James DeGale: ‘Chris Eubank Jr. ain’t good enough to beat me. He can mix with the best but he won’t ever win’
This is a grudge fight, make no mistake. It is a bout where both boxers are desperate to get their hands on each other, land the required leather and have their glove raised in the end.
It is one that has got the juices flowing of fight fans and its participants. Veteran James DeGale admits this could be the final stop of his boxing journey, should he be defeated by arch enemy Chris Eubank Jr. inside London’s O2 Arena on Saturday.
“Oh, 100 per cent,” James nods, when asked if he is excited by the prospect of mixing up with the Brighton livewire. “I haven’t been this hungry or motivated for a fight since I won my world title. That’s on a serious note, and it feels like this is my last chance with how it is. I’ve done everything as a pro. Everything. I’ve won my world title, I’ve travelled the world, I’ve boxed in America, I’ve lived the American dream, I’ve done everything. So to come back home and to lose again, I don’t think there’s no way back. But, as I say, that ain’t going to happen. I promise you that.”
The fight is on ITV Box Office in the U.K. and Showtime in the US. And DeGale says, he’s seen a lot in his 10-year pro career. This is nothing new. He first headlined at the O2 when defeated by his old amateur rival George Groves all the way back in 2011.
DeGale, even though he was an Olympic gold medal winner, is a far more established name now than he was then. In fact, he debuted to boos when he made his first professional appearance, perceived as too arrogant by the fans he had won gold for in Beijing, when finally unveiled in Birmingham.
But he has since earned respect and adulation as a road warrior, fighting the likes of Andre Dirrell, Badou Jack and Lucian Bute, enhancing his reputation Stateside with reports of vicious sparring sessions in Miami.
That, combined with Eubank’s ease in the bad guy role, means DeGale will get the cheers – even if he’s a slender betting underdog. He believes he will have more support that the Brighton star.
“It feels like I’m the fans’ favorite for this one,” agrees the Harlesden man. “It’s nice, it makes a change.”
While Eubank does not have the lineage of the aforementioned Jack, Dirrell, Groves (who beat Eubank last year) or Bute – “it is not the biggest fight of my career,” says DeGale – it’s positioning after so many hard battles means it is arguably the most precarious and he admits it is the most important.
“Coming off my last couple of performances, a lot of questions are hanging over this fight and the main one is how much have I got left,” he states. “Am I on the decline? Am I shot? A lot of questions need to be answered and you’ll get them on the 23rd of February.”
Does he know the answers?
“Yes, of course,” he quickly snaps in response. “I know what was wrong with me. “It feels like I’m taking it back to when I was 22, 23. I’m all healed up and people don’t realize it wasn’t just my shoulder, which was a massive problem, but I had Achilles problems. And when I say that people think, ‘Oh no.’ But I had something called Achilles tendonitis and I didn’t know I had it. I just thought I was training hard. I couldn’t bounce on my feet. I was very heavy on my feet. Every time I ran it would hurt but I just ran through it and I had it about two and a half years now. It’s been crazy but I don’t want to keep on going on about injuries because I sound like a parrot. People keep on hearing it and it’s excuses. I don’t want to hear it. So there are a lot of questions hanging over this fight but they’ll all be answered.”
The bitterness between the pair has simmered since a sparring session in DeGale’s gym several years ago. It has not needed to surface subsequently as they fought for different promoters on separate paths, but the road has now converged making that session relevant, in the story at least if not on the night.
Their versions differ greatly, as one would anticipate, and it seems to have given both faith, though one is maybe bluffing and the other calling.
“Chris ain’t good enough to beat me,” assesses the 33-year-old former champion. “He’s limited. He’s a tough, solid, good fighter and he can mix it with the best but he won’t ever win.
“He’s up there [with the best DeGale has faced]. He don’t mix it with the Jacks, Butes, Dirrells, Groves, but he’s up there – and as I say he can hold his own but he never wins. He’s got a lot of good attributes because he don’t mind if he gets hit hard, he’s got a good chin, he’s got a good engine, he’s tough and strong but technically he’s limited. He don’t listen to no one.”
