James DeGale on Chris Eubank Jr: ‘He says he doesn’t drink but I saw him with a bottle of vodka on Snapchat’

Ahead of their all-British grudge match DeGale dismissed the threat of Eubank and gave thanks to his mysterious ‘advisor’, the enigmatic Al Haymon

Declan Taylor
Thursday 14 February 2019 08:04
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James DeGale to consider retirement after Chris Eubank Jr fight

James DeGale, sitting cross-legged on a ring apron in the Stonebridge Boxing Club, clasps his hands together in prayer and diverts his gaze towards the heavens.

The two-time super-middleweight champion is now less than a fortnight away from his all-British grudge match with Chris Eubank Jr but he is not in search of any divine intervention on his pew, four stories up an office block halfway down the Wembley High Road.

Instead, DeGale is giving yet more thanks to the near mythical figure of Al Haymon, who has helped the 2008 Olympic gold medalist become a multimillionaire since the pair linked up in the summer of 2015.

Haymon, nominally DeGale’s ‘advisor’, has still never given a single interview to any outlet regarding his role in the sport but has amassed a sprawling and diverse stable of champions, contenders and wannabes.

It became a running joke in boxing that many of his clients, which included Floyd Mayweather Jr before his retirement, would acknowledge Al Haymon before they even thanked God during interviews and press conferences.

DeGale’s clash with Eubank Jr will be the first show under Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) banner to take place on British shores after years of rumours regarding his intentions on this side of the Atlantic. Haymon also recently announced – not personally – the signing of Eubank Jr for good measure.

DeGale, who once described former music mogul Haymon as ‘mad looking’, won’t hear a bad word said about his trusted advisor and now friend. He is one of only a few professional boxers who have actually ever met him.

Their link-up led to a series of overseas fights for DeGale, who defended his IBF title in Quebec, Washington and New York before he lost the belt to Caleb Truax in arguably the biggest boxing shock of 2017.

‘Chunky’ won his title back in a rematch five months later but it was partly down to Haymon that DeGale decided to vacate it and opt for a money-spinning encounter with Eubank Jr instead.

James DeGale will face Chris Eubank Jr on 23 February

“I don’t have a bad word to say about him,” DeGale says, adopting that prayer position. “I thank him.

“I understand why people thank him because he has got me a lot of money and the right fights at the right time and he has been a big part of that. People know me in America, I’ve lived the American dream and he has been a big part of my career.

“Al is loyal, a loyal guy. He has treated me extremely well and he likes that I have been loyal to him as well. He runs things but he has treated me extremely well. I speak to Al Haymon whenever I want. He is a mysterious guy but he is the main man. He is the most powerful man in boxing.

“Would I recommend other British fighters signing with him? 100 per cent. There’s a lot of competition in boxing now. Not just Eddie Hearn or Frank Warren.

“When I first signed up with Al it did feel like a risk. Especially back then, four or five years ago when we did the deal. It was a risk but look at how it has gone. I have done well.”

James DeGale won back his world title in Las Vegas

So well, in fact, that DeGale insists he might even be happy to walk away from the sport regardless of the result in the O2 Arena on 23 February.

Now 33, DeGale went down in history as the first British boxer to win both an Olympic gold medal and a professional world title. He has also won British and European titles over the course of his 10-year, 28-fight career. And it is that pedigree, he insists, which makes his clash with Eubank a mismatch.

“I don’t want to put him down too much because he is a tough guy, he will be there all night and he won’t back down but he is not good enough to beat me,” DeGale said. “He is a certain level and can mix it with the big boys but he cannot beat them.”

It was confirmed earlier this week that the lightly regarded IBO title, a belt which Eubank has already held, will be on the line for the contest but DeGale has no interest in winning it.

“For me it is not recognised as one of the four major world titles,” he said. “Chris was very deluded when it came to carrying that belt around and calling himself a world champion.

“I once saw him walking around a central London nightclub with it wrapped round himself. He was in Libertine nightclub walking about with the IBO belt on, he was parading it around like he was the super-middleweight champion of the world, he is mad.

“When I won my world title people used to say I worked hard and that I was fit; now they say I’m a good fighter but I love a drink and a party! But that c*** is always out. He’s saying he doesn’t drink but I saw him with a bottle of vodka on Snapchat the other day.

“He’s holding on to the idea that I don’t live the life, he thinks dedication will win him the fight. He thinks I’m going to die, he thinks I’m not fit. But if that’s what he’s banking on, he hasn’t got a prayer.”

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