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True Grudge: Why American Fight Fans Should Care About James DeGale v. George Groves

James DeGale and George Groves don't have to fake a rivalry. Their May 21 fight is a true grudge match. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
James DeGale and George Groves don't have to fake a rivalry. Their May 21 fight is a true grudge match. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

On May 21, Sky Box Office in the UK offers a big show from the O2 Arena in London. While the night's main event will see 24-year-old Welshman Nathan Cleverly look to gain his first "world title" against German veteran Juergen Braehmer, it's the grudge between British super middleweight prospects James "Chunky" DeGale and "Saint" Groves that has more buzzing.

As far as pure fight goes, DeGale-Groves might be the May fight I am most looking forward to seeing.

This is not to say that Braehmer-Cleverly is an underwhelming matchup. In fact -- if it happens -- I'm quite excited to see Cleverly take on a good punching guy who has been around the block, and also excited to see Braehmer fight outside of Germany. I'm not bashing that fight at all.

It's just that you don't often get fights like DeGale-Groves.

DeGale (10-0, 8 KO) is an Olympic gold medalist, the current British super middleweight champion, and one of the top prospects in all of boxing, definitely the top prospect in the super middleweight division. Promoted by Frank Warren, DeGale has benefited from plenty of TV time, though it would be unfair to say he's become popular. With his showboating style and bratty attitude, DeGale has made as many "haters" as he has fans, if not more.

But results don't lie, and DeGale can fight.

Then you have George Groves. At 23, he's a couple of years younger than DeGale. Groves (12-0, 10 KO) is promoted by Hayemaker. He claimed the Commonwealth title last year, and overcame a tough Kenny Anderson in November to earn a shot at the British belt. Against all odds, two of Britain's top boxing prospects will meet before they become major stars.

And they'll meet because they just plain don't like each other, and there's an old score to settle.

This is a true grudge match. So often we see fighters pretend they hate each other, throw around ridiculous insults, and try to get under the skin of their coming opponent. Some fighters, such as Ricardo Mayorga, have even made big money almost entirely due to these tactics.

But DeGale and Groves, if they don't hate each other, at least strongly dislike one another. They met as amateurs, with Groves getting the upper hand. DeGale told The Independent:

"I can't stand him and it's mutual. It goes back 10 years. Basically he's been living in my shadow. He beat me [holding up his two index fingers to italicise the phrase] in the national championships but two years later it was me they chose for the Olympics. We both boxed for the same amateur club and since I won that gold medal he's always been bitter and a bit jealous."

Most see DeGale as the fighter with more skill, and that's how I'd call it, too. But we have seen Groves overcome serious challenge as a professional already. He was in legitimate trouble against Anderson, only to storm back hard and stop his opponent in the sixth round. Every fighter eventually shows cracks. DeGale, to date, has not. It could be his old rival Groves who shines a light on DeGale's flaws.

One of the UK's biggest stars, Carl Froch, said a year ago that Groves is "made of the tough stuff," and expressed his respect for the young fighter:

And while the fighters lob insults back and forth -- DeGale constantly refers to Groves as "that ugly ginger kid" -- they both know they're gearing up for the biggest fight of their pro careers. Taking a fight of this risk and danger so early in their pro development could really set the loser back a step. The fact that the personal issue is the real deal only amps that up, too.

American fight fans don't generally pay much attention to domestic-level fights in the UK, or even, for the most part, European-level fights. But this is a fight that US fans should pay attention to. This is a real rivalry. These are two very real prospects. And they're going to have a real fight on May 21.

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