When James DeGale and Badou Jack collide this Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, the stakes will be high.
The two best 168-pound fighters on the planet will duke it out for super middleweight supremacy, with each putting his sanctioning-body belt on the line. The victor will also become the RING super middleweight champion, which, as you will soon discover, is one very rare distinction.
On March 4, 2006, future Hall of Famer Joe Calzaghe dominated knockout artist Jeff Lacy over 12 rounds in an unforgettable night in Manchester, England, making Calzaghe the first RING champion ever at super middleweight.
Why did it take the RING so long to crown a champion at this weight?
The first sanctioning-body titleholder at super middleweight was Murray Sutherland, who defeated Ernie Singletary to win the newly instituted IBF belt in 1984. And over the course of the next four years, the WBA, WBC and WBO all had titleholders at the weight.
The big problem in securing a worthy RING champion, however, was that there were four men claiming to be king and a distinct lack of unification bouts between them. The same problem, unfortunately, exists to this day and it’s one reason why only five weight classes have a RING champ at the moment.
The other issue is that the RING championship policy was abandoned, due to new ownership, during the early 1990s and it didn’t reemerge until 2001.
A lot happened at super middleweight during that time, including the reigns of pound-for-pound stars James Toney and Roy Jones Jr. as well as the 1994 superfight between the pair. There were quality British fighters in the form of Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank, Irishman Steve Collins made a serious splash and German technician Sven Ottke won a string of world title bouts at home.
When the RING belt returned to prominence, it took five years for a true super middleweight champion to be found and Calzaghe was more than worthy. The rapid-fire southpaw defended the belt on three occasions before moving up to light heavyweight in 2008.
Shortly after Calzaghe ventured north, Showtime announced the Super Six World Boxing Classic in a bid to establish the Welshman’s successor. Despite injuries, replacement fighters and several delays, it was an inspired idea, and when the smoke cleared, Andre Ward was declared the winner by virtue of a 12-round unanimous decision over Carl Froch on December 17, 2011. Along with a trophy and other accolades came the RING super middleweight championship.
Ward, who had defeated the cream of the 168-pound division en route to winning the Super Six, defended twice more before legal disputes with his promoter and a spate of injuries ended the American’s super middleweight reign. Due to inactivity, THE RING stripped Ward of his title in February 2015 and, like Calzaghe did before him, he moved on to the light heavyweight division upon his return.
The RING title at super middleweight has been vacant ever since, meaning either DeGale or Jack have some pretty big shoes to fill. A gold medalist at Beijing 2008, DeGale, the southpaw, starts a slight favorite but this fight looks the epitome of an even-money matchup.
Jack (20-1-2, 12 knockouts) won his world title with a majority decision over Anthony Dirrell in April 2015, and one month later DeGale (23-1, 14 KOs) followed with a unanimous decision over Andre Dirrell to win his. Both have defended their belt on two occasions. Both are almost identical in terms of height and reach. Both are classy boxers with a superb amateur pedigree. DeGale is rated No. 1 by THE RING, while Jack, a Las Vegas-based Swede, is rated No. 2.
Tom Gray is a UK Correspondent/ Editor for RingTV.com and a member of THE RING ratings panel. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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