Chris Eubank Jr outgunned and bullied James DeGale in the all-British grudge match, a dog fight here at the O2 Arena to claim bragging rights after a simmering seven year feud – producing the best performance of his career dropping his London rival twice on his way to a dominant points victory over twelve hard-fought rounds.
It was a deserved unanimous decision on the three ringside judges’ cards, 114-112, 115-112 and 117-109. I scored it 116-112 to Eubank.
It was messy, a roughhouse brawl at times, with clashes of heads and clinches punctuating the battle, but it was an unruly scrap in keeping with the bitter war that both men had pledged in the build up. Wrestlers would have enjoyed it.
This was a rivalry that had simmered for seven years, the result of an ill-tempered sparring session in 2012. Eubank had insisted this was to be a defining fight for 2008 Olympic champion DeGale, the former two-time world champion having earned many millions in the ring and was rightly renowned for his toughness, footwork and southpaw skills.
He showed all of those qualities, but was found wanting. Taking nothing away from Eubank, DeGale looked a shadow of the fighter he was three years ago, before a war with Badou Jack in New York. The burning question was what DeGale, 33, had left. On this evidence, it is likely he will retire after considering his options. Eubank Jr stepped out of his father’s shadow with his display.
The fight settled into a pattern from the off. DeGale, clearly the longer, rangier fighter, landed his trademark lefts early, fast on his feet, the Brighton man looking to counter with his power right hands.
DeGale was cut to the corner of his left eye in that opening stanza. It was a round that belonged to the former world champion. Yet Eubank looked more composed, more patient than in previous fights. Heads clashed in the second round, from which DeGale seemed to stumble, but as they separated, Eubank had his bitter rival down in a neutral corner, tagging the older man by four years.
Again DeGale was rocked by a right hand early in the third, the concern showing on the face of the Harlesden man, while the son of the former two weight world champion Chris Eubank Snr offered a few taunting words, silenced by referee Michael Alexander.
It was a roughhouse brawl up close, as they untidily mauled in the fourth, a better round for DeGale until the last twenty seconds when Eubank assaulted DeGale on the ropes. “He’s desperate already,” trainer Jim McDonnell tried to tell DeGale between rounds. In the other corner, Eubank Snr urged his son to stay composed and look for the right hand and use the jab.
DeGale landed two powerful lefts in the fifth, as the fight continued its messy pattern, the southpaw and orthodox styles not gelling. But Eubank looked the bully in there. He smiled at DeGale at the start of the sixth, as if to indicate his relish for their fistic war. DeGale, looking ragged, was simply unable to impose his technique, no matter how he tried.
The seventh and eighth rounds followed a similar pattern, DeGale slicker in the early part, his jab effective, with a good double left to head and body but Eubank pursued DeGale into his own corner with vicious intent in the final thirty seconds. “Walk him down.” said Eubank Snr between rounds.
In the ninth, DeGale landed several clean shots, earning the round. It was in that ninth round, and again in the tenth, that DeGale showed a champion’s experience, and heart, and momentarily, he was ascendant. But it did not last long.
A counter left hook from Eubank and a flurry of punches saw DeGale touch down. It could have changed the pattern of the fight, but Eubank annulled that foolishly in the eleventh by lifting DeGale and throwing him to the ground, for which referee Alexander immediately deducted a point.
But then Eubank landed a brilliant uppercut to make it a 9-9 round. Bravely, DeGale, several rounds behind on my card, and having fought for his life round after round, came out and gave it his all.
It was DeGale, again, buckled from a left hook, yet he fought back gamely. It was an exhausting last round, an exhausting contest.
Earlier, prior to the main event, Briton Joe Joyce, the 2016 Olympic Games super heavyweight silver medallist, earned a sixth round stoppage in his eighth professional fight over Bermane Stiverne, the former World Boxing Council heavyweight champion, in an eliminator for the World Boxing Association ‘Regular’ heavyweight title.
Joyce dominated the bout, dropping his opponent onto the pummelling the Haitian who is promoted by Don King into submission, the only thing lacking the sixth round ending as referee Howard Foster stepped between them having seen too much punishment administered by the Londoner known as ‘The Juggernaut’.
The concern for Joyce’s corner was not that he failed to show his armoury of punches, but that Stiverne was able to land left and right hooks easily in the first three rounds.
Admitting that he had found Stiverne “a live opponent” and that he had been listening to instructions from trainer Abel Sanchez – who is also the trainer of Gennady Golovkin – the British heavyweight revealed he will be pushing for a world title fight later this year.
With the promotional Game of Thrones ongoing currently in the heavyweight division, involving Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, Joyce may well fit in as an interim challenger, yet on the strength of this performance, more experience might be needed even before a step up against the three major names, or even the likes of Dillian Whyte or Alexander Povetkin.
But this was a redemption night for Eubank. He still looks raw, but his physicality, power, tenacity and patience were impressive. “I proved them all wrong,” he said.
“I’m very happy and in a position to go out and challenge for world titles now. I felt comfortable and I felt I dominated the whole fight. He was awkward. I used smart pressure.”
Correct. Victory well-earned.