|DeGale by Split Decision||15/2||Paddy Power|
No title. No eliminator status. The James DeGale versus Chris Eubank Junior fight this weekend is a novelty in the modern boxing era. A contest baked on the purest ingredients of style, reputation and personality.
The bout’s appeal is improved by the salty accoutrement of their long running online spat. Exchanges that took the dislike forged in their conflicting recollections of a six round spar they shared and turned it into a grudge. And grudges sell.
Despite the lack of belts and baubles, less tangible, but nevertheless far more valuable commodities still rest on the outcome.
Pride and ego, naturally, but also the qualification to progress, to remain. For different reasons it is hard to foresee a pathway to world title fights for either man were they to lose and in DeGale’s case, hard to conjure a reason to box on.
On Saturday, the arcs of their respective careers converge, and bookmakers are keen to offer markets on a Super-Middleweight bout with international significance and more competitively matched than any of the higher profile bouts so far this year.
As in all the most enthralling match-ups, the three pillars of boxing wisdom; form, style and pedigree, do not entirely resolve the fight for those seeking to predict the outcome.
The best fights are usually entwined with an intangible or two, something imponderable that cannot be revealed until the fight begins to unfold. This type of quality frustrates investors looking for certainty but delights and intrigues the purer fight fan.
Established metrics are still valuable however, and can still help shape our expectations.
The pedigree is unquestionably with James DeGale, the first Briton to win an Olympic Gold medal and go on to a World title, he has beaten better men than Eubank Jnr.
Recently turned 33, DeGale has compiled a 25 (15)-2-1 ledger in a career that began almost exactly a decade ago come fight night. A decision victory over Andre Dirrell, to claim the vacant IBF Super Middleweight belt, and a defence versus a faded Lucian Bute, both in 2015, perhaps represented the peak of his powers.
Whispers and rumour of absent dedication between fights have persisted at different points in his career and there have been occasions when the second half of fights proved much tougher than expected.
DeGale is a tough, courageous professional, willing to travel to progress his career and in a thunderous brawl with Badou Jack, ending in a Majority Draw, in which he lost teeth and perhaps a year or two of his career, he dismissed any lingering doubts about his fighting heart.
However, it is in the aftermath of that fight, a result which accrued greater credibility as Jack went on to achieve success at Light-Heavyweight, that an impetus was lost, a sparkle dulled.
He returned too swiftly from an arm injury and was surprised by the modest Caleb Truax to lose the title, even in winning the rematch, there remained misgivings about his fitness for battle.
Now, with the American adventure over, he relinquished the IBF title he reclaimed in the Truax fight, he has acknowledged his primary pursuit is the largest available purses in the last run of his career.
The story to be sold, the prize, the crescendo to a good, if not great career, was intended to be the George Groves rematch. They met as novice professionals in 2011 and Groves eked out a close decision.
A loss which ate at the ego and image of DeGale. Mellowed by the damage of the years in between he may have been, but the desire to face Groves again, by now the kingpin at 168 pounds, still burned brightly.
With Groves first diminished by defeat, then retired by common sense, DeGale is left with Eubank Junior as his route to a greater pension pot on which to furnish his own retirement.
There is a sense, in DeGale’s demeanour and comments in the build-up that he has scant regard for Eubank’s ability. And it is in that arrogance, and Eubank’s presumed freshness and natural athleticism, that the certainty I felt in a DeGale win on points (9/5 with Paddy Power) has weakened.
However, it is only in DeGale’s weakness that a case can be constructed, for the evidence of Eubank’s abilities at this high level isn’t compelling, a points win over a tired Arthur Abraham the highlight.
The gild of his surname, the aesthetics of his physique and a distinctive use of social media overplay his prowess in the ring.
Most recently, he succumbed to George Groves, a heavy-handed counter puncher, perhaps not quite as smooth as the best of DeGale, and early in his career he lost to Billy Joe Saunders, a fight in which he again started slowly and failed to adapt.
He lacks the grounding and fundamentals required to ‘box’ with a wise old southpaw like DeGale and the former IBF Champion has sufficient grit and durability to withstand Eubank’s offence too. DeGale could also prove more fully rehabilitated from his surgery this time out. These are the imponderables.
The securest prediction is to rely on their form and fortune in their fights at world class level; Eubank will do better as DeGale tires but lacks the skill or power punching to trap the wily former champion and capitalise.
To that end, back DeGale to scrape home on a Split Decision, because one judge will inevitably favour Eubank’s aggression, and perhaps cover a Eubank breakthrough in the last three rounds too (15/2 with Paddy Power).