An all-British grudge match with genuine bragging rights at stake never fails to thrill, but the build-up to this super middleweight meeting between two-time world champion James DeGale and marquee name Chris Eubank Jnr has been particularly toxic.
This is a rivalry that has simmered for seven years after an ill-tempered sparring session in 2012. Eubank has insisted this is a defining fight for 2008 Olympic champion DeGale, who has earned many millions in the ring and is renowned for his toughness, footwork and southpaw skills.
The burning question is what DeGale, 33, has left, after punishing fights over the past two years against Badou Jack in New York and then, 13 months ago, against a little-known American in Caleb Truax, who was not even ranked in the top 50 in the world in the 12st division.
Jack left DeGale with a shoulder injury that required surgery and his two front teeth knocked out; then, on a nightmare evening in London, Truax stripped him of the world title. DeGale looked a shadow of the slick fighter who counters and evades punches as if on a Sunday stroll.
So is his body beginning to fail him? The intrigue is that Eubank, less skilled, yet with a frightening physicality and relentlessness, offers the perfect test of the former champion’s well of reserves.
The double-down for Eubank, in arguably his last gamble as a box office fighter if he loses, is that this is his opportunity to claim the biggest scalp of his career, to avert a fall from what he calls “an edge of the cliff” contest. His argument is that the vanquished fighter will have nowhere to go.
In my view, that is the case for DeGale, but perhaps not so for Eubank. But it will depend on what plays out over 12 scheduled rounds. They both weighed in under the 168lb limit yesterday, both men looking in fine shape.
“We don’t like each other,” Eubank told The Daily Telegraph. “We went eye to eye and I told him there is no way he is getting out of that ring as the winner. I will stop him, I will win, and I will look convincing doing it.”
They both claim to have had the better of the other in a sparring session dating back to 2012, the moment in which the seeds of a deep dislike were planted. They both have one loss in common on points, against George Groves, now retired, who will analyse the broadcast on television.
Groves told The Telegraph that “DeGale’s boxing skills will earn him a hard-fought decision”, but he was not absolutely certain. No one is, apart from the two protagonists.
“The harder the opponent, the more I rise, the more I’m motivated,” DeGale said. “This is bragging rights. He’s called me out for a long, long time.
“There’s history there so it’s a big fight. We sparred years ago, when he’d just turned professional. I think he’d had three or four fights so I was doing him a favour. He did some jump-over-the-rope things. Then he went on social media and said he schooled me, so it all starts from there, really.
“Before that he sent me a message on Facebook after I lost to Groves saying one day we were going to fight, carry on being the person I was – just chatting rubbish. It’s kicked on from then, really.
“I don’t think Eubank will ever be world champion or even compete at that kind of level, if I’m being honest. Eubank is riding off his dad’s name.
“He’s got himself into a position of good fights and making good money, but he ain’t good enough. The two times he’s stepped up to the highest level he’s failed. That’s the difference between me and him. I’m proven, I’m tested, I’ve been there and done that. I’ve got my Olympic gold, I’ve got my two world titles. I’ve boxed everyone.”
But DeGale does respect the tenacity of his foe. “Look, Eubank is tough, strong, has a good chin and is ballsy. He doesn’t mind if it gets hard. He can hype a fight, too.
“This will be a boxing lesson. To stop Eubank will probably be hard, but my ability, my skill, my boxing brain is far too good for Eubank.”
Eubank’s confidence, his self-belief in “never having been hurt” in a 29-fight career, makes the Brighton man a tough challenge. If the fluid, relaxed DeGale settles into a rhythm, it could be a very frustrating night for the younger man by four years. Deft footwork could make him miss and miss again.
But if Eubank, despite his technical deficiencies, can swarm his foe early, we are in for a thriller.