Chris Eubank Jnr emerged from the overarching shadow of his father and widespread criticism of his boxing skills to produce the greatest performance of his career and leave James DeGale’s future in the balance after a unanimous points victory at London’s O2 Arena.
Eubank claimed the less glitzy International Boxing Organisation super-middleweight crown. Nonetheless it was the manner of victory, dictating terms in a haphazard contest of clinches and head clashes, while flooring DeGale twice with left hooks in the second and 10th rounds, that has projected the Brighton man towards major fights at world level.
Eubank – a winner 114-112, 115-112, 117-109 on the ringside judges’ cards – said afterwards. “I’m back where I need to be, at the top of the food chain, and now I’m coming for all the other belts in the super-middleweight division.”
Meanwhile DeGale, the first British boxer to win both Olympic gold and a professional world title, did not attend the post-fight news conference but admitted that he would seriously consider his future.
In truth, and taking nothing away from Eubank, DeGale looked a ghost of the slick southpaw who commanded the ring.
“I’m going to go back, talk to my team and talk to my family,” he said. “I’ve been to the heights of boxing, I’ve won an Olympic gold medal, won the world title twice, made history and I’ve boxed the best around the world. I’ve left my mark in boxing.”
Eubank said he had “made a statement” after his father, former two-weight world champion Chris Eubank Snr, had said he “was petrified and not convinced” his 29-year-old son would return the victor in the build-up.
Promoter Richard Poxon told Telegraph Sport on Sunday: “Eubank really did step out of the shadow of his father at this event. No one in British boxing has taken more personal abuse than Junior for his pair of losses at the top level, real incessant abuse, and he kept going and has come good to put himself in a position to be a genuine world-title contender.”
As for Eubank’s next assignment, Poxon added that the boxer and his team “will decide the best weight for him to compete at, either middleweight or super-middleweight, with big fights out there for him in both divisions”.
British fans would relish a showdown with Liverpudlian Callum Smith, ranked No 1 in the world in the super-middleweight division, as well as a potential rematch with Billy Joe Saunders, who beat him four years ago.
Saunders has moved up eight pounds from middleweight and will challenge next for the vacant World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight crown against Shefat Isufi at the SSE Wembley Arena on April 13, though Eubank played that match-up down on Saturday post-fight. “I’m not looking at him first and foremost,” said Eubank. “I don’t think he deserves it. There are other great names out there, in the middleweight division also.”
Likely opponents next for Eubank are Andre Dirrell, the World Boxing Council super-middleweight champion, or Caleb Plant, the International Boxing Federation 12st king.
“There is nobody that I wouldn’t fight. I’m here to collect the belts and become world champion in either division,” said Eubank. “So whatever is put in front of me, I’m going to take.”
On the undercard, heavyweight Joe Joyce moved his career to eight straight victories undefeated, yet faced criticism for his failure to stop Haitian Bermane Stiverne, the former WBC heavyweight champion, earlier than the sixth round.
Joyce, a silver medallist for Great Britain at the Rio Olympics, had dominated his Don King-promoted opponent, pummelling the 40-year-old with everything in his armoury, before referee Howard Foster waved the contest off. Joyce, 33, claimed the Commonwealth heavyweight crown and was clear about his ambitions.
“Big things are coming,” said the Londoner. My next one will be for the WBA regular heavyweight belt [held by Manuel Charr]. I need to have a couple more fights like this and then I’ll be ready for the big champions.”