By Chris McKenna, courtesy of The Daily Star
JAMES DEGALE revealed his first skirmish with a Eubank came in a London nightclub – and it helped pave the way for next week’s grudge match with Chris Jnr.
As he sits in his impressive St Albans home, the Harlesden native laughs as he remembers how former two-weight world champion Chris Snr interrupted an evening out.
“He stood there and looked at me,” said the ex-IBF super-middleweight champion.
“I thought, ‘Oh that’s Chris Eubank Snr over there’. He called me over and I thought he was going to congratulate me.”
It was 2011 and DeGale had beaten Poland’s Piotr Wilczewski to claim the European super-middleweight crown five months after losing to George Groves, his first of two career defeats.
“But he took me outside to the hall and said, ‘You shouldn’t be out drinking, you shouldn’t be out celebrating’,” added DeGale.
“I was like, ‘Why are you even in a club? Chris I won the European title, I’m out celebrating with my mates, have a couple of drinks and there ain’t nothing wrong with that’.
“Even when I first turned pro he said I didn’t have the minerals, he said I didn’t have what it takes to be world champion. I don’t know what it is with them.”
DeGale’s rivalry with the Eubank family had begun.
It increased with a dispute over how a sparring session went a year later when Eubank Jnr arrived in his gym as a young pro and later claimed he had “schooled” the then European champion.
But it will be settled once and for all when he faces Chris Jnr, who has lost to Billy Joe Saunders and Groves in 29 fights, at the O2 a week today.
Since the nightclub meeting, DeGale has gone on to win the IBF title against Andre Dirrell to become the first British boxer to win Olympic gold and then world honours in the paid ranks.
“I’ve been there, done it, won everything, I’m the history man,” added DeGale, who was followed by Anthony Joshua in achieving the feat.
There were big fights in north America against Lucian Bute and Badou Jack but, in the last 18 months, his career has not gone to plan.
Now DeGale heads into 29th fight looking to show he is not past his best.
The Londoner’s recent performances would suggest that, at 33, he has seen better days – but he disputes that.
DeGale surrendered the IBF title to little-known Caleb Truax at the end of 2017 on his return from a serious shoulder injury.
“It was a disaster, it was the worst night of my career,” he said.
“I thought I’d beat him with no hands. I rushed back from the shoulder surgery.
“Truax is a good fighter, but he is not elite. It was embarrassing. Walking away did come into my head.”
DeGale got an immediate chance of revenge in Las Vegas and he reclaimed the IBF title with a points win.
“I just wanted to win back my title,” he said. “But it was a s*** performance. I understand why people think I’m shot, why they think I’m on the decline.”
But those performances brought more accusations like Eubank Snr’s that maybe ‘Chunk’, who had suffered serious Achilles and shoulder injuries, was enjoying life a bit too much his long holidays and fondness for parties.
“Of course I like to enjoy myself,” he said. “I’m a normal 33-year-old. I’ve been successful, I’ve earned good money so you have to enjoy life.
“Boxing is No.1 on my list. When I’m out of camp, of course I have a party, I eat what I want, I love my food, I socialise.
“A lot of people have said, ‘He is always out, he parties too much’ but that is crazy.
“I understand that with the injuries and my last two performances why people say it.
“But judge me after this fight. This is the fight, 100 per cent, that I prove to people what is left.”
As he looks up at the pictures celebrating his successes that adorn his kitchen walls, DeGale talks about being thought of fondly in British boxing circles.
“I want to be remembered as a true champion, a true warrior, somebody who never backed down from a challenge,” he added.
“As I said, I’m the history man. Now I’m home for some legacy fights.”
Tickets are available from www.AXS.com and Inner Ringside/VIP Hospitality from www.sportandmusic.co.uk or watch live on ITV Box Office, go to www.itvboxoffice.com