by Cliff Rold
When two prominent names from the same area lock horns in a big time arena, magic can happen. In the UK, at super middleweight, it’s happened more than once. The rematches Chris Eubank Sr. had with Michael Watson and Nigel Benn were fantastic battles made greater by the passion of the crowds around them. It doesn’t take long for Carl Froch to point out how big his rematch with George Groves was.
This Saturday at the O2 Arena (Showtime, 3:30 PM EST), none of the most recognized sanctioning body titles is on the line. The sounds of the crowd as the opening bell draws near will show how little that can mean. It might not be as big a deal outside the UK but this backyard battle between two of the biggest names in British boxing will feel as big as it gets by the time the curtain draws.
Will we get a memorable encounter? Can either man afford a loss?
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Chris Eubank Jr.
Previous Titles: IBO Super Middleweight Title (2017-2018)
Weight: 167 ¼ lbs.
Hails from: Brighton, Sussex, United Kingdom
Record: 27-2, 21 KO
Press Rankings: #2 (BoxRec), #5 (TBRB), #8 (Ring), #9 (ESPN)
Record in Major Title Fights: 0-1 (2-1, 2 KO including interim title fights)
Last Five Opponents: 116-13 (.899)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Billy Joe Saunders L12; Arthur Abraham UD12; George Groves L12
Previous Titles: IBF super middleweight (2015-17, 3 Defenses; 2018, vacated)
Weight: 166 lbs.
Hails from: Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
Record: 25-2-1, 15 KO
Press Rankings: #4 (ESPN, Boxing Monthly), #5 (Ring), #8 (BoxRec), #9 (TBRB)
Record in Major Title Fights: 4-1-1
Last Five Opponents: 153-31-6 (.821)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: George Groves L12; Christian Sanavia TKO4; Lucian Bute UD12; Badou Jack D12; Caleb Truax L12, UD12
The Case for Eubank: Eubank has developed into a solid world-class fighter. What he hasn’t shown yet is whether he can get over the hump in a fight where he isn’t heavily favored to win against another world level foe. DeGale has slowed down considerably from where he was when he first defeated Andre Dirrell for a vacant title but he’s still one of the divisions best. To make DeGale feel the miles, Eubank has to not just press forward but also move his hands. According to Compubox, he landed less than 100 punches in twelve rounds last February. He threw plenty but he didn’t use his jab much and went head hunting too often. Against DeGale, if Eubank can be patient, remember his jab, and go downstairs, he betters his chances. DeGale will have to be smart about it; DeGale is vulnerable to the body and will be happy to tie Eubank up if the younger man gets too close and sloppy. Eubank’s best punch might be his uppercut, though he throws more hooks. Without room he can’t either and if he doesn’t disguise it he might not land enough at all.
The Case for DeGale: DeGale looked like he’d found a new gear in wins over Dirrell and Bute. He hasn’t looked that good since. His fight with Rogelio Medina was grueling and far closer than the official scores. Many thought he lost the fight with Jack and he needed to win the last two rounds to even his series with Truax. DeGale almost always looks like he’s been in a fight that last few years and that’s because, win or lose, he takes a lot of punishment. Jack and Medina battered him to the body; DeGale has suffered shoulder issues, cuts, and even a lost tooth. The 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist might be older than his calendar 33 in ring years already. To win here, he needs to frustrate Eubank, counter wisely, and limit exchanges. The less sustained action there is on Saturday, the greater his opportunities to win and continue on near the top of the 168 lb. class.
The Pick: Eubank is a fighter who turned a somewhat limited amateur tenure and a pedigreed surname into a career just on the cusp for a few years. He lost close to Saunders and competitively to Saunders. DeGale is a fighter for whom many saw bigger stardom and it only just eluded him. With Groves retired, the winner of this fight has a chance to take a firm position as the second best UK man at the weight behind WBA titlist Callum Smith. If there is one thing swaying the pick here, it is the feeling that DeGale is a little more fragile in the ring. That’s not a comment on his heart or fighting character; it is to say he physically seems to break down in fights worse than Eubank. Against a younger man who is fighting for his life, it could be a bad recipe. Eubank is stronger at this point and will find DeGale an easier target than Groves was. The pick is Eubank by decision.
Additional Weekend Picks
Anthony Dirrell TKO Avni Yildirim
Brandon Rios Dec Humberto Soto
Rold Picks 2019: 10-4
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]