DeGale and Eubank Fighting For More Than World Title At O2

February 21, 2019

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In 2008 promoter Frank Warren signed a deal with three of Team GB’s Olympic boxers on their return from Beijing. It’s often hard to assess how the career of amateur fighters will progress once turning pro but Frankie Gavin, Billy Joe Saunders and James DeGale have all tasted varying degrees of success.

Gavin became the British and Commonwealth welterweight champion and Saunders is arguably one of the best middleweight fighters on the planet. The third member of the triumvirate, James DeGale will begin to wind down his career on Saturday as he faces Chris Eubank Jr at the O2 Arena in London.

One of the most naturally gifted fighters of his generation, DeGale’s career has often split opinion. For a long time, it was defined by a rivalry with George Groves that saw Groves repeatedly come out on top despite being the underdog. However, DeGale became the first British Olympic boxing champion to win a world title as a professional and he has beaten some of the biggest names of his era.

With all this success, it came as something of a surprise when DeGale vacated his IBF super-middleweight belt in July. The idea behind the move was to seek out “massive fights” and not be weighed down by IBF mandatory bouts. In that respect it’s an understandable career shift, particularly as DeGale has mentioned possible retirement following Saturday’s contest.

There appears to be genuine animosity between the two men and much of it stems from an issue surrounding a spar involving DeGale and Eubank Jr in 2012. Eubank Jr subsequently tweeted about the meeting saying, “Today in sparring I just schooled European champion James DeGale. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen anyone trash talking while getting hit it in the face.”

DeGale responded by saying that Eubank Jr was “deluded” but both men have since played down the incident. Regardless of how either feels about the matter today, it’s unlikely that they’ll be going out for dinner together after the show.

With such a caustic fight in prospect you can be forgiven for ignoring the fact that there is actually a world title on the line. The winner will become the IBO super middleweight champion but realistically it’s a title that carries next to no prestige.

The real story is how the bout will unfold from the first bell. You’d almost certainly have to travel to Eubank Jr’s gym in Brighton to find someone who thinks he’s a better boxer than DeGale but will boxing skills be enough?

For all the accolades James DeGale has garnered, his pro career has been beset by one serious issue; he’ll box himself into a commanding position and then completely slow down and coast. More than once DeGale has run the risk of losing fights he’s dominated because of his perceived complacency.

But the reason behind this trend has remained a mystery. Is it bad fight management? Does DeGale’s corner give him bad information and let him think he’s winning rounds on the back foot? Is it an issue of conditioning? DeGale himself has admitted to overtraining in the past. The answer probably lies somewhere between the two but it’s a weakness that Eubank Jr could exploit this weekend.

Whether or not Eubank Jr has the tools to make the most of such an Achilles’ heel is another matter. Boxing is clearly in Eubank Jr’s blood. He took a long time to convince his father Chris Sr to let him box, and while the appetite for game is there, the younger man lacks some of the in-ring subtlety of his dad.

One criticism of Eubank Jr’s career to date is his seek and destroy mentality. He is permanently looking for the knockout shot and doesn’t always do enough to set that up properly. In his fight with George Groves, Eubank Jr’s best spell came after Groves injured his shoulder. For large portions of the contest before then Groves was in control and he even put the challenger down although it was ruled as a slip at the time.

Perhaps a switch to his first full-time trainer will help Eubank Jr. He has enlisted the expertise of Mayweather gym alum, Nate Vasquez but will still have ‘overseer’ Ronnie Davies in the corner too. Considering that the Brighton fighter has always insisted on training himself it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll actually listen to what Vasquez says.

Saturday’s card is the first really big UK boxing event of 2019 and the main event is shaping up to be a cracker. All signs point to a DeGale win but if he slips back into bad habits and takes rounds off, sitting on the ropes then it could be wide open.

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Author: George Ogier

George has been writing about boxing and other sports for over seven years. He has written for various sites including The Mirror, Joe and Boxing Scene. He also runs his own social media management company from West Oxfordshire. When not feverishly staring at his laptop he likes to be ultimately disappointed by Tottenham Hotspur.

Twitter @george_ogier

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