James DeGale 25 (15 KOs)-2 (0 KOs)-1 faces fellow Brit Chris Eubank Jnr 27 (21 KOs)-2 (0 KOs)-0 at the O2 Arena in London this Saturday shown on ITV Box office in the UK and Showtime in the USA.
Confidence, arrogance, delusion, these three mental states often blur in boxing, but in order to be a top-level fighter a belief in yourself is a trait that is a must. Just becoming a pro in itself is often a feat that requires mental strength, going against family members, quitting your job and facing up to the harsh realities that you may not be the same man physically in 10 years’ time. This all culminates to the well-known saying that boxing is 90% mental, and the upcoming fight between DeGale and Eubank Jnr is a microcosm of what are the positives and negatives are of having such an extreme mindset.
Take DeGale first. If you were to pick one of those first three words to describe the former Olympic gold medallist perhaps arrogance would be the best pick. DeGale does seem to make a habit out of underestimating his opponents and paying the price, the best example being the Caleb Truax fight, but the older George Groves fight also being an example of DeGale’s view that he will simply outclass the opponent and so all he needs to do is show up. When I mean show up, a better description would be to be on auto pilot. DeGale often fights his opponents fight, backing to the ropes when he doesn’t need to and failing to even attempt to hold the centre of the ring. Props have to be given to DeGale when he came back and got the win against Truax but the things that Truax did are still the things that have always given DeGale problems, and this most simply put is pressure.
DeGale now suffers a bit of a terrifying mix of not liking pressure, having stamina issues, not being particularly physically strong, and having a lack of punching power. A tight guard, jabs moving in and body shots on the inside will always have a degree of success, but like Billy Joe Saunders DeGale does run hot and cold and when he has it drilled into him can box well from that southpaw stance and loop in left hands. He always has had an unorthodox style and it is in his older age that perhaps he is being caught out, since earlier in his career his fundamental mistakes could have been covered up by his athleticism. DeGale I think knows that he isn’t the same fighter he once was, or at the very least that he can very well lose his next fight if the opponent isn’t right, that’s why he vacated his IBF belt to avoid Venezuelan puncher Uzcategui but DeGale is by no means a coward, and like Groves has had an extremely tough career. Fighting Groves, Jack, Truax twice, Dirrell, Medina and Bute, none of these were easy fights, even if they should have been, and one would be surprised if DeGale didn’t retire in his next three fights regardless of any of the results.
Moving onto Eubank Jnr, a fighter on the outside who suffers from self- delusion but inside the ring perhaps suffers confidence issues of the opposite kind. Twice, against George Groves, and Billy Joe Saunders Eubank has failed to deliver when he has stepped up, and I believe it is only partly innate in Jnr’s mind. I think obviously part of the problem is that Jnr simply doesn’t have good enough fundamentals, but also, I think it’s that Jnr for the majority of his career he has had it pretty much all his own way. From having the final say with trainers, to fighting nobodies Jnr never had to respect anyone fighting wise or training wise, so the time where Jnr finally had to adjust and listen to advice he failed and simply didn’t perform. Not to say that Jnr doesn’t have talent, but that talent is best shown on a 3-minute highlight video, full of 10 punch combinations as opposed a video on how to do the basics correctly.
Jnr doesn’t do much at range, with slow feet he doesn’t set up his power shots, he uses his athleticism to launch in right hands or leaping left hooks Shawn Porter style and from there will look to bully you to the ropes and work his extremely fast hands. Jnr for instance has a very effective uppercut, but in order to use it effectively he must get close to his opponents and that is where the issues come in.
It is an extremely interesting fight, not just because it could be a retirement fight, especially for DeGale but because the strengths and weaknesses match up so well together. With DeGale not liking pressure but boxing well on the back foot, and Eubank lacking a back-foot game but liking it on the inside. I think the fight will hinge on what both fighters have learnt from their previous performances. I can’t see Eubank adopting the same style that Caleb Truax used, because that just isn’t Eubank’s style, I see DeGale boxing and trying to hold the centre of the ring and Eubank Jnr looking to jab with DeGale and land that left hook around the guard. Eubank will have to put pressure on DeGale, and if DeGale unlike Groves can’t get Jnr’s respect that is where it gets very interesting.
DeGale should have success in the early rounds, but can Eubank make it difficult enough that DeGale folds but judging on his past performance against Groves and even JJ McDonagh I don’t think he can, giving DeGale an uninspiring but deserving win on the cards, 8 rounds to 4.
I don’t think either fighter will really go on to achieve great things in the sport, since both just have holes that are too big at the highest level but if DeGale is to retire off a loss I don’t think it will be in this fight. If he does indeed win it does put him in a bit of a tricky situation in that he doesn’t really want to be facing the top guys at 168 since they’re high risk low reward and the other best candidate George Groves has retired. Maybe a Saunders fight if he loses to Andrade but even that is unlikely.
For Eubank Jnr I think at that point he’d need to go back down to British level, change trainer and almost start his career again, training the right way, getting different opinions and getting the fundamentals down. Could Jnr live up to the hype, it is possible, but it would look far more likely that Jnr wold turn into Britain’s Adrien Broner.
On the undercard heavyweight prospect Joe Joyce 7 (7 KOs)-0-0 faces a step up in competition against former WBC Heavyweight champion Bermane Stiverne 25 (21 KOs)-3 (2 KOs)-1 in what will be the Haitian’s first fight since losing against Deontay Wilder by first round knockout all the way back in November 2017.