Saturday 23rd February sees ITV Box Office’s latest pugilistic offering. Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) model looks to make ground in the UK in the form of James Degale versus Chris Eubank Jr.
BBB takes a long hard look at both men and what they bring to the ring.
James “Chunky” Degale
Pro Debut: 2009
Record: 25 wins (15 KOs) 2 losses (0 KOs)
Significant titles: British Super-Middleweight, EBU European Super-Middleweight, IBF World Super-Middleweight
Biggest wins: Caleb Truax 2018 (UD), Andre Dirrell 2015 (UD), Lucian Bute 2015 (UD)
Losses: Caleb Truax 2017 (UD), George Groves 2011 (MD)
Chris “Next Gen” Eubank Jr
Pro Debut: 2011
Record: 27 wins (21 KOs) 2 losses (0KOs)
Significant Titles: British Middleweight (former)
Biggest Wins: Arthur Abraham 2017 (UD12), Avni Yildrim 2017 (KO3)
Loss: George Groves 2018 (Billy-Joe Saunders 2014 (SD)
Head to Head
Neither boxer is renowned for their explosive one-punch knockout power although they both hold decent KO percentages from their wins. Solely on statistics, Eubank edges it with 77.7% to Degale’s 60%. This may stem more from the level opposition (more on this later) and their respective styles than pure punch power. Degale is the bigger of the two men however Eubank can boast the best highlight reel KO when he dispatched Avni Yildrim with a vicious shot in the World Boxing Super Series Quarter Final. That result aside, Eubank generally relies more on his high output than single shots.
Since winning his debut on points, Degale has always relied on his technical ability more than brute force. Yet, as he progressed through the levels he has also shown that he has enough to dig to drop even the most seasoned opponents with knockdowns of Andre Dirrell and Badou Jack.
Edge: Despite moving north from 160 lbs Eubank Jr just about nudges ahead on the heaviness of his hands. If, in truth, the difference will be probably be negligible come fight night.
With an Olympic Gold medal to his name and the ability to switch stances at will, justifiably Degale will be more confident in this department. He often floats around the ring and at his peak, blurring hand-speed has been enough to keep the best in the world at bay. Stylistically, “Chunky” has proven to be a nightmare for a wide range of opponents and will undoubtedly provide Eubank with a tough puzzle to solve. If his footwork is anywhere near what it once was, he could make this an easy night’s work.
Eubank himself does posses a good variety in shots even if his boxing brain is open to question. With a new trainer in his corner, there will be a heavy scrutiny on any potential improvements to his head movement and footwork. If these skills have been polished significantly, we may see the surprise factor alone trouble Degale.
Edge: Based on what we have seen though, and not what might happen, Degale comfortably takes this category and the difference in fundamental boxing ability could prove decisive next Saturday.
It’s not just the extra years in the paid ranks that Degale will rely on. He has an extensive amateur pedigree to fall back on, including a victorious campaign at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Seven years after that, Degale became the first Brit to win both Olympic Gold and a professional world title. Since then, he has dined almost exclusively at boxing’s top table. There aren’t many styles that he hasn’t encountered, as unpredictable as Eubank can be.
The experience of “Next Gen” however, has seemingly been overlooked. In addition to his various regional titles as a professional, he can count several Golden Gloves Championships among his awards. This is also a man who clearly thrives on the big stage (in the build up anyway). There is a clear enjoyment of the media attention and hype, so he will not be daunted by the bright lights of the big stage.
Edge: While Eubank Jr understands the business at the top level, he can’t compete with Degale who has seen it all.
Wear and Tear
Just as in his WBSS clash with George Groves, Eubank’s lack of experience means he comes in relatively unscathed. Even though Groves dominated him over 12 rounds, the cocky Brighton boxer has rarely received a severe beating. In fact, the drubbing at the hands of “The Saint” is the exception to the rule and Eubank will hope to benefit from the fact he has never sustained significant punishment in the boxing ring.
