29-2, 15 KO) could handle. He started rocking Smith in the middle rounds, and in the ninth was battering the defending champion all around the ring. Smith did all he could to hang on, but two jarring, head-spinning left hands from DeGale forced the hand of referee Howard John Foster.
DeGale, 24, is clearly being fast-tracked. He stepped up his opposition in all four of his 2010 fights, and the only step really left before the world stage would be the European title, currently held by Brian Magee. He may well make a defense or two of his British crown first, but I suspect if DeGale had his way, he'd move up as quickly as possible.
The loss is no knock on the always-gutsy Smith, who will be back in domestic contention as soon as DeGale is out of the way. Guys like Smith help guys like DeGale get better and prove themselves, or they knock them off occasionally and show us that the hype was more than the reality. This is just a case where DeGale proved out.
If DeGale does stay domestic for the time being, the perfect opponent could be George Groves, a fellow prospect who has had plenty of back-and-forth trash talk with DeGale. Groves came off the canvas in his last fight to score an impressive comeback stoppage. Personally I think DeGale would just be too quick and too good for him, but Groves has plenty of sand and can fight. And it might actually be the best time to make that fight, too.
Featured on the undercard, Nathan Cleverly survived a poor performance against short-notice opponent Nadjib Mohammedi. Cleverly (21-0, 10 KO) won on scores of 116-111, 115-112 and 115-113, which I thought were fair totals. Mohammedi (23-2, 12 KO) proved to be an awkward, difficult style, and had he started a bit faster than he did, may well have won the fight. Cleverly appeared to run out of gas pretty badly as the fight wore on, which could bring some conditioning questions to mind.
Realistically, Cleverly would be best to just chalk it up to a learning experience. Mohammedi isn't a poor fighter by any stretch, and Cleverly had a bad night and still managed to get the win. You can't change the performance now, and a win's a win sometimes. This is one of those times, I'd say.
- Matthew Macklin UD-12 Ruben Varon: Macklin (28-2, 19 KO) barely managed to get past unknown Spanish challenger Varon (35-6, 16 KO), though the scores didn't really reflect that -- 116-113 and 117-111 twice. The latter score was fairly absurd, even. It's not that I don't think Macklin could be seen winning this fight; it wasn't a robbery by any means. But 117-111 was just poor scoring. Varon had plenty of fire, stood up well to Macklin, and delivered more punishment overall. I didn't score along, but my feeling was that it could have gone either way. It was a pretty solid fight, and Macklin gets past a surprisingly tough challenge to fight another day. Could we get that Darren Barker fight finally?
- Kell Brook TKO-2 Philip Kotey: This was a trucking. Brook (23-0, 16 KO) just plowed over Kotey (21-6-2, 15 KO) with ease. The Sky commentators were talking up a fight between Brook and Mike Jones, but last report from Top Rank was that they were putting together a rematch between Jones and Jesus Soto Karass for February 19. Brook looked sensational in this one, not that beating Kotey is anything to hang a hat on.
Tony Bellew TKO-8 Ovill McKenzie: Bellew went down in the first round, and then harder in the second round. The absolute best part of this fight was the Sky broadcast team acting as if McKenzie, who came in with seven stoppages in his 18 wins, is some massive, concussive puncher because he once won a Prizefighter tournament with one stoppage in his three fights that night. McKenzie is maybe a smidge better than his record, but the truth is Bellew just isn't that good and still makes a ton of mistakes. But he does make for pretty entertaining fights. In the sixth round, he clocked McKenzie with some clean right hands but McKenzie wouldn't budge. The stoppage was quite premature, though Bellew (15-0, 10 KO) had drilled and dropped McKenzie with a very nice left hook. After the knockdown, Bellew clipped McKenzie (18-10, 7 KO) with a right hand, and referee Phil Edwards stopped it though McKenzie appeared to be mostly OK.
- Billy Joe Saunders TKO-2 Tony Randell: Sideways step for Saunders (7-0, 4 KO), who probably could be fairly said to not be progressing quite as fast as some of his peers.
- Liam Smith TKO-2 Matt Scriven: Smith improves to 6-0 (2 KO) with a win over familiar UK can Scriven (14-77, 2 KO).
- Joe McNally PTS-4 Bertrand Aloa: I'm mostly just thrilled that there's a fighter out there named Bertrand. It's such a great name. McNally is now 8-0 (3 KO).
- Larry Olubamiwo TKO-8 Paul Butlin: Olubamiwo (10-1, 9 KO) is a 32-year-old heavyweight non-prospect who can punch some. Butlin (12-14, 3 KO) is your standard opponent journeyman.
- Joe Selkirk PTS-6 Steve O'Meara: Selkirk improves to 6-0 (3 KO), while O'Meara falls to 12-2 (2 KO).