Chris Eubank Jnr is to explore returning to middleweight after reviving his career with a victory that leaves James DeGale facing retirement.
The 29-year-old dominated their grudge super-middleweight match-up at London’s O2 Arena, knocking DeGale down twice to secure the finest win of his career and put himself back into contention for a world title challenge.
He has been fighting at 168lbs since February 2017, yet continued to appear a natural middleweight. He had long suggested a return there would give him his greatest chance of success.
A lucrative offer to compete in the World Boxing Super Series and then his rivalry with DeGale ensured he remained there, but his father and manager Chris Eubank Snr, who excelled in both divisions before retiring after successive defeats at cruiserweight, is encouraging him to return.
Saturday’s victory was also Eubank Jnr’s first under his new trainer Nate Vasquez, and came as he demonstrated significant signs of improvement, ultimately ensuring that they will continue to work together.
“This was a career-defining fight for me, this was make or break, do or die,” he said. “I had to win, I had to make a statement, and I believe that’s exactly what I did.
“I want to challenge for world titles, I want to fight big names, the best in the middleweight or super-middleweight division. I can make both weights; whatever’s put in front of me, whatever the best route is, I will take.
“It’s extremely satisfying. (DeGale) saying that I can’t mix it at world-level, I can’t beat the top guys, I needed to prove that wrong. He managed to get a lot of people to believe that. So now hopefully I’ve turned some of the doubters, haters, into believers.
“I didn’t think he had it in him to get up after two heavy knockdowns like that, to keep going, and take those big shots. Respect to him for that.”
DeGale confirmed post-fight that he is likely to retire, and when asked about Vasquez’s influence and a potential rematch with Billy Joe Saunders, Eubank Jnr said: “Nate brought focus to the preparation. He brought a tailored, focused training camp, which I’ve never really had before.
“I had the right sparring, was working on the right things, for James DeGale. For all my previous fights, all my biggest fights it was just get fit, spar whoever’s in the gym, and fight.
“For this we studied, had a strategy, and that’s what we’ll continue to do for my future fights.
(Me and Saunders have) got a lot of history. I look at that and the rivalry we have; it’s tough not to want that fight.”
The 52-year-old Eubank Snr added: “He fought at 12 stones. He’s a middleweight, and that’s what we’re going to discuss, and look forward to competing at again.
“It may be time to come back down, but it’s something we will discuss as a team. He’s a true middleweight.”
Chris Eubank Jr has left James DeGale facing retirement after securing the finest victory of his career via a unanimous decision in their IBO super middleweight title match in London.
He had previously lost his two biggest fights, against Billy Joe Saunders and George Groves, but improved sufficiently to win an occasion DeGale said would force the loser to retire.
At 29 and with so high a profile there was little risk of that for Eubank Jr, but after his third defeat and a career in which he became the first British Olympic gold medallist to win a world title DeGale – the loser by scores of 114-112, 115-112 and 117-109 – has been left with few lucrative options to pursue.
The key was always likely to be whether DeGale retained enough of the abilities that once made him the IBF super-middleweight champion, which he both won and defended outside of his home city and in the US.
Until his bruising and damaging draw with Badou Jack he was sufficiently skilled and mobile to beat Eubank Jr, a natural middleweight, with ease but since then – in a defeat and then an unconvincing victory over Caleb Truax – he has struggled.
Even as the naturally smaller fighter there was every chance Eubank Jr possessed the physical – if not technical – advantages to impose himself.
It had been a year since he had lost so convincingly to Groves, owing largely to his size disadvantage and technical flaws, that in preparation for DeGale he had hired a new trainer in the little-known Nate Vasquez.
Following a cagey opener, Eubank Jnr hurt DeGale with a powerful left hook in the second that sent him into the ropes, and he followed up with a hurtful barrage that forced referee Michael Alexander to administer an eight count.
He was under similar threat at the start of the third, following a right hook that knocked him back, but after easing the pressure on himself and regaining his composure, he boxed with greater confidence in the fourth and fifth, landing with sharp jabs and evading the hooks his rival threw.
It was when DeGale began to move that Eubank Jnr began to look clumsy, swinging and missing with the type of punches that would test his conditioning, but for all that the older fighter’s defence often impressed, he was again guilty of throwing too little in return.
Eubank Jr remained a constant danger, disrupting DeGale with his aggression and maintaining the superior work-rate without being discouraged when he missed or was caught.
Another right landed towards the end of the eighth demonstrated that dominance, and a big 10th ultimately proved enough to secure victory. A left hook after they exchanged rights wobbled DeGale, before another barrage sent him to the canvas again.
If DeGale was already so far behind he required a knockout, he was given a lifeline when Eubank Jr was deducted a point for throwing him down in the 11th.
But in the 12th he did too little to win while also again being hurt, putting the result beyond doubt.
Eubank Jr told talkSPORT: “I’m back on top. I proved the doubters wrong.
“This is one of those fights which puts me in position to challenge for world titles now and I’m very happy.
