Dave Oakes previews this Saturday's British Super-Middleweight Title clash between James DeGale and George Groves.
After a build-up that’s been a constant pain in the ears, the boxing fraternity can now look forward to the much anticipated grudge match between James DeGale and George Groves, which takes place at the O2 Arena this Saturday.
There’s been a simmering feud between DeGale and Groves since their amateur days together at Dale Youth in north London. The gym mates, whilst never being friendly, were always cordial towards one another, that was until the day they met in the regional final of the ABA’s.
After a close fought four rounder it was Groves who was awarded the decision, much to the dismay of DeGale. The result soured an already fragile relationship and the pair would hardly speak to one another from that day onwards. Groves went on to claim the ABA title that year (DeGale had won the title the previous two years), whilst DeGale went on to Olympic glory.
DeGale says Groves is jealous of his Olympic success and claims he’s bitter, even though it’s DeGale who has come across that way in the press conferences and interviews he’s done prior to the fight. Groves has been calm and composed for the most part, whereas DeGale has come across like a spoiled child that’s dropped his lolly onto a dirty floor.
The needle between the pair is for real, there’s no doubt about that, but one gets the feeling it’s DeGale who has the most hatred bubbling away inside him – something that can be a positive or a negative depending on how he uses that emotion.
DeGale rightly starts the fight as the odds on favourite, the manner of his win over Paul Smith proving his worth to the few remaining cynics. Smith is a top championship level fighter and the way DeGale slowly dismantled him showed what a precocious talent he is. It’s even more impressive when you take into consideration DeGale was fighting in front of Smith’s raucous Scouse army at the Echo Arena.
Whilst DeGale flourished in his biggest test, Groves struggled in his – having to get off the floor to stop Kenny Anderson. The ease in which Anderson caught Groves clean must be a worry for Groves’ trainer Adam Booth. Groves’ defence had always been his weakness but the way he was pulling his head back and moving back in straight lines was appalling and something he must rectify if he’s to progress beyond domestic level.
Long time readers will be aware of how highly I rate Anderson - problems outside of the ring combined with inactivity have blighted a once promising career - so it must be said that Groves deserves credit for coming back to stop the capable Scot, who was tiring badly after four rounds.
The positive from the Anderson fight was that it showed Groves has the heart to dig deep when needed to, DeGale hasn’t needed to show those qualities yet, something Groves will be hoping to change on Saturday.
Groves can be overly cautious at times, he likes to faint, faint, and faint again before letting his hands go – he’s very much a product of Adam Booth, the similarities between his style and that of David Haye are evident. He doesn’t hit as hard as Haye, but he certainly hits hard enough to hurt most boxers, DeGale included, at super-middle.
His style is great when everything’s flowing nicely for him, as was witnessed against Charles Adamu, but it’s not so effective when he’s put on the back foot. He looks untidy and easy to hit when under pressure - the way he carries his lead hand so low may look pretty to the uneducated but it’s asking for trouble, there aren’t many boxers who’ve been able to get away with it, apart from a handful of Ingle boxers.
DeGale may be brash, his behaviour in the build-up doing him no favours with many observers, but he really does look an exceptional talent. His foot speed, quick combinations and slick defence are a pleasure to watch, and whilst he isn’t a massive puncher, he hits hard enough to gain the respect of his opponents. The fact he’s a southpaw supplements those qualities and makes him even harder to contend with.
I feel the biggest danger for DeGale will be his own approach to the fight; he can’t allow his emotions to get the better of him. He could find himself in trouble if he loses his composure and goes in swinging early on; Groves is sharp enough to take advantage of any rash attacks and hits hard enough to take DeGale out.
I believe Groves will try to be aggressive early, although his propensity for waiting for openings may lead it to being a cat and mouse affair rather than a toe-to-toe battle. Unless Groves lands something spectacular early on, I can’t see him beating DeGale, whose speed and skills should prove too much for his rival to cope with.
As long as DeGale keeps a calm head, he should overwhelm a brave but outgunned Groves by the eighth round.