UK fight fans know that historical bad-blood between two combatants often results in a thrilling fight when the two finally get it on in the ring. That will certainly be the hope when after almost a decade of chastising him, Chris Eubank Jr gets his long-awaited shot at two-time super middleweight world champion James DeGale on February 23 at London’s O2 Arena.
For eight years Eubank Jr has been claiming he got the better of DeGale in a sparring session when he was a fledgling pro, and he has always boasted that should the two ever meet, he would handle DeGale easily.
Clearly the story has rankled DeGale, who claims that if anything, it was the other way round. There is certainly no love lost between the two fighters, and last year when Eubank Jr was beaten by George Groves, DeGale led the chorus of criticism as to the amateurishness of his performance.
but while the Gail is clearly a fighter with a greater pedigree and vastly more experience, those strengths will be counted by Eubank Jrñs youth, physicality and sheer will to win. So, who’s going to win the Pet Food Punch Up?
Who Is Chris Eubank Jr?
29-year old Chris Eubank Jr (27-2, 21 KOs) is the son of the original Chris Eubank, one of Britain’s best ever boxers. During the late 80s and early 90s, when he won both the WBO middleweight and super middleweight titles, Eubank Sr engaged in a series of thrilling and memorable battles with the likes of Michael Watson, Nigel Benn and Steve Collins.
Eubank Sr was equally well known for his eccentric persona, encompassing a clipped, upper-class English accent, the accompanying jodhpurs and monocle, and an audacious taste in automobiles, including one of the first Hummers seen in the UK, and a seven-ton lorry.
Young Chris is nowhere near as extravagant as his father, but he has proved almost as divisive because of his habit of talking disparagingly about fellow fighters, a practice that makes him disliked by boxers and fans alike.
Chris Eubank Jr turned pro in 2011 after posting a 24-2 amateur record, and because of his lack of ring experience, for the first three years of his professional career he fought regularly against the most limited of journeymen. It wasn’t long before the press and the public became interested in his fistic exploits, and UK terrestrial TV giant ITV signed him to an exclusive promotional deal.
Handsome, articulate, powerfully built and possessor of an exciting, all-action ring style, plus a ready-made backstory, Eubank Jr quickly became a hit with fight fans. After winning his first 18 bouts he suffered his first defeat, a split decision loss to future world champ Billy Joe Saunders for the European middleweight title in 2014. It was a massive step up in class for Eubank Jr, and one he almost won, throwing away the first six rounds while he posed and postured, but winning the final six on sheer volume of punches.
ITV’s boxing pay-per-view option was set up initially for Chris Eubank Jr’s 2017 “world title fight” for the lowly regarded IBO super middleweight belt, which he won by TKO’ing Aussie Renold Quinlan in ten. He defended this title against faded former two-weight world champ Arthur Abraham (PTS 12), and then KO’d the highly regarded Turk Avni Yildirim in three rounds
in what remains his career-best performance. That bout was also his first in the prestigious and lucrative super middleweight WBSS (World Boxing Super Series).
The George Groves Fight
In February 2018 Eubank Jr faced WBA super champ George Groves in the WBSS semifinals. Groves was far and away the most accomplished fighter Eubank Jr had yet faced. He had only been beaten at the highest level; a pair of KO losses to Carl Froch, and a hard-fought split-decision defeat to Badou Jack – and was rated by many as the best 168-pounder in the world at that time.
An overconfident Eubank Jr claimed that he could “smell fear” whenever he came face to face with Groves, and that it would be an easy win for him. Groves was unusually quiet in the buildup, which led many fans to believe Eubank Jr was the favorite. However, on the night it was a case of “Man against Boy”, as Groves – by far the bigger man – was clearly the better fighter. He boxed beautifully and dominated the action from the opening bell.
By the second half of the fight Eubank Jr had abandoned any semblance of a game-plan, instead electing to “bum-rush” his opponent against the ropes, launch haymakers from the back of the hall and smother most of his own work by staying to close to his opponent. Groves dislocated his shoulder
in the 12th round, yet even with one arm he easily kept Eubank Jr at bay and won a unanimous decision.
It was a humiliating loss for Chris Eubank Jr, and thanks to his pre-fight bragging, he received a vicious roasting across social media. In his comeback fight last September, Eubank Jr TKO’d the tough, awkward Irishman JJ McDonagh in three scrappy rounds.
Who Is James DeGale?
33-year old Londoner James “Chunky” DeGale (25-2-1, 15 KOs) will always be known as the first Brit to turn Olympic gold into a professional world title. The affable DeGale who won his Olympic gold at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and turned pro the following year. A strongly built six-footer, DeGale’s excellent jab, slick, powerful counter punching and overall boxing ability made him a formidable prospect. DeGale was “fast-tracked”, facing Paul Smith for the British super middleweight title in 2010 in only his ninth fight. Smith had lost just once in 30 fights and was highly ranked by the WBO, yet DeGale dominated the fight, stopping Smith in the ninth round.
Grudge Match vs Groves
The following year DeGale was matched with unbeaten amateur nemesis George Groves. The historical rivalry between the two was enough to sell-out London’s 20,000 capacity O2 Arena, and the fight didnt disappoint. Groves won a razor-thin split decision, but was forced to box off the back foot all night, and finished the fight looking like the loser.
Despite the loss, DeGale emerged a better fighter. He won the European title in his next bout and maintained a high level of competition, and was soon ranked above Groves in the world rankings. He signed with US promoter Al Haymon and based himself in North America.
In 2015 DeGale won the vacant IBF title by outpointing one-time Carl Froch opponent Andre Dirrell, flooring the feet-footed US stylist twice in the first round. He then defended it in tough fights vs former champ Lucian Bute in Canada and roughhouse Mexican Rogelio “Porky” Medina in Washington. He then fought a draw in a unification bout with WBC champion Badou Jack, a brutal affair that saw both men hit the deck, and DeGale finish the bout with a concussion, a burst eardrum and two front teeth missing.
In his next bout DeGale suffered a shock defeat to a perceived “soft touch” in US veteran Caleb Truax in Las Vegas in December 2017, ironically in his first UK appearance in three years. He regained the title four months later with a close decision over Truax, but chose to vacate the belt rather than face the high-risk low-reward challenge of top-contender Jose Uzcategui, preferring to look for “massive fights” instead. The first of those so-called massive fights occurs on February 23 against Chris Eubank Jr.
So Who Wins?
If both fighters are in their best shape, a 33-year-old DeGale should still have too much for a 29-year-old Eubank Jr. Chris has a great engine and will throw punches all night long, but he will also become sloppy and wild if he feels the fight is slipping away from him, and DeGale is an even better counter-puncher than Groves.
Eubank Jr has shown a great chin and bags of stamina, so a stoppage win for Chunky would seem unlikely. By the same token, Eubank Jr doesn’t hit that hard at super middleweight, and DeGale is very durable and has an excellent chin and is as brave as they come, so a stoppage win for either side would seem unlikely.
DeGale versus Eubank Jr looks certain to be a very competitive and highly exciting affair, and Eubank Jr will surely win his share of rounds off brute strength and endeavour, but DeGale’s pedigree and class will ensure that he will do enough to edge-out a close but unanimous decision, close enough and exciting enough to warrant a rematch.
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