“There was massive presssure. We were both on the edge of this cliff and someone’s was going to fall – and whoever falls can’t come back. I’m still here now, onwards and upwards.
“He’s a difficult fighter but I thought I dominated the entire fight.”
Asked whether Billy Joe Saunders could be his next opponent, Eubank said: “I’m not looking at him first and foremost, I don’t think he deserves it.
“There are other big names in the middleweight division…but there’s no one i wouldn’t fight. I’m here to collect the belts, whatever’s put in front of me I’ll take.”
Joe Joyce earlier secured the biggest victory of his professional career by stopping former WBC heavyweight champion Bermane Stiverne in six rounds.
There was also a win for Wales’ Lee Selby, who beat Omar Douglas at lightweight via a unanimous decision and scores of 116-112, 116-112 and 115-114.
DeGale, 32, should be at the top of his game, but injuries have hindered the later few years of his career leaving him with, by his own admission, less-than-impressive performances, one of which cost him his IBF world title to the vastly unfancied Caleb Truax.
Conscious of the effects a tough career has had on his body, ‘Chunky’ has had to adapt his training methods to ensure he’s ready for war come fight night.
“Time has gone so quick,” says DeGale speaking to Sport360°
“I’ve been working hard and putting in the graft for this fight, but I’ve had to change my training because of my injuries. I’ve taken out the majority of my running and I’m doing a lot of swimming and rowing as substitutes. It feels like I’m taking it back to when I was 22. I feel fresh and rejuvenated.”
The former world champion insists his new regime will bring out the best in him, but he can also expect to come up against the best Eubank Jnr – having finally hired his first full-time boxing trainer. Unfazed, DeGale continues to laugh off claims his rival is even in his league.
“I’m a realist and Chris Eubank ain’t. If I can’t beat him, it means I’ve gone backwards,” he says bluntly.
Although he himself knows he’s not been the boxer he could, and perhaps should, have been in recent times.
“A couple of years ago people wouldn’t have even put us together, but obviously my recent performances have ended up with us here. My last few performances have been below par, they haven’t been vintage me, if I’m being honest,” DeGale explains before detailing his achievements.
“The difference between us is I’m proven, I don’t have to go through my resume. I’ve won Olympic Gold, British champion, European champion, two-time world champion I’ve boxed the best in the world, I’ve fought in America, our careers are total opposites, when he has stepped up a level, he’s lost and that’s a fact.”
Eubank Jnr has indeed lost in both his biggest fights – to Billy Joe Saunders back in 2014 and most recently to George Groves a year ago. He comes into this domestic dust up following a glorified exhibition fight against Irishman JJ McDonagh at the end of August, further fuelling DeGale’s claims the former IBO title-holder isn’t up to the task.
“He’s earned a bit of money and had a right touch, he’s living off his Dad’s name. He’s had two proper opportunities and he’s lost both times. He’s tough, he’s got a lot of game, he’s got a good chin, he doesn’t mind if it gets hard and tough and you need that to be a good fighter, but he’s limited. He’s technically not the best.”
DeGale knows a loss to Eubank Jnr leaves him with little or no place to turn in the sport, especially after hopes of a big-money rematch against bitter rival Groves have been dashed with the Londoner announcing his retirement in January.Despite that, the two-time champ remains confident he holds the cards when it comes to dictating his future.
“I’ve learned from the past that I can’t plan too far ahead as you never know what’s going to happen in boxing,” he says. “I’ve still got a couple of years left. I don’t know what I’m going to do, I’m going to beat Eubank and sit back and be sitting in a very comfortable position. I may knock it on the head, I may have one more fight, I may have five more fights, I don’t know.
“Looking forward, I’m with the main man Al Haymon and he’s got a lot of world champions and there’s a lot of fights out there for me, when I come through this fight there’s going to be a choice of who to box.
“In terms of Eubank’s career, I’ve dubbed it the retirement fight, but I suppose he could go back down to middleweight, I’ve heard in interviews he’s a natural middleweight so he could have a go there. But I don’t think he’s world class. I really don’t.
“If I’m being honest the majority of my quality performances have been away from home but I see this as a second coming. I had three successful defences of my world title, then I got injured and my last couple of performances haven’t been vintage, but this time around I’m coming again. I’m going to beat him and have one more go at winning a world title.”
Money is often the defining factor in choosing what bout to take next when fighters reaches the twilight of their career. Eubank is expected to pocket a career-high purse from this scrap, and while DeGale won’t be doing badly himself, he insists the cash is nice, but it’s not why he’s getting in the ring.
He says: “Honestly the main motivation for me is the glory. I love being known for what I’ve done and who I’ve beaten in my career. Obviously the money comes with it and that’s just a bonus.”
DeGale v Eubank Jnr takes place at the O2 Arena, Saturday 23rd February. Tickets are available from www.AXS.com and Inner Ringside/VIP Hospitality from www.sportandmusic.co.uk. Watch exclusively live on ITV Box Office, for further information go to www.itvboxoffice.com