By: Ste Rowen
Two Brits from the South of England, both lay claim to being former World champions – James ‘Chunky’ DeGale with the IBF and Chris Eubank Jr with the suspect IBO; and each with a defeat to George Groves on their record, the pair have seemed to be on a collision course to meet in the ring for a while, even when DeGale was the IBF king at super-middleweight and Eubank was a lowly 160lb challenger.
On Saturday night at London’s O2 Arena, they finally meet.
From the sparring stories to the trash talk, it’s been a bout that’s been a long time coming,
‘‘This is my second coming I promise you.’’ James, 25-2-1 (15KOs), told ITV. ‘‘95% of people think I’m on the decline. I can’t wait for this fight…I know what’s left in myself…He thinks I’m not ready. He thinks he’s gonna get me late on. He’s in for a big surprise.
He came down to spar me, done 6-8 rounds, I can’t even remember…Then the next day he went on social media and said, ‘I schooled James DeGale blah, blah, blah.’ Crazy stuff.
He’s not that good but boy can he fight…I’m too fast, I’m too strong, I’m too big, I’m too smart.’’
This time last year ‘Chunky’ was in preparations to avenge his 2017 decision defeat to Caleb Truax in which he lost the IBF belt he’d held on to for over two years. It also ruined his homecoming as it was his first fight in England for three years. But the Olympic gold medallist bounced back four months later, beating crowd favourite, Truax to settle the demons of their first fight.
DeGale’s recent record might be mixed but his title run from defeating Andre Dirrell to the infamous majority draw with Badou Jack, prove that James has the style and strength to back up his claims that he’s still got it. Although injuries have plagued him, and it was a massive shame for him and the tournament that he was injured before the super-middleweight World Boxing Super Series got going.
Chris Eubank Jr has promised to retire his opponent but although his opponent is almost definitely in the home stretch of his career, Chris is going to need a career best performance to take the win. 27-2 (21KOs), the Brighton-native’s recent career has also been a bit of a mixed bag.
His last five fights have included victories over Renold Quinlan and veteran, Arthur Abraham to win and then defend the IBO 168lb strap. Unlike Saturday’s opponent, Eubank Jr did enter the WBSS, firstly knocking out unbeaten Turk, Avni Yildrim before his fortunes changed and he lost for the second time in his pro career when, in a bloody affair, George Groves got the better of him over twelve rounds.
A comeback victory over JJ McDonagh in September last year meant a quiet end to 2018, but the 29-year-old is as confident as ever,
‘‘He’s got nowhere else to go, I’ve been calling him out for so long and he finally realised ‘I have to fight him.’…I can’t wait to teach him a lesson.’’
The WBSS semi-finalist also has a different view on the infamous sparring stories,
‘‘I beat him up in the 8th round. I vaulted the ropes and he got upset and he kicked me and my dad out of the gym, but in the past he’s said he made me quit.
He has the pedigree, he’s a former world champion. You can’t take that away from him, but at the level that I’m at for this fight he can’t touch me…It’s a redemption fight. I’ve trained for a 12-round fight but I’m stopping this man.’’
There’s no major title on the line this Saturday, other than the vacant IBO, but with Billy Joe Saunders making the move up to super-middle to fight for the recently vacated WBO world title in April, a huge domestic tie for this weekend’s winner should be in sight for later this year.
Saturday Night’s Undercard:
Defending his Commonwealth heavyweight title for the first time since winning it last May, Joe ‘Juggernaut’ Joyce faces off against former WBC world champion, Bermane Stiverne.
The hype around the 9-0 (9KOs), Olympic silver medallist has cooled a little since he made lightwork of Lenroy Thomas nine months ago but victories over journeyman, Ivica Bacurin, career-cruiserweight Iago Kiladze and American Joe Hanks, have kept the winning feeling going and Joyce is once again confident of victory over Stiverne, arguably his toughest opposition to date,
‘‘He is a former world champion that has gone twelve rounds with Deontay Wilder and will give me a real challenge, but my engine and power will be too much for him.’’
Stiverne hasn’t fought since he was knocked out in the first round in a rematch with Deontay Wilder in 2017. Since then, a bout with Alexander Povetkin in Russia fell through due to the Russian failing a drug test, but despite the lengthy layoff, the former world champion feels Joyce has made a big mistake,
‘‘Seven fights and he wants to box me? For me it’s a dream come true but for Joyce it will be a nightmare. I’ll knock out Joe Joyce and step over him to KO Anthony Joshua.’’
Lee Selby vs. Marco Douglas
Also on show on Saturday will be Lee Selby 26-2 (9KOs) in his comeback fight after losing his IBF featherweight belt to Josh Warrington last May. The Welshman takes on American, Omar Douglas, 19-2 (13KOs), in Selby’s first fight at lightweight,
‘‘I’m at a new weight and feeling good. You can expect the best Lee Selby yet.’’