In May 2011 two of British boxing’s biggest hopes had what amounted to a domestic superfight. In one corner stood James Degale, Olympic Champion, brash, cocky, some would say arrogant, undefeated as a professional, promoted by the leading force in British boxing. In the other stood George Groves, likewise an amateur star (if not quite to the same degree), likewise cocky (if not quite so brash) and likewise undefeated as a professional. But most of all he held an amateur win over DeGale… a win DeGale bitterly wanted to prove was a fluke, was bad amateur judging, did not accurately represent the pairs true talent.
Over 12 tense, close rounds the two played cat and mouse, darting in and out, countering, moving. It was not a classic matchup, it was not a “war” in truth it was barely even one for the purists. It is not a bout I’d watch again with any great pleasure. And after those 12 rounds Groves was declared the winner.
The two had come into the bout in roughly the same position. DeGale obviously had the additional name value that being an Olympic champion brings but otherwise the pair were close. DeGale was 10-0, Groves was 12-0. Both had come to the top of the mountain domestically, DeGale with his win over Paul Smith and Groves with his victory over Kenny Anderson. The seemingly inevitable result of Groves’ win should have been his elevation. While DeGale was unlikely to fade away you’d think now, nearly two years later, that Groves would be far ahead. When DeGale left Warren and descended into promotional hell and Groves entered the Warren stable it only reinforced that view.
Things haven’t quite turned out that way…
If you look at where both boxers stand today then if anything, DeGale is in the ascendency. Since losing to Groves he has boxed and won four times, winning the European Title and the WBC Silver Title, the title he will defend against dangerous but untested Colombian Alexander Brand in his next bout. In and of itself those Silver belts don’t mean much, but what they do do is move a boxer up the rankings and position them for title shots; DeGale is currently ranked four by the WBC. After the fallout from his split with Warren settled he ended up signing with Mick Hennessy… which most importantly meant he started to appear on Channel 5. He has as much exposure as any boxer in Britain.
Groves in contrast has had three bouts, taking out the previously mentioned Paul Smith in two rounds to reassert his domestic credentials, a showcase bout in the US against limited Mexican Francisco Sierra and a high profile match-up against semi-retired legend Glen Johnson. The infrequent nature of these bouts has meant he struggled to get any real momentum and as they occurred on BoxNation, a channel with limited reach, his victories haven’t really resonated with the general public. There has been some bad luck involved for Groves, notably injuries; a rematch with Kenny Anderson was cancelled and a world title shot against Robert Steiglitz likewise had to be called off. If Groves had been able to face and beat Steiglitz then this entire conversation wouldn’t be happening.
But Groves didn’t face Steiglitz and this conversation is happening.
In some ways the conversation has gone full circle. While not so long ago it was DeGale leaving Warren now Groves… the acquisition of who was somewhat of a coup for Warren… has left the stable, signing with debonair Essex-boy Eddie Hearn. Hearn has been on a roll recently, providing Sky Sports with its entire domestic boxing package and showing the ability to secure the likes of Gavin Rees high profile world title shots in the US. In truth Warren looks somewhat vulnerable now with a limited stable of boxers (some of whom aren’t exactly happy) and even worse news as another of his high profile bouts, an excellent lightweight contest between Ricky Burns and Miguel Vazquez has been postponed. Kevin Mitchell (the writer, not the boxer) has done a couple of excellent articles on the rise of Hearn and the alleged fall of Warren over at the Guardian which are well worth a read.
So while DeGale is lining up for another high profile bout, Groves is on an undercard, welcomed to the bossum of Hearn’s Matchroom Sports with the soft touch 11-6-2 Dario German Balmaceda. Hearn intends to keep Groves busy and quickly move him into world title contention but as of this moment if you had to ask who is more likely to get a title shot assuming they both win their respective bouts DeGale would be the clear answer.
Both remain highly talented if somewhat vulnerable boxers. DeGale is self-admittedly lazy in the ring and has a bad habit of sitting on the ropes trying to cover-up and counter, a tactic that robs him of much of his handspeed and ability to put together combinations. Groves is an excellent boxer-puncher but there have been questions about his chin and the injury bug continues to haunt him. Both are relatively young both in age and boxing; 27 with 15 bouts for DeGale and 24 with 16 bouts for Groves and if both can consistently keep boxing regularly I’d expect both to improve.
But two years ago, when Groves was sat on the sofa of BBC Breakfast discussing his win over DeGale do you think he saw his career having played out the way it did? That he wouldn’t have boxed for a world title, that he had barely boxed at all?
That he in turn would be sat at home, on a sofa, watching James DeGale, the man he beat, box on one of the biggest channels in the UK and talk about his own title aspirations?
In this case, the victor didn’t get the spoils.