Former two-time Super Middleweight World Champion James DeGale and the talented Chris Eubank Jr. throw down in a classic pairing of archrivals this Saturday in the first PBC on ITV event.
James DeGale is more accomplished than Chris Eubank Jr.
The question is: Which DeGale will show up when they meet Saturday at O2 Arena in London on PBC on ITV and Showtime (3:45 p.m. ET/12:45 p.m. PT)?
Will it be the DeGale who made so many opponents look silly through 2016? Or the one who has struggled the past few years?
The answer to that question could decide who wins the battle between rival super middleweights and takes a giant step toward a world title shot.
“On paper, DeGale has a better boxing IQ,” said U.K.-based trainer Joe Gallagher, who works with neither fighter. “If DeGale can keep his legs moving, as we’ve seen in the past, that could win him the fight on points. If he does what he’s done of late, sit on the ropes and try to engage, Eubank could win. It’s hard to call.”
A showdown between DeGale and Eubank, the son of decorated Chris Eubank Sr., has been brewing since a well-publicized sparring session between the two in 2012, one that each fighter claims he dominated.
That’s a good story line, one that seems to have captured the imagination of fans in the U.K., but it’s not necessary to create drama going into this matchup: It’s a do-or-die fight for both men. DeGale suggested it be labeled “The Retirement Fight,” the implication being the loser should walk away from the sport.
DeGale (25-2-1, 15 KOs) has had a special career, winning an Olympic gold medal in 2008 and then going on to become a two-time super middleweight titleholder as a professional. He was the first British fighter to accomplish that feat. However, injuries and perhaps age hindered his performances in 2017 and last year, leaving the 33-year-old’s future in doubt.
DeGale battled to a draw with Badou Jack in January 2017, a bout in which the southpaw reportedly fought with a nagging right shoulder injury that later required surgery. Then, in his comeback fight the following December, the boxing world was stunned when he lost a close majority decision and his IBF 168-pound belt to Caleb Truax.
DeGale defeated Truax by a unanimous decision to regain his title in the rematch last April, which gave his confidence a boost, but he still wasn’t the fleet-footed master boxer from only a few years earlier. Something was missing, which led some to believe “Chunky” was finished as an elite boxer.
After giving up his title to have more control over who he fought, DeGale stopped journeyman Fidel Monterrosa Munoz in three rounds in September but that proved little to nothing. The doubts remained.
DeGale has an explanation: He had been suffering from Achilles’ tendinitis for two years in addition to bad shoulder, which rendered him a flat-footed fighter relative to his natural style. After treatment, he said he feels more like the DeGale of old than he has in some time.
“I understand why people think I am on the decline,” DeGale told the Independent. “Based on my last few performances, people are saying my speed, reflexes and movement have gone. I don't want to talk about my injuries but I had Achilles' tendonitis for two years and didn't even know it. My shoulder was mashed up. Everyone is calling me out now but I want the boxing reporters and writers to judge me on this next fight.”
DeGale’s longtime trainer, Jim McDonnell, believes many people will be surprised when they watch the fight.
“James is the best he’s been in several years,” said McDonnell, referring to his protégé’s performance during training camp. “The Achilles’ problem took away his movement, took away his rhythm, and his performance dropped. Now he has a healthy body, a healthy mind. He boxed with an Achilles’ injury and just had his shoulder injury resolved. Now he has a good shoulder, good feet.
“He looks like James DeGale. The difference is like night and day.”
That could be bad news for Eubank (27-2, 21 KOs).
Junior has come up short in his two biggest fights, losing a split decision against Billy Joe Saunders in 2014 and a unanimous decision to George Groves last year. (Groves outpointed DeGale in 2011). Those setbacks reinforced the notion that Eubank was more a personality because of his last name than a legitimate threat to beat championship-level opponents.
Many observers asked the same question McDonnell asked: “Who has he beat?” Only second-tier foes.
That doesn’t mean Eubank is a pushover, though. He has solid boxing skills and world-class toughness, as he demonstrated most recently against Groves. He also has some punching power, which his knockout ratio suggests. In other words, if DeGale can’t move his feet like he once did, as Gallagher said, Eubank has the ability and grit to give him problems.
Eubank also is as motivated as he has ever been. He knows his third fight at the highest level of boxing might be his last if he loses.
“This is the biggest and most important fight of my career,” Eubank told the Guardian. “It’s definitely the one where I have the most to lose. A loss would leave me in no man’s land. DeGale is in the same position. We both cannot afford defeat. We’re both on the edge and someone’s going to fall.”
For a closer look at DeGale vs Eubank, check out our fight page.