2016 proved a fruitful year for British boxing on the world scene. While the dawn of 2017 sees another of Britain’s world champions set to make an early and decisive mark on the boxing world in Brooklyn this Saturday night.
The IBF Super Middleweight champion, James ‘Chunky’ DeGale 23-1(14KO’s), faces by far the toughest test of his career when travelling to face one of Mayweather Promotions headline acts in Badou Jack ‘The Ripper’ 20-1-2(12KO’s).
The WBC ruler, born in Sweden, has only accelerated his confidence since he was stunned inside a round by Derek Edwards, nearly three years ago.
It’s hard to imagine that it was just prior to that night that Jack and DeGale were first muted to fight one another for a world title.
Since then the pair have faced an almost identical path. Both have boxed 5 times, and while Jack won his first world title in April of 2015, beating Anthony Dirrell, DeGale won his maiden title shot a month later against Anthony’s brother, Andre Dirrell.
DeGale would then defend against Lucien Bute and Rogelio Medina, while Jack toughed it out against George Groves before drawing with Bute – a somewhat controversial result to say the least.
If one is looking for an edge, then it won’t be found in rummaging through their records.
DeGale indeed needed the full 12 rounds to beat Medina, while Jack only required 6, and Jack was at the right end of a close decision against Groves.
But Jack has also recorded draws against Bute and Marco Antonio Periban, both fighters beaten by DeGale – Periban inside 3 rounds.
The styles of the two fighters also shine light on why they have been pushed close between them by the likes of Bute and Groves.
Neither are the heaviest of handed in the Super Middleweight division, while they both often reduce themselves to a trivial work rate.
None more so can this be noticed than in their respective fights with Groves (for Jack) and Dirrell (for DeGale).
DeGale vs Dirrell full fight (hat tip and credit PBC YouTube)
Both had their opponents down and in some trouble in the early rounds, but both let their opponent back into the contest.
On the face of it, we have two fighters that start brightly, but fade down the stretch.
The question is, who can dig it out in the latter stages?
The overriding feeling is that while Jack is the better working off the jab, it is DeGale with the greater variety and invention to his game.
When on top form, DeGale is a nightmare to pin down, with a loaded arsenal of punches.
While Jack can often become one paced and sometimes unimaginative in the ring.
With his quicker hands and occasionally mesmerising combinations, DeGale should have too much in the locker room for Jack.
His punch output and accuracy can be greater than Jack’s across the 12-round distance.
But a niggling feeling inside sees the obvious happening, and DeGale taking his foot off the accelerator, letting the WBC ruler back into a contest he should be well out of.
While Jack’s jab is a strong and efficient weapon, he can become rather too reliant on it, and with DeGale’s movement, he becomes a target unable to be controlled by a prodding jab.
If any fighter hits the canvas, the bet is that it will be Jack, caught off balance by a counter shot from the unorthodox DeGale.
But outside of a flash knockdown, this is unlikely to be that sort of explosive contest.
At its best, this match-up could resemble the Lightweight world title clash between Richard Commey and Robert Easter Jr late last year.
So, as I have already hinted at, my pick is for DeGale to make a bright start, bobbing in and out, giving Jack little more than a fleeting target to aim his pinpoint shots at.
But there will always be an opportunity for Jack to nick rounds, which he may need to become adept at doing as the fight wears on.
My DeGale vs Jack prediction:
Despite giving up some ground, DeGale will end the contest with another burst to confirm his unification of the WBC and IBF belts at the Barclays Center.