Talking Boxing

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January 9, 2017

Badou Jack v James DeGale: Fight preview

Orlando Salido, Francisco Vargas

James DeGale (right) is a short price favourite to beat Badou Jack on Saturday, but isn't this a 50-50 fight?

by Shaun Brown

It all began with Murray Sutherland and Ernie Singletary on March 28, 1984 in Atlantic City.

A 15-round world title contest between a Scot (Sutherland), 13 days shy of his 30th birthday, and a Philadelphia fighter who had already been to the Bahamas and London to fight Tommy Hearns and Alan Minter three years earlier.

The result of this encounter was the birth of the first world champion at super middleweight (168lbs).
Sutherland would only hold on to his title for 116 days before Chong-Pal Park took it from him in Seoul.

From there the super middleweight division has had something of a heady history with names like Leonard, Barkley, Toney, Benn, Eubank, Collins, Jones Jr, Calzaghe, Ward and Froch having all owned one or more belts, of the four on offer, at varying stages of their careers.

One look at those ten names and you can see a Union Jack which has been trying to take over the division since its infancy. Richie Woodhall, Glen Catley, Robin Reid and Brian Magee have also admirably added their presence to a class of Brits that have given the UK a known association with a weight class that continues to excite and fascinate boxing fans.

Fellow Brits Callum Smith and George Groves will get world title opportunities in 2017, but the flag bearer right now for Queen and country is James DeGale (23-1, 14 KOs). A 30-year-old Londoner who is growing into the role of IBF world champion, and who would like nothing more than to take the throne at super middleweight this year. A seat that lies vacant thanks to Badou Jack (WBC champion) and Gilberto Ramirez (WBO champion) all having a viable case to be the best of the bunch.

Who becomes number one will arguably be answered this Saturday night at the Barclays Centre in New York City, when DeGale and Jack put their prizes on the line in the first super middleweight unification since Carl Froch gained revenge over Mikkel Kessler in their gunslinging rematch three years ago.

The fight could not have come at a better time for DeGale. 2016 was, in truth, a year where little noise was made from ‘Chunky’ with only one appearance which came back in April against mandatory challenger Rogelio Medina. This was DeGale’s second defence of his IBF title, which he won one year earlier against Andre Dirrell, and was something of a backward step in performance after DeGale’s impressive maiden defence against Lucian Bute.

DeGale thrives on the big challenge, he eats up the hype and laps up his role as one half of a big event. The fight against Medina hidden away in Washington was one that could be filed in the “job done” column. One that didn't appear to light up DeGale's usual excitable personality.

Against Jack, DeGale has the perfect opportunity to kick start his 2017 by becoming a unified champion at 168lbs, and can then look forward to one or two more outings. Firstly against Callum Smith (WBC mandatory challenger), a fascinating all-British tussle, and could then add one more belt to his collection or even hear the “cha-ching” noises of a dollar signs fight against middleweight top dog Gennady Golovkin, with the Kazakh surely heading north to 168lbs at some point soon.

Badou Jack, Scandinavia's most successful super middleweight export since Mikkel Kessler, is as normal going about his business quietly. The pressure is all on DeGale, something which he is fully aware of. There are those that believe this to be a 50-50 fight, but there are more who insist DeGale will have too many tricks and not so nice treats on the night for the 33-year-old Swedish born WBC champion.

Jack has his own ideas for 2017. After DeGale he wants to fight unified light heavyweight titlist Andre Ward. “I want the best. I want to be challenged”, he said at a recent media press conference.

And who could overlook him? After all this is a man who took the belt from another unfortunate Dirrell (Anthony), then defeated George Groves, someone who beat DeGale in the pro ranks - albeit a long time ago. Jack was rewarded only with a majority draw against Bute last time out. A fight that on first and second viewing looked as though the champion did more than enough to walk out of Washington with another W.

Boxing mathematics doesn’t exist, however. Well, not all the time.

The truth is DeGale does possess much more craft inside a boxing ring and can do things that could, at times, frustrate Jack and allow the IBF champ to pull away on the scorecards. But as we all know a switch can occasionally get turned off inside DeGale. Whether it’s stamina or concentration there is no denying that Andre Dirrell, Medina and Bute were all given opportunities at times to take over their fights against him and hear “And the new” at the end of it all.

Jack may very well be that man who does capitalise on such an offer, should it present itself once more. Against Groves, a fight that swung one way and then the next, Jack showed fantastic resilience and metal to weather storms from the Brit and slug it out when he had to. On the night, he did whatever it took to regain that world title. And if DeGale is growing into the role of world champion then the same can be said of Jack.

Bookmakers have DeGale as a short priced odds-on favourite around the 1/3 mark, with Jack sitting somewhere around 12/5. Jack on points at 7/2 could be a chance worth taking, and it would be foolish to ignore the draw at 25/1.

On recent performances, there isn’t an awful lot to separate these two. DeGale may look better at what he does, but Jack looks more effective and consistent. DeGale shows world class talent in groups of rounds before taking two or three off. This is a pick em’ fight and a fantastic way to start the boxing year.

DeGale should have enough through the first half of the fight, and moments in the second to take a tight decision – all said, however, without the greatest of conviction.