Saturday night the WBC & IBF Super Middleweight Championships are on the line when Badou Jack and James DeGale collide at the Barclays Centre, Brooklyn.
Unfortunately, yet again, the hype from the UK on Sky has been minimal given that this is a major unification bout in what has been one of the most lucrative divisions in boxing history. Not only is this a big fight, deciding who the best 168lber is, but it is a genuine 50-50 pick ’em with many fans and pundits being unable to call a decisive winner. These are the kinds of fights that we, as fans, have been crying out and they are starting to be delivered on a more frequent basis than we have seen for quite some time. So a little more coverage would have been nice, right?
To some this isn’t a unification bout to rival the magnitude of Joe Calzaghe & Mikkel Kessler in 2007 or Andre Ward and Carl Froch (culmination of the Super Six in 2011) but this is two of the very best on the planet fighting for dominance and the two fighters deserve their credit and hype.
Swedish born Badou Jack (20-1-2 with 12 KO’s) captured the WBC belt back in April 2015 when he earned a close majority decision over then champ, Anthony Dirrell. The Floyd Mayweather led fighter is strong with a good jab but he is more workmanlike than mind blowing. He isn’t the most elusive and has a tendency to stand his ground and step into exchanges with his chin unprotected, which Degale can expose. His 1st round knockout defeat to Derek Edwards in 2014 showed his flaws and although he may have improved since then there are still question marks over his elite ability.
DeGale (24-1 with 14 KO’s) is a different fighter altogether to Jack, albeit with his own limitations. The Olympic Gold Medallist won the IBF strap with an impressive unanimous decision over Andre Dirrell last May, dropping Dirrell twice early in a fight that many predicted he would lose. DeGale’s boxing ability has never been in question, he may be the most talented of all the Super Middleweights, however his gas tank and tendency to stand back and admire his own work have got him into a few sticky situations over the years. His 2011 loss to, British rival, George Groves in a majority decision was a clear sign of DeGale’s flaws, he allowed himself to be outworked by Groves, and he cannot make the same mistakes this weekend.
Both fighters share their similarities and have shared a number of common opponents that perhaps we can assess to give a better understanding of what the outcome may be on Saturday. George Groves (defeated DeGale but lost a split decision to Jack in 2015) would give an indication that Jack holds the advantage, given he dropped Groves as well on the way to victory. But DeGale recorded a comfortable victory over former 168 boss Lucian Bute whilst Jack laboured to a majority draw with the Canadian just last year, Bute has since been called into question for a failed drugs test but the result still stands. In 2013, Jack was somewhat fortunate to receive a majority draw against Mexico’s Marco Antonio Periban, a fighter who Degale decimated and destroyed within 3 rounds just a year later. On the other hand there is Rogelio “Porky” Medina, who Jack had no problem in dispatching within 6 rounds as he bounced back from the Periban disappointment but just last time out James DeGale was considered somewhat fortunate, in certain quarters, to receive a unanimous decision over Medina. I had no doubts DeGale won the fight however Medina certainly showed heart and he landed on DeGale far too frequently, he showed gaps in the champion’s game and once again raised question marks over DeGale’s stamina.
Even the examination of the opposition leaves a divide in opinions and that is a testament to how close this fight is to call. DeGale’s career has been a little stop start, from Olympic glory to fighting in shopping centres to now being one step away from declaring himself the undisputed best. Badou Jack has been slept on a few times, overlooked, and he has a real knack for silencing his doubters. Who ends the night on top?
Liverpool’s Callum Smith (22-0 with 17 KO’s) awaits the winner and a domestic showdown with DeGale would certainly sell big in the UK but if Jack can knock off “Chunky” then he’ll fancy his chances of making it a British hat-trick when he comes up against Smith.
If I was picking a winner then I give the slight edge to DeGale and I believe he’ll end the night as an Undisputed Champion. There is very little in their height or reach, neither man gaining much of an advantage, but I think DeGale’s southpaw stance will cause Jack problems, he is certainly the better boxer, and I believe the Briton has a minute power superiority on his foe. Jack will cause DeGale problems, especially if the latter chooses to lounge on the ropes and not go to work, but overall I think he’ll be picked off. DeGale may score the knockout late but my prediction is for a comfortable unanimous decision.
Chief support to this bout could be a potential show stealer with the IBF Super Featherweight Championship on the line between the champion, Jose Pedraza (22-0 with 14 KO’s) defending against another Mayweather protégé in hard-hitting Gervonta Davis (16-0 with 15 KO’s).
Pedraza ,as the champ, is the slight favourite with the bookies and his technical boxing skills certainly make him a dangerous foe for the young Baltimore native in Davis. Pedraza may be somewhat lucky to have received a split decision over Edner Cherry in 2015, it was very close however you saw it, but he followed that up with a comprehensive beat down of the game but overmatched Stephen Smith in his last outing. Pedraza has a height and reach advantage over Davis and will look to utilise his jab in order to attain dominance but if Davis can get inside and fire off his own bombs then this could become a very interesting affair.
We have yet to see Davis fully tested and this is an extreme step up in his level of competition so it will be interesting to see if he can back up the hype train that has followed him into this matchup. We are aware that he carries power but against a classy operator who likes to move will the youngster become disheartened or frustrated?
Edner Cherry showed that if you get up close to Pedraza and make it rough then opportunities will present themselves. If Davis can go to work from the get go, use his own jab to get inside, then he can pose some very difficult questions for the current champion. Pedraza is a stinging puncher rather than concussive so it’s a question of whether he can keep Davis at bay for the duration, and can Davis handle a 12 round pace given that he has only ever gone nine before?
This is a difficult fight and another great pick ’em that is good to see on the same night. My prediction, and I’m not 100% convinced here, is that Davis will win a points decision. It may be controversial but I think he may score a knockdown or two and that will sway the judges in his favour.
Should be a great night of boxing from Brooklyn.