There are still a number of big fights waiting to happen in 2016, yet the 2017 calendar has already begun to fill. On Tuesday, the a super middleweight unification fight between James DeGale and Badou Jack was announced for January 14 in Las Vegas.
Super middleweight is one of the sport’s up-and-coming divisions, but it has desperately needed some unification bouts. The fight between DeGale and Jack should put two of the belts around one waist.
England’s DeGale claimed the vacant IBF title in May 2015, when he bested Andre Dirrell by unanimous decision. I am often critical of title fights for vacant belts–more often than not, they are cynical maneuvers to get a belt around the waist of a promotionally favored fighter. Often, just one of the men in the bout is a true contender.
That was most certainly not the case when DeGale beat Dirrell. Both men were former Olympic medalists with experience against some of the weight class’ top fighters. DeGale started quickly, dropping Dirrell twice in Round 2. Dirrell hung tough and made it a battle, but DeGale came away the winner by unanimous decision.
In April 2015, Jack took his WBC belt from Andre Dirrell’s younger brother, Anthony–another true, top-10 talent. He defended it five months later, on the Floyd Mayweather-Andre Berto undercard, with a great performance against Englishman George Groves. Groves had defeated DeGale early in their careers, and given Carl Froch a couple very tough battles, before going down by knockout. I was on record picking him to win against Jack, but the champion fought a tough, hard-nosed bout, attacking with solid effect to Groves’ torso throughout the fight. The judges gave him a split decision, but I thought Jack clearly won.
DeGale vs. Jack is an exciting fight. I believe James DeGale will win, but I have written off Jack before and been wrong. I can only hope that the winner will face undefeated WBO champion Gilberto Ramirez, who could very well be an emerging superstar.