It isn’t the holiday most often associated with fireworks.
But that isn’t stopping the International Boxing Organization from greeting the New Year with a blast that’ll change the landscape in the sport’s super middleweight division.
And perhaps the United Kingdom as well.
The IBO announced Thursday that its 168-pound championship belt will be up for grabs when British rivalsChris Eubank Jr. and James DeGale get together on Feb. 23 at London’s O2 Arena. The fighters were born barely 60 miles apart and now reside a mere 90 miles from one another.
“It’s a big fight on many levels,” said Ed Levine, the IBO’s president. “Two fighters in their primes. Two fighters who’ve shown a pattern of excellence in the weight class. And two of the most recognizable fighters in their home country. It’s certainly an event we’re happy to be associated with because we know the winner will be a credible world champion.”
Indeed, it’s a continuation of world-class operation for both men, who’ve combined for seven wins and a draw
across 10 title-level fights since 2015, and have frequently mentioned each other’s names when asked about
their most sought-after matches.
Eubank, 29, was the IBO’s world champion at super middleweight for a full 12 months across 2017 and 2018,
winning the belt and defending twice – including a wide decision win over longtime 168-pound standardbearer Arthur Abraham at the Wembley Arena.
He also scored a third-round KO over a then-unbeaten Avni Yildirim, who’s now the WBC’s No. 2 contender
and slated to fight Anthony Dirrell for that organization’s vacant 168-pound title in Minneapolis on the same
date as the Eubank-DeGale fight.
Meanwhile, DeGale, 32, was recognized as champion by the IBF in 2015 and defended three times –
highlighted by a defeat of ex-claimant Lucian Bute and a disputed draw with subsequent light heavyweight
title challenger Badou Jack. He dropped the belt to Caleb Truax in December 2017, won it back five months
later, but then decided to vacate to avoid mandatories and pursue big events.
“I’m in the final phase of my career where I have a few good years left where I can be involved in massive fights
and really leave a legacy in the division’s history,” he said.
Eubank and DeGale will enter the fight slotted second and sixth, respectively, in the IBO’s rankings at 168.
The Independent World Boxing Rankings have DeGale fourth and Eubank fifth, while the divisional rankings
produced by Ring Magazine have DeGale sixth and Eubank eighth.
Both were winners via third-round stoppage in their most recent fights before Thursday’s announcement,
with Eubank halting former WBA regional title-holder JJ McDonagh on a massive September card at King
Abdullah Sports City in Saudi Arabia and DeGale taking care of former world title challenger Fidel Monterrosa
Munoz on a show televised by Fox Sports 1 just two days later in California.
It was evidence, Eubank said, that neither man is satisfied with what he’s already accomplished.
“In terms of my financial situation, I’m comfortable. Could I stop tomorrow? Sure,” he told London’s Daily
Mail. “But I never would have got to this stage if my mindset was, ‘Make enough money then sign out.’ I want
to give fans their money’s worth, put on a show and be known as a true warrior.
“There are so many great fights out there that can be made at middleweight and super middleweight as long
as I stay on track. I can’t afford another loss. No fighter can afford a loss, but now my record has to be squeaky
clean. When you lose, you lose your fans and the faith people have in you. I can’t let that take any more hits.
It’s all down to me doing what I know I can do. I cannot lose.”
DeGale, dismissing criticism similar to the sort Eubank has faced, agreed.
“I know what is best for me,” he told the Sporting News.
“Look where listening to only myself and those close to me has got me. I’m an Olympic gold medalist and the
first British gold medalist to go to the pros and win a world title.
“I did that by going to America for good money and beating a top fighter like Andre Dirrell. I was fighting on
PPV for British titles, making good money from pretty much day one, so how can people who I’ve never ever
met before tell me that I’ve made wrong decisions in my career. 99.9% of fighters would do anything to have
the career I’ve had, yet people keep telling me to make changes. What for?”
I.B.O. WORLD TITLE UPCOMING FIGHTS
Featherweight Tugstogt Nyambayar (Mongolia) vs. Claudio Marrero (Dominican Republic) January 26th, 2019
Super Middleweight Chris Eubank, Jr. (UK) vs. James DeGale (UK) February 23rd, 2019
I.B.O. WORLD CHAMPIONS
Heavyweight – Anthony Joshua (UK) Super Featherweight – Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (Russia)
Cruiserweight – Kevin Lerena (S. Africa) Light Heavyweight – Sven Fornling (Sweden)
Super Bantamweight – Paulus Ambunda (Namibia) Super Welterweight – Jarrett Hurd (US)
Bantamweight – Michael Dasmarinas (Philippines) Welterweight – Thulani Mbenge (S. Africa)
Super Flyweight – Gideon Buthelezi (South Africa) Super Lightweight – Mohamed Mimoune (France)
Minimumweight – Simphiwe Khonco (S. Africa)
I.B.O. WOMEN’S WORLD CHAMPIONS
Middleweight – Ivana Habazin (Croatia) Lightweight – Chantelle Cameron (UK)
Welterweight – Cecilia Braekhus (Norway) Flyweight – Nina Radovanovic (Serbia)
Minimumweight – Zongju Cai (China