Degale on the other hand is the very definition of a man on borrowed time. He has acknowledged himself that this is a “retirement fight”. A natural reaction to a series of gruelling contests on the road and, recently against Truax, at home. All of his best wins have seemingly been close. Despite his technical ability, Degale always seems one or two shots away from being dragged into a war.
Edge: Eubank Jr is by far the fresher fighter of the two and if he has his way, this will be THE decisive factor in the fight.
Combined with the Wear and Tear section, where both men stand physically is going decide the outcome for me.
Eubank is notorious for his ability to throw thousands of punches (at pads at least) and for all his faults, he always appears in fantastic shape. He clearly dedicates himself to the sport and has shown a knack for finishing strongly in the majority of his contests. If he is to emerge victorious, he will have to impose his physicality and outwork Degale from the opening bell to the last. He is very capable of doing so.
While “Chunky” has successfully gone the distance on several occasions, this could be one time too many. There have long been question marks over his ability to perform for 36 minutes at a high tempo, which could fall into his opponent’s hands this time round. Known for taking breathers, Degale has also suffered enforced absences from the gym through long-term injuries. He’s said all the right things in the build-up, but the proof is in the pudding and just what Degale has left will be debated until the final bell on Saturday.
Edge: The younger, fresher man appears to be in pole position here. Truth be told, Eubank Jr (for all his flaws) relies heavily on his physical attributes and holds an advantage.
When this fight was first confirmed, it appeared as though it was opportune matchmaking on behalf of Team Eubank. James Degale had shown many of his vulnerabilities in the upset loss to Caleb Truax. He looked like a man with very little left to give. Even in the rematch, where he avenged the loss, this was far from a vintage Degale. If there was one opponent to further expose Degale’s penchant for lying against the ropes and ageing body, a former sparring partner with an infinite engine could be that man.
As the build-up has progressed though, I’m not so sure. Degale openly admits he vacated his IBF strap to avoid the dangerous mandatory challenge from Jose Uzcategui. Normally, I’d chastise a boxer for such actions. They’d normally be a sign that a boxer lacks confidence in his abilities (or his body’s capabilities), yet there seems to be a glint in Degale’s eye. He sees Eubank as an easier option for more money. Again, normally questionable motivation for such a high profile contest. Does he posses the desire to test himself if he is looking for easier routes? Normally, I’d say no. But Degale looks like a man at ease with his current position. As though he knows his own limitations but still favours himself over Eubank. He’s not relying on past glories but apparently basing his assessment on the here and now.
So, how does the fight itself plan out?
As with so many high-profile bouts, I envisage a tentative start. Neither man will want to show their hand too early and cede the advantage to his rival. A slower, more measured pace will suit Degale who will happily nick rounds with his footwork and classy movement. Where we will be able to see just what Eubank has learned, is monitoring his early output. In his two defeats, he has been left confused and inactive early on. If lessons have been learned, Eubank will look to let his hands go earlier. He can’t afford to let Degale build up a big lead and chase the action.
Degale, meanwhile, can’t allow Eubank to close the distance and unload. If he has success here, especially in the opening rounds, he will grow in confidence and be able to push the pace for the duration. A lot hinges then, on Degale’s ability to maintain the distance. And a lot of that depends on just what he has left in the tank. If his body lets him down, Eubank could have a field day.
As hinted at earlier though I think Degale is confident, despite his current condition, that he has enough left for one more virtuoso performance. I believe Degale’s ego has pushed him enough to dig in one last time, against a genuine rival. It won’t be easy but my preference for the boxer over the brawler leaves me leaning towards the Hammersmith man. I see a very, very close fight with almost equal portions of Eubank pinning Degale back and Degale slipping and countering on the move. With very little conviction, I jump off the fence and state Degale wins an extremely close, potentially controversial decision.
When this was first confirmed, my initial gut reaction was that Eubank would prove too exuberant and energetic for an ageing Degale. However, I remain unconvinced at just how much Eubank has changed. Yes, he has hired a trainer but how much can he have improved under Nate Vasquez? It may be third time lucky in big domestic grudge matches but I see “Chunky” bowing out of the sport on a winning note.