CHRIS EUBANK JR became the third man to defeat James DeGale at the O2 Arena and one hopes he’s also the last. He should not fight again.
Today he likely feels dreadful. Not only from the physical effects of those 12 rounds, but from the realisation that his long career is all but over. That Eubank Jr – a long term pain in DeGale’s backside – applied the final punches won’t make it easy for him to rest in retirement peacefully. But rest he must, because the sport he has given everything to since he was a child will only get increasingly spiteful if he again attempts to defy time.
It wasn’t the ending he wanted. Nor the homecoming triumph his illustrious career deserved. But happy endings are notoriously hard to come by in boxing. Rarely does a boxer who has been showing signs of decline return to form, almost always that decline is punctuated by the most humbling of defeats. But the achievements that came before will define him; the Olympic gold medal, the British and European super-middleweight titles, the two reigns as IBF champion which were born in the USA.
Much of the pre-fight talk was about how far 33-year-old DeGale had slipped. The evidence has been building for a while yet many suspected he would have enough to win. It will be tough for the 2008 Olympic champion to admit it’s the end but he will know, as he’s likely known for a while, that his best days have gone. Before he defeated Caleb Truax in their 2018 rematch he promised to quit, win or lose, if he looked poor. That contest was an almighty struggle yet he returned to the UK to focus on Eubank Jr and the bumper payday on offer. But retirement being discussed so frequently before fights is a sure sign that the end is close.
The cruel timing of the contest will likely form the post-fight narrative too. People will claim that Eubank won purely because DeGale was not the fighter he once was. That might be true, but we can never know for sure. Eubank won this one handily, and if we’re to commiserate with the loser we should also congratulate the winner.
Eubank deserves immense praise for finally delivering on his big fight promises and scoring the most significant victory of his career. Even a faded DeGale is far from a pushover yet Eubank – a natural middleweight – took control early and never looked like letting go. This all came after he accepted that he needed to make changes to his team following last year’s loss to George Groves. For now, the addition of American coach Nate Vasquez appears to be a shrewd one.
We should also give Junior credit for achieving all of this in a weight class north of his best one. Whether now is the time to drop back down to middleweight – where his power was more effective – is for him and his team to decide. Certainly the opportunities that exist at super-middleweight, where domestic rivals Billy Joe Saunders and Callum Smith campaign, should be more appealing than the Canelo Alvarez-ruled 160lb division.
In the end, the fight was not a good one. But the winner and loser gave it everything they’d got. For DeGale, he can now take stock of his considerable achievements while Eubank Jr can look to a future that plenty predicted would not exist today.