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DeGale vs Eubank Jr: Last chance saloon

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This all-British super-middleweight scrap could signal the end of either guy’s career at the top level.

Premier Boxing Champions, ITV Sport & Poxon Sports Boxing press conference Photo by James Chance/Getty Images

James DeGale (25-2-1, 15 KO) and Chris Eubank Jr. (27-2, 21 KO) will put years of talking behind them on February 23, as they look to settle the score of sparring myths and Twitter insults inside London’s 02 Arena.

This isn’t exactly your traditional collision course. With recent losses on their records and opportunities at the highest level becoming somewhat limited, the former IBF super-middleweight world champion and IBO super-middleweight “world champion” have crossed each other’s path at the right time; the fear for both lies in the future after a potential loss in this ITV Box Office pay-per-view bout.

Speaking to iFLTV TV last week, Eubank Jr. opened his interview by stating the following: “It’s the fight that I’ve wanted since I’ve turned pro. It’s the fight that the fans have wanted since I’ve turned pro. Now we get to put the show on for the fans.”

Eubank can only speak for himself in this scenario. Sure, now the fight has been made it’s certainly one that will grab headlines in the UK, but I can’t admit that it’s been one on the horizon for as long as the 29-year-old is making out.

It feels like Eubank Jr.’s lifestyle out of the ring, self-promotion and mysterious methods of training have left him as somewhat of a nomad in the British boxing scene. Still without a defining victory; still without a defining rival.

It’s hard to imagine DeGale giving Junior either of these. DeGale’s career has been defined first, by his long-standing rivalry with George Groves, and followed by a long-winded route to finally capturing the IBF world title against Andre Dirrell - since then DeGale has struggled against a faded Lucien Bute, a game Badou Jack and two hard-fought twelve rounders against an un-fancied Caleb Truax (forcing him to win back his world title after losing it to Truax on home soil). In the twilight of his career - himself admitting so - DeGale is looking for the money fights as he looks to underline a successful career with a win over one of the most famous names in the UK: Eubank.

Junior’s career is still yet to take off. It’s threatened, and he has had the opportunities to flourish, however, convincing losses at the hands of Billy Joe Saunders at middleweight and George Groves at super-middle have buckled any strides towards a desired “world level” label. Rumours of him and his father turning down a fight with Gennady Golovkin in 2016 also ask questions.

In a sport of such fine margins, failure to adapt to situations inside the ring can ultimately lead you to pay the full price of failure. Labelled throughout his career as a “volume puncher, with a terrific work rate and an athletic build” did him no favours in the World Boxing Super Series as he came up against the technically superior George Groves.

Still, without a recognised coach in his corner giving him instructions, Junior was unable to solve the Groves puzzle over twelve rounds. His output was strong late into the fight, but with the champion only fighting with one arm in the last round, Eubank still found it hard to pin the ‘Saint’ down, with footwork and positional sense proving his Achilles heel. Junior famously left it too late, also, in his defeat to Saunders in 2014, with lessons not being learnt in four years of combat.

His social media stories give us the impression of a hard-hitting beast at 168-pounds; he’s very easy on the eye as a fighter but lacks the intuitive boxing brain that you would assume to come naturally within the family name.

This being said, at 29 Junior still has time to make a statement at 168-pounds. Now, under the tutelage of his first official ‘trainer’ for a meaningful fight - Nate Vasquez - Eubank may have learnt his lesson at the right time, with his fight against James DeGale the last chance saloon for a shot at a world title.

Speaking at the press conference, Eubank explained his decision to work with Nate Vasquez, with his father, Eubank Senior, missing from the event. “I haven’t really had an official trainer, but Ronnie Davies has been with me by side my entire career, but he hasn’t trained me, he’s more of an ‘overseer.”

”I’ve kind of just done my thing, I’ve trained myself pretty much. For this fight that will be different. I’ve been working with a man named Nate Vasquez from Las Vegas. He’s been living with me.”

”It’s good to have a solid guy that’s with me 24/7, working with me on specific things that I need to do. Instead of me going through the motions, getting fit and trying to beat guys using heart and determination. Now we have strategy involved. I think this is going to take me to the next level.”

Admitting he has been wrong for so many years in trying to train himself is a big step for Junior. Sure, we are yet to see the duo in action on February 23, but it’s safe to say that any form of strategy that can be implemented mid-fight is to be of benefit to his chances. With “specific training” being implemented in this camp by Vasquez, the improvements inside the ring will be fascinating to dissect. The question is: will he be prepared to listen?

A loss leaves Eubank with extremely limited options at 168-pounds. A shot at one of the world champions would be miles away, with domestic targets of Rocky Fielding or John Ryder the most likely. A jump back down to middleweight would make the most sense. Eubank is a small super-middleweight, with his power struggling at the 168 limit.

A loss for DeGale would no doubt push the former world champion towards retirement. ‘Chunky’ was eager to challenge Eubank to a “win or retire” bet in the press conference last week, with the former unwilling to engage in accepting, calling it “embarrassing, shameful and encouraging” in a later interview with iFLTV.

DeGale stated: “After he has lost to me I am not sure where he is going to go. Call this a retirement fight. Whoever loses can knock it on the head. Whoever loses, game over. A lot of people think I am in decline but they are in for a shock.”

DeGale has achieved all he wants to in the sport. A successful amateur and Olympic gold medalist; the first to win gold and go onto become a world champion in the UK. A loss for DeGale wouldn’t be as damaging as a loss for Eubank on February 23, but you can’t help but think it would be the end of either of their career’s in some aspect.

PBC are making a big leap into UK waters after the announcement of their deal with ITV. Without a belt on the line, questions are being asked if this is pay-per-view worthy in Britain. On the face of it, it’s not, but a domestic scrap will always generate numbers, numbers way higher than, for example, than DeGale vs. Jose Uzcategui would.

Your man on the street won’t be able to recall DeGale’s wins over Dirrell, Truax, Medina. DeGale sees this challenge as a “legacy” fight in the UK, with the chance to take the scalp of a Eubank in front of a sold out 02 Arena. For that, you can’t blame him.

Eubank can’t argue with DeGale’s thought process - his father did the same towards the back end of his career. Fights against Collins, Calzaghe and Thompson will be stronger in the memory of British fight fans than the main stretch of his résumé; Junior has a long way to go before he can be afforded this luxury.

Make or break. Ride or die. However you want to spin this one, it’s an important fight in the UK which could provide fireworks inside and outside of the ring. Bring it on.