BRISTOL, United Kingdom – James DeGale (18-1, 12 KOs) recorded an impressive TKO victory over durable challenger Gevorg Khatchikian (20-1, 8 KOs) in an effective final eliminator for Sakio Bika’s WBC super middleweight title. DeGale’s effective bodywork and fast tempo paid dividends in the eleventh round as Khatchikian succumbed to his first defeat via referee stoppage.
While stepping up in class against an aggressive James DeGale keen to make an impression, the 25 year old Khatchikian showed heart throughout the fight. DeGale turned in a mature and exciting performance in a crucial fight after Badou Jack fell to shock first round knockout to Derek Edwards in New York last night. DeGale’s fights are often characterized by momentary lapses in concentration, a tendency perhaps to lazily rest on the ropes and allow his opponent back into the fight. There would be no such sloppiness tonight as the former Olympian got over the gain line in a methodical but entertaining manner.
“Chunky” came out of the blocks quickly with rasping hooks and body punches on his agenda while the Armenian responded in kind with his own punches upstairs. The visiting fighter improved in the second however – opening up a cut over the left eye of the Olympic gold medalist and landing chopping right hands on the Englishman who was coming in square.
DeGale continued his successful and eye-catching bodywork in the fifth round but took his foot off the gas in the next, perhaps cognizant his opponent’s power was unlikely to trouble him. A Khatchikian uppercut and overhand right hand found its way through DeGale’s defensive shell in round seven, prompting the Netherlands-based Armenian to pummel “Chunky” on the ropes.
DeGale had greater success in the eight and ninth, switching between orthodox and southpaw stances with efficacy and putting sparkling combinations together. The gritty Khatchikian kept coming forward in the tenth, but was countered with a straight left hand from an increasingly flashy DeGale. Khatchikian was down twice in the penultimate frame, sinking to the canvas from several of Chunky’s crippling body punches, but courageously beating the count twice. However referee Mark Green had seen enough and waved off the contest, enabling the Harlesden switch-hitter to progress to a likely world title challenge of Australian veteran Sakio Bika.
Mick Hennessy confirmed after the fight the likelihood that DeGale will bypass Badou Jack in a final eliminator and progress straight to Bika as his mandatory challenger – saying that only Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (taking on Brian Vera in a rematch tonight in Texas) could potentially be an obstacle to DeGale claiming his first world title.
A talented and consummate boxer, Chunky has endured a frustrating period since dropping a controversial majority decision to British rival George Groves. Inactivity, injuries and politics have slowed DeGale’s progress while “The Saint” looks forward to a huge rematch against Carl Froch in a football stadium this summer, with fellow champions Andre Ward and Arthur Abraham keeping an eye on proceedings. Chunky himself hopes to rematch with a victorious Groves in Arsenal FC’s Emirates stadium later this year.
Some learned observers believe DeGale is one of the few super middleweights on the radar who could give Andre Ward a run from his money. It is easy to forget that the Londoner has only a world title to add to his haul of European and British championships. He is also chasing the lofty goal of becoming Britain’s first Olympic and professional world champion – it currently appearing that Sakio Bika is the last remaining impediment between James DeGale and his march towards, and beyond British boxing history.