DeGale vs Eubank Jr: Careers On The Line
By Richard Lewis
In a few short weeks London’s O2 arena will no doubt be sold out, and many more will watch at home, as thousands pack in to watch what could be a career finale of one of British Boxing’s most divisive of characters in recent years, the former two-time IBF super-middleweight world champion James ‘Chunky’ DeGale, who takes to the ring in a risky but exciting clash with domestic rival Chris Eubank Jnr.
The fact that no ‘proper’ world title will be on the line in this fight, with DeGale vacating his IBF title rather than facing Jose Uzcategui, in favour of the bigger payday against Eubank Jnr with the fight streamed live via ITV Box Office, maybe indicates what motivates DeGale as he heads towards the latter part of his career.
Though before all of that DeGale does have a career to be proud of, gaining an Olympic Gold medal in 2008 in Beijing before turning pro soon after and quickly winning the British and European titles, despite suffering his first loss against his oldest rival and former Dale Youth amateur club mate George Groves in between. He later captured the vacant IBF super-middleweight world title beating the much fancied tough American Andre Dirrell, who’s only other previous loss at that time came at the hands of former 168lb king and fellow Brit Carl Froch.
Tough defences against former world champion Lucian Bute, the Mexican contender Rogelio ‘Porky’ Medina and then an enthralling contest with the ever tough Badou Jack in January 2017 followed. A fight in which DeGale famously lost his front teeth but managed to cling onto his title with a majority decision draw after a twelve round slug fest between the two men.
It is often wondered how much that fight with Badou Jack has taken out of DeGale with several injury problems that have followed. Many lesser men would have perhaps called time on their career and got out whilst the going was good but for DeGale who still held his world title at that time he harboured an ambition to prove that he was the no.1 super-middleweight in the world despite the ongoing World Boxing Super Series tournament which DeGale was not a part of looking to suggest otherwise.
A fight with American Caleb Truax, a former middleweight world title challenger, and ranked no.15 by the IBF beckoned and it gave James the chance to fight on home soil for the first time in over three years at the Copper Box Arena in London.
Sadly the fight didn’t go to plan with Truax outworking DeGale for large parts of the fight and pinning him in the corner in the 5th round and unleashing a barrage of unanswered punches that the champion was lucky to survive until the end of the round. After another twelve round slog the judges awarded the fight to Truax via a majority decision with two of the judges scoring it in his favour and a third seeing it as a draw.
The shock defeat caused embarrassment to Chunky in front of his hometown fans and in his post fight interview he called for a rematch and blamed his shoulder injury for the loss, saying that he came back too soon from surgery and shouldn’t of taken the fight.
The rematch was granted and took place last year, this time in Las Vegas, though another below par performance save for a good final few rounds swung the fight in DeGale’s favour and he was able to reclaim the IBF title via a close unanimous decision and in doing so was able to call himself a two-time world champion.
After these two difficult fights with Caleb Truax and the war with Badou Jack many feel that DeGale has lost his edge, with his speed and movement on the decline after being in several tough hard fights. Though DeGale himself claims that the previously mentioned shoulder injury that plagued him before the first Caleb Truax fight, as well as an Achilles injury and nose and groin operations have meant that he’s not been fully fit for quite some time and we perhaps haven’t seen the James DeGale of old.
Despite this he was still able to record a 3rd round KO win over Colombian veteran Fidel Monterrosa Munoz last September in a warm up fight, and will have to put in a similar performance and be at his best to beat the tough and durable Chris Eubank Jnr, who himself will be looking to use the fight as a chance to impress and propel himself back amongst the elite in the division after losing last year in the semi final of the World Boxing Super Series to the then WBA super champion and old adversary of DeGale’s in the form of George Groves.
Eubank Jnr like DeGale also divides opinion with his cockiness and often over-confident attitude, much like his father before him. Perhaps at last this will also be the fight where he finally steps out of his father’s shadow and proves he is worth the hype that has surrounded him all of his career.
It was mentioned by Eubank Jnr at the press conference promoting this fight that he has now taken on a proper full-time trainer in the form of Nate Vasquez who has worked as part of Floyd Mayweather’s Las Vegas gym for some time. He is not taking this fight with DeGale lightly and ensuring he has all the proper preparation and training in place as he can ill afford another loss on his record at this stage of his career, having been on the wrong end of decisions against former world title holders in Billy-Joe Saunders at middleweight and Groves as already mentioned at super-middleweight.
He also said himself that it’s important not only beat DeGale but to do so in spectacular fashion. This fight could be an all out war from the opening bell with both men going hammer and tongue and throwing a variety of punches at one another, with a disregard for defence, the fact that they genuinely dislike one another could make for a proper toe to toe battle with neither man willing to back down.
What is certain is that come February 23rd we will see a fight that Eubank Jnr has been calling for some time, in fact ever since he beat Renold Quinlan and captured the lesser regarded IBO version of a world title he called out DeGale’s and offer himself as an opponent.
Finally we are going to see it happen and l really think it has all the makings of being a cracker. If I was pushed for a winner I’d probably lean towards DeGale taking a close points decision after 12 tough back and forth rounds, but don’t be surprised if we do see the ‘new and improved’ Chris Eubank Jnr and a career best performance from the Brighton man. May the best man win, for the loser maybe retirement beckons?