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James DeGale aiming to dethrone only champion in Floyd Mayweather stable

James DeGale and Eddie Hearn

No fighter was ever able to beat Floyd Mayweather Jr in the ring but James DeGale can do the next best thing when he faces Badou Jack in a super middleweight title unification fight on Saturday night in Brooklyn.

DeGale, the 30-year-old from London who holds the IBF championship at 168lbs, is expected to beat Jack, the WBC belt-holder, in one of the best fights that can be made in the division today.

A victory in the main event of a stacked card at the Barclays Center would not only help DeGale consolidate power at super‑middleweight and build anticipation for a blockbuster outdoor homecoming fight back home in the spring but it could dethrone the lone world champion in Mayweather’s nascent promotional stable.

Mayweather, who retired more than 16 months ago, was back in the headlines this week when he resurrected talk of a three fight showdown with the UFC superstar Conor McGregor, one that would generate stupefying amounts of revenue but ultimately carry no greater significance than Breezy v Soulja Boy.

However, as he spoke on Thursday behind designer sunglasses during the press conference at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighbourhood, Mayweather’s promotional hat appeared snugly fit. “Am I coming back? Absolutely not,” he said. “I want to live through these fighters.”

DeGale could deliver a setback to those plans on Saturday should he prevail, leaving the Mayweather Promotions stable of a little more than a dozen fighters without a world champion for the first time since Ishe Smith captured a light middleweight strap to break the company’s maiden in February 2013.

Eddie Hearn, who promotes DeGale, is confident his fighter can pull it off. “Badou Jack is a great fighter, an underrated fighter, but this guy here is a whole other level,” Hearn said. “Styles make fights but there isn’t really a style to beat James DeGale. He adapts to anything.”

Should the 30-year-old southpaw known as Chunky get through next Saturday’s challenge and emerge as the No1 name in the super middleweight division, there were will be no shortage of options. That could include a showdown with Andre Ward, the longtime 168lb champion who in November won the unified light-heavyweight title from Sergey Kovalev by a razor-thin decision.


The 20 best pound-for-pound boxers in the world right now

Román González
Román González catches Carlos Cuadras in their fight in September. Photograph: Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

It’s the kind of pastime you either hate, love to hate, or just find mildly interesting to debate: pound-for-pound updates of the best fighters in the world, regardless of weight. We have seen some movement on the list since we last undertook this exercise six months ago: we have a new entrant to the top three, a few new names in the top 10 and several departures from the list. As always, the main standard is quality wins, especially of recent vintage. Fighters who have been inactive for a year, or who officially retire, are eligible to return once they fight again. (Looking at you this weekend, Manny Pacquiao.)

1) Román González, flyweight

It feels as if Román “Chocolatito” González’s pound-for-pound reign has been a tease, as he hasn’t had a rematch with Juan Francisco Estrada or faced Naoya Inoue since he replaced Floyd Mayweather on the throne a year ago. He hasn’t faced another flyweight fighter with pound-for-pound status but at least he took on the next best thing by moving up to junior bantamweight and conquering hard-hitting Carlos Cuadras. He showed vulnerability at the new weight, albeit against a terrific opponent, but still triumphed.

2) Sergey Kovalev, light heavyweight

When we last saw Sergey Kovalev, he struggled against Isaac Chilemba. When we next see Kovalev, it might be to decide the pound-for-pound king. Later this month Kovalev will face Andre Ward, a man a couple spots lower on this list. Regardless of whether you think it might be “boring” because of Ward, it’s one of the best match-ups in the sport.

3) Terence Crawford, junior welterweight

Terence Crawford’s win over Viktor Postol in July gave him his best win yet, cementing the impression that this kid might one day take over boxing. He’s now a two-division lineal champion. His next fight is a step down, against John Molina Jr., but he’s still a perfectly acceptable opponent.

4) Andre Ward, light heavyweight

Ward is still coasting on work he did years ago, but he will really earn this spot if he beats Kovalev on 19 November. Ward beat Alexander Brand in August in a fashion that, for two consecutive fights, raises doubts about whether he’s a real light heavy, and whether he might be getting old.

5) Gennady Golovkin, middleweight

Gennady Golovkin
Gennady Golovkin catches Kell Brook in their middleweight title contest in September. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Welterweight Kell Brook gave Golovkin his toughest fight in years, as an over-eager Golovkin got caught plenty by the skilled and fast-handed Brit. Once he settled down, it was the usual demolition job for Golovkin. Too bad a comparable fight against someone his own weight – Daniel Jacobs – has been pushed to 2017.

6) Canelo Álvarez, middleweight

So the 155lb middleweight king fought someone closer to his desired weight, junior middleweight Liam Smith, and looked spectacular. The bad news is that he broke a thumb and is out of commission for a while, pushing the long-desired Golvokin showdown back even further.


Valencia are bottom and fast becoming the old lady who swallowed a fly

Valencia defender Jose Gaya reacts during the defeat at Athletic.

The day before Pako Ayestarán flew to Singapore to meet the Valencia owner Peter Lim and discuss becoming the manager at Mestalla, he phoned Gary Neville to ask for his blessing. Neville was the one who had taken him there in the first place, after all, the man who had publicly insisted “when I go, Pako goes”, and now Ayesteran was about to take his job. It was an “awkward” phone call but, if the Englishman wasn’t entirely pleased, he told Ayestarán to go for it. He also told Lim that his former assistant was the best man for the job. At the time, the new manager was grateful. He might not be so sure now. They might not be, either.

Six months on, Valencia are bottom of the table, the only side without a single point. On the eve of their opening game of the new season Ayestarán promised “we’re going to enjoy it” – but no one is enjoying this. Four games later, they’re the worst team in Spain, and he’s the worst manager in their history. That’s what the statistics say, anyway. Mario Kempes, meanwhile, says this: “What’s happening to Valencia is very worrying; there’s no project, no ideas, just pure footballing impotence.” Which would be bad enough anyway but Kempes isn’t just arguably Valencia’s best player ever; he’s also their ambassador.

Kempes represents the club, or is supposed to. If what he said was telling, the fact that he said it was even more so: a portrait of the way things sometimes are at a club where Neville admits feeling people greeting him with looks that said “you won’t be here for long”; where, if they did, they were right. On Sunday night Kempes backed the coach … and then made a pitch for his job. It is one he thinks might become available again soon, and he is not alone.

Ayestarán is under pressure for sure. Over the last seven seasons, Valencia’s position after four games reads: sixth, third, third, first, sixth, second, second. This time, they’re 20th, bottom of the pile. Played four, lost four, conceded 10. It is the joint-worst start in their history. The last three teams to start like this – Osasuna, Sporting and Xérez – all went down. Away at Athletic Bilbao is never easy but this time it was set up as the game they had to win; a “final” already, with 34 games still to go. As one paper put it, they were obliged to wipe out that zero by their name. They didn’t: two goals from Aritz Aduriz saw them defeated 2-1 at San Mamés.

This is Valencia’s joint-worst start ever yet, oddly, despite the results it hasn’t all been bad. Not that bad, anyway.