Groves and DeGale – Eight Days in November
By Rachel Aylett: Between 16-23rd November, the future of two of Britain’s brightest super middleweight talents will become clearer. We all know the story of the two former Dale Youth amateur boxers, James DeGale and George Groves, who developed one of the fiercest rivalries in British boxing. Whilst in the amateur ranks and despite suffering defeat to his club rival, DeGale was always the name fighter. He was the one who boxed at the major championships and eventually took Britain’s only boxing gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. Groves toiled away in DeGale’s shadow during this time, carving out his own successful amateur career, albeit at a lower level.
The rivalry continued as the two Londoners turned professional, with DeGale’s fame from winning the Olympic gold medal keeping his name in the foreground, and Groves little more than an annoyance to Chunky, nagging away in the background like a toothache. DeGale decided to pull this particular tooth and signed to fight Groves in May 2011. He would shut his rival up once and for all and move onwards and upwards towards his destiny, becoming world super-middleweight champion. Of course, it all went wrong for DeGale on that fateful night, when Groves put then-trainer Adam Booth’s master plan into action and came away with a majority decision after 12 tense and incredibly close rounds, in turn winning the British and Commonwealth titles.
Despite the months of goading and taunting from DeGale in the lead up to the fight, Groves kept his head and boxed on the back foot, negating DeGale’s strengths. To his credit, DeGale came on strongly in the second half of the fight, but had left it too late and, to his horror, Groves got the majority decision.
DeGale argues that he was robbed on both occasions he fought Groves, but this has cut little ice with fight fans, and his boorish behaviour in the build up also lost him some respect. Groves was perceived as the good guy, and this must really stick in the craw of James, who is actually a very genial character.
When Groves’ promoter, Hayemaker, lost their television contract with the now defunct Setanta Sports, it became difficult for them to make the big fights for Groves and, with the support of (now departed, apparently) mentor Adam Booth, Groves signed with Frank Warren Promotions.
It was assumed at the time that Groves would sign with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom outfit, but Groves took everyone by surprise with his decision to sign with Warren. Not least taken aback, of course, was great rival DeGale, who was one of the jewels in the crown of the Warren camp at the time. There is no doubt that DeGale’s nose was put out of joint by this. This was possibly one of the reasons why, in September 2012, DeGale jumped Warren’s ship and signed with Hennessy Sports, whose front man Mick Hennessy had a television deal in place with terrestrial television’s Channel 5. Ironically, Groves did not stay long in the Warren camp, subsequently signing for three fights with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom outfit.
DeGale clearly expected that he would receive far more exposure fighting on Hennessy’s cards than he would on Warren’s BoxNation shows, and this has been the case, although the low-key nature of both DeGale’s opposition and his performances has seen him lose ground to his rival over the post year. Despite three of DeGale’s four fights during this period being shown live on Channel 5, he has struggled to impress and has been somewhat overshadowed by Hennessy’s other showcased fighters, Tyson Fury and Chris Eubank Jr., during this period.
During the eight-day period, from 16-23 November, both fighters will be in action, and the outcome of their respective fights will tell us a lot about their futures and who will go on to have the most productive career in the sport. The contrast in their opposition, though, is akin to night and day.
Up first is DeGale, whose fight is scheduled for 16 November against American Dyah Davis in Bluewater, Kent. Once again this is to be televised live on Channel 5 in the UK. Davis’s claim to fame is that he is the son of the brilliant former Olympic gold medallist, Howard, who was part of that outstanding US Olympic team of 1976, alongside Ray Leonard, the Spinks brothers and big John Tate. That really is the sole attraction attached to Dyah as he arrives on these shores. His ring performances have certainly been ordinary to say the least. He is a counter-puncher with scant power and brings little threat with him to Bluewater. It should be a routine mark-time exercise for DeGale.
One week later on 23 November, Groves is lined up to fight Carl Froch, one of the biggest names in the sport, in a massive box-office event which will probably end up as the biggest night of boxing of 2013 in the UK. Of course, the risk involved for Groves is massive. He is taking a huge step up in class against the vastly experienced Froch, whose WBA and IBF super-middleweight titles will be on the line. Adding to the difficulty factor is Groves’ recent break-up with long-time trainer and manager Adam Booth. This had looked like an unbreakable partnership and both parties are staying tight-lipped regarding the reason for the split at such a crucial point in George’s preparation for the biggest fight of his career. The odds in this fight therefore seem stacked against George.
The media attention that will come with the Froch fight will push Groves even further ahead of DeGale and into the public perception like never before. If he were to win, his reputation both at home and abroad would be propelled into the stratosphere. However, were he to suffer a bad knockout defeat, say in the manner of Lucian Bute against Froch in May last year, it would put him out of the picture, facing a rebuilding process with no promotional deal (the Froch fight is his last under the current Matchroom agreement). You can bet your bottom dollar, therefore, that although he might argue otherwise, DeGale is hoping against hope that Froch blasts Groves to defeat and thereby removes that particular obstacle from his path, something he has pointedly been unable to do himself. This would perhaps give DeGale the chance to step forward with his own challenge to Froch.
Whilst having no control over what happens to his rival a week later, DeGale will be keen to lay down a marker and reignite his own career by doing a job on Davis. He has argued long and hard that his uninspiring performances at the end of 2012 against Mohoumadi and Zuniga were solely due to the crippling knee injury that bothered him during this period. James says that the knee is now healed and that there will be no more excuses. He certainly looked back to his best in his last fight in June against Croatian, Stjepan Bozic, stopping the tough veteran in four. So British fans will be watching closely, both at the venue and live on Channel 5, as he attempts to do a better job on Dyah Davis than did current WBC champion Sakio Bika, who stopped Davis in 10 in 2012. Chunky at his best can certainly achieve this.
DeGale’s best chance of title success would seem to be a challenge to German WBO champion Robert Stieglitz. However, it looks as though that avenue will be blocked off as Stieglitz negotiates a rubber match with local rival Arthur Abraham for the new year. He has now been nominated to fight in an eliminator for the aforementioned Bika’s WBC title against Mexican, Marco Antonio Periban. However, this is not even a final eliminator and seems a rather convoluted route to take.
Whatever the future holds for these two talented super middleweights, their destinies seem interlinked. It appears inevitable that their paths will cross again one day inside a boxing ring. The outcome of these eight days in November may well give us a pointer as to when that might happen.