By Jack Price
This Saturday January 14th, British super-middleweight and IBF world champion James DeGale (23-1, 14 KO’s) faces WBC champ Badou Jack (20-1-2, 12 KO’s) in a highly-anticipated unification bout in New York.
It’s a fight that gets the year started off in style, and a match-up that gives us what boxing should be all about – the two top guys in the division getting in the ring and fighting to prove that they’re the best at their weight. And with Andre Ward having stepped up to light-heavyweight, it’s the perfect opportunity for either of these two men to claim the throne and cement their place at the top of the 168lb division.
For me, DeGale goes into this as the slight favourite. The Brit was pretty inactive in 2016, only defending his belt once but he proved to us just how good he can be when he puts in the work, two years ago (2015) with two big wins over Lucian Bute and Andre Dirrell. Jack, who is a member of Floyd Mayweather’s superstar Money Team, has also only fought once this year. It was actually on the same show as DeGale when he drew with Bute. A draw however, probably wasn’t a fair result. Most people had the Swede up by a few rounds but the draw meant he held on to his title anyway.
Jack also has a win over the only man that has beaten DeGale, George Groves. The 33-year old beat the Brit via split decision in September of last year. But we can’t really look too much into this as DeGale has improved massively since his close loss to Groves back in 2011.
The two fighters paths to this showdown haven’t actually been much different. Both men were talented amateurs and both actually competed at the same Olympic games back in 2008. Jack, although Swedish, represented Gambia, the country his father comes from, and was the flag bearer in the opening ceremony. However, the 33-year old was unsuccessful in the tournament going out in the first round to India’s Vijender Singh. Whereas DeGale earned the ultimate prize. The Londoner boxed remarkably the whole way through and picked up the prestigious gold medal at the end of it.
They also have four common opponents between them in their professional careers – Groves obviously being the main one, who Jack beat and DeGale lost to. But Lucian Bute, Marcon Antonio Periban and Rogelio Medina are three more names both men have on their record. As I said earlier in the article, we can’t really read too much into Jack’s draw with Bute as many people, including myself, felt that he won that fight. So both men had the better of the Canadian over 12 rounds. However, many people will probably agree that Jack did deserve the other draw on his record, against Periban. The Mexican isn’t really considered a world level fighter but his awkward rugged style managed to cause “The Ripper” problems and he was forced to a majority draw on the scorecards. DeGale impressed against Periban, becoming the first man to stop him inside the distance, with a third round KO. Nevertheless, like DeGale with his loss to Groves, Jack has improved massively since this blip on his record so it shouldn’t have much of an effect when trying to predict a winner for this fight.
Both boxers have a win over Medina, Jack stopping him in six rounds putting on arguably his career best performance, and DeGale putting on a lacklustre performance edging his way to a unanimous decision victory with minimal effort in his most recent fight. Although, DeGale says he is happy with the “rubbish” performance he put on as he believes it is what finally got Jack to agree to fight him.
This is set to be an intriguing match-up between two skillful boxers at the peak of their career. It might not be the most action-packed fight but if their styles don’t clash then I think it will be a 50/50 interesting fight the whole way through. I lean towards DeGale slightly because I think the slick southpaw just has that little bit more and he is in fine form right now. If he pushes the pace and boxes with a high work rate I think we’ll see him walk away with a close decision win.