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From cheers to jeers for DeGale

By Ged Scott
BBC Sport in Birmingham

DeGale enters the arena
Dressed for success - DeGale enters the arena in gold shorts and top

James DeGale found out the hard way in Birmingham on Saturday night what a hard, cruel, unforgiving arena the world of professional boxing can be.

Despite getting the job done in a seemingly faultless first four-round pro fight against durable Georgian Vepkhia Tchilaia, winning on points was not enough for some of the spectators at the National Indoor Arena.

Just six months on from the acclaim and prestige of winning Olympic gold in Beijing, DeGale left the ring to boos.

But Shropshire's Richie Woodhall, another former Olympic medallist who went on to become world champion, is the first to point out what a long road it can be to the top in professional boxing.

Woodhall enjoyed a glittering career as an amateur, fighting all over the world in his English vest before winning the WBC world super-middleweight title in 1998 - 10 years after he had won Olympic bronze in Seoul.

He, too, started his pro career in Birmingham - just a short training run away at the Town Hall. And, although he sympathised with the public reaction meted out to the Londoner fighting in front of a partisan Brummie crowd at the NIA, he still sees it as good experience.

It was a bit disappointing the crowd booing DeGale... but the kid is class, there's no doubt about it

Richie Woodhall
"Boxing is an education in itself," Woodhall told BBC Sport. "Although James DeGale won, he didn't expect that reaction from the crowd, so he will learn from that."

On an evening when he was one of three top British amateurs making their pro debut at the National Indoor Arena, DeGale found himself outshone by Hatfield's Billy Joe Saunders and local hero Frankie Gavin.

But Woodhall insisted: "I still think that Frankie, James and Billy Joe have all got big futures.

"They've done it as amateurs, they've got the skills and there's no reason why they can't convert it to the professional game.

"It was a bit disappointing the crowd booing DeGale. It will have disappointed James, but the kid is class, there's no doubt about it. He will go on to bigger and better things.

"In professional boxing, sometimes you come up against opponents who just will not go down. You hit them with everything, they frustrate you and you've really got to catch them clean.

"The Georgian lad must have only thrown seven or eight punches in four rounds but sometimes you've got to take a couple of risks to open them up. James will learn from that."

Aside from the shedding of head protectors and amateur vests, Woodhall sees the hardest part of professional boxing's learning curve as the swapping of two-minute rounds for three-minute ones.

"The amateur game has now gone back to three three-minute rounds like I was used to in my day, as four 'twos' does not prepare amateurs for the pro game," said Woodhall.

"That was pretty evident last night and that's the biggest problem they're going to face.

"It's more of a points-scoring contest that they're used to. In the amateurs, international boxing is all about fast feet and fast hands and going for points all the time.

"They have to learn to dig in a little and concentrate on more power. You've got to slow your feet down and have more movement from the waist. You've got to learn those movements, to dig in and start using power shots.

"They'll cope, as they're with good experienced trainers, but it's something they've got to learn for themselves. And there's only one place to do that - in the ring.

"But the one thing you can't afford to do is get frustrated as you will come up against opponents who won't go down, especially these East Europeans who are hard as nails.

"They don't get stopped as they're boxing every other week. If they get stopped, they can't box for 28 days."

DeGale (right) unloads on his opponent
Woodhall says DeGale will have to put more power into his punches
Woodhall is currently trying to drum the same advice into his own main protégé, Don Broadhurst, another very promising Birmingham boxer, who, two-and-a-half years after emulating Woodhall's feat of winning Commonwealth gold, is still on track to share the same dream of a world title.

Broadhurst completed the 10th straight win of his short career at the NIA earlier on Saturday evening by defending his Commonwealth super-flyweight title against Ghanaian Isaac Owusu.

"I'm really pleased," said Woodhall. "I knew the kid was going to be tough. I simply told Don, 'He won't have your skills but he'll be hard. Don't get complacent'.

"Don did the job. To get 11 rounds under his belt and a stoppage was perfect. You can only learn from those sport of fights.

"He's a cheeky little so and so, always giving me grief about football as he's Villa and I'm Albion, but he's got quality and determination.

"I'm still convinced that Don can go all the way and become the world champion, but what I have to keep stressing to him, just as is the case with the three Olympians, is that's a long road.

"I remember my first fight against Kevin Hayde at Birmingham Town Hall. He was a hard opponent, but I eventually got to him and stopped him in the third because of my work rate and accuracy.

"That's what professional boxing is all about. Keep patient, work hard and don't get complacent."

see also
DeGale rattled by crowd boos
01 Mar 09 |  Boxing
Gavin cannot wait for pro debut
25 Feb 09 |  Boxing
Saunders relishing pro debut
14 Jan 09 |  Boxing
DeGale excited by pro challenge
02 Dec 08 |  Boxing
Difficult decision for DeGale
12 Sep 08 |  England

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