Enter Eubank’s new coach, Nate Vasquez. DeGale sees it as a compliment that his opponent has drafted in a coach specifically to address the tactics the Brighton man needs on the night. It’s a first for Eubank yet for DeGale it will count for nothing inside the O2.
“He’s needed that,” DeGale continues. “He’s needed a coach for a long time. Obviously someone’s got in his ear after the Groves fight. He’s thought things need to change so he’s bought in this new coach. I ain’t never heard of him and I don’t know who he is but the only way this kid is going to beat me is if somehow he morphs into Roy Jones Jr. in the 90s, or Sugar Ray Leonard in the late 70s, 80s, then I’m in trouble. If he can’t do that it’s an easy night’s work. It’s not even about if I get this right on the night. If I’m myself, if I’m fully fit and injury free I beat this guy with ease.”
DeGale is quick to verbally dismiss the younger man, but he is not naïve to the magnitude of the contest. He has seen it all before and it is that experience and the levels he has fought at that seem to give him his confidence.
“To be an elite fighter, to be a world champion, I think you need the full package, a bit of everything, and I don’t think he’s got that.
“What is he missing? Technical ability, the boxing brain… I just don’t think he’s good enough. When we talk about boxing we’re talking about the basics and I don’t think he’s got it. I think he finds it hard to box anyone that knows what they’re doing in the ring if I’m being honest. I think Chris Eubank looks good with fighters who stand in front of him, that throws shots with him and he looks good because he is athletic and he’s got good speed. But [against] anyone who’s got a good boxing brain that knows what they’re doing, I think he’ll struggle.”
That sparring session might have triggered the ill-feeling but the bad blood has been ratcheted up a notch by both as this fight draws near.
Eubank claims DeGale has not lived the life and implied that he could get old overnight due to the wear and tear from nightclubs rather than gyms.
“More fool him if he thinks that,” hisses DeGale with his counter. “More fool him. On the 23rd of February he’s going to get a big shock but I think that’s what he’s holding onto. He’s getting his confidence from my last couple of performances and obviously he’s heard that I’m a party boy, I don’t live the life, I’m not fit. That’s what he’s holding on to. I tell you what he’s thinking, he probably knows he’s going to be down after a couple of rounds and it’s going to be difficult. But I’m going to die. I’m going to fade. I’m not fit. I don’t live the life and it’s going to catch up with me. That’s what he thinks. And he actually said in the face to face that he’s going to stop me so he’s very very confident. But that’s why it makes for a good fight, because I know what I’m going to do. He’s talking the talk and I’m talking the talk. Let’s see who walks the walk.”
The super middleweight division is coming to something of a boil. With Callum Smith, The Ring champion, universally recognized as No. 1, DeGale has other alternatives for world honors should he get by Eubank. But at this stage of his career, with miles on the clock, hard fights behind him and so much already accomplished, he knows better than to set long-term goals.
“A lot of people have heard me talk about retirement but you know what?” he asks rhetorically. “I’m very very real to myself. I won’t be one of these fighters that carries on boxing and doesn’t know when to knock it on the head. I’m very true to myself, but I know what’s left in me and I know what I have to do and I know that I can do it. I’m taking every fight as it comes. I’ve learnt in this boxing thing you can’t plan ahead. Years ago I used to but you never know what’s going to happen. I’m not just talking about in the ring, I’m just talking about in boxing terms, like where I’m going to fight, who I’m going to fight… So for the next year or two I’m just going to see how it goes.”
But has he got another world title left in him?
“Most definitely,” he asserts. “Remember, I’ve got Al Haymon behind me. I’ve been with him the past four or five years and after I beat Chris Eubank the options are there and I can become a three-time world champion.”
He mentions the winner of Anthony Dirrell-Avni Yildrim, a fight with Caleb Plant for his old title and then pauses for thought.
“Al may come with something bigger and better, like Badou Jack two. I’m willing to fight him at light heavyweight,” he speculates.
But before the titles, before going back into that violently golden field of dreams, DeGale must go through Eubank. He must settle a grudge. The man who has done everything must resolve another feud before he thinks of climbing another championship mountain with the knowledge that one false move, a slip even, and the journey that has spawned Olympic and world titles has reached its final stop
You can order the current issue, which is on newsstands, or back issues from our subscribe page.