By Terence Dooley
'If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.'
Time builds, destroys and rebuilds boxing careers, throwing up challenges, setbacks and let downs en route to success. Adam Booth, trainer and manager of David Haye and George Groves, has endured criticism, the occasional knock back and the fury of one or two boxing figures yet he is currently riding high on a wave of victory.
“It is as satisfying as anything I've achieved to date for a number of reasons,” explained Booth as he analysed George Groves' British and Commonwealth 168lb title annexing win. “More so for the fact of the amount of pressure that was on George. We now know that he's a big game player. That he can go into a real grudge match and still fight using his skills and things that didn't come naturally to him. Boxing in a way that he hasn't had to box before and doing it on a big stage. That is really satisfying. I'm ecstatic.”
Groves' punch perfect punctuation point's win over bitter London rival James DeGale at the Capital's O2 Arena on Saturday night stands as a testament to self-belief, a department in which George never wavered, as well as the importance of formulating and sticking to a game plan.
George deviated from the plot when beating Kenny Anderson last November. He went away, worked on his art and kept a calm head during Saturday's win. A victory that Booth lists amongst the finest of a career that has taken in undisputed cruiserweight status, heavyweight success and a World Amateur Championships silver medal, all with Haye.
“Of course”, he said to my question of whether he was impressed with how Groves dealt with the hype surrounding the contest, “because what he had to do was beat someone tactically. Whether it comes down to out-boxing them or out-fighting them, you've got to think about what you're doing every second of every round.
“Let all the other stuff float around outside your head, don't absorb it and don't get absorbed with it. It is one thing knowing you can do something, it is another thing going out having learned it and showing you can do it. Now it is time for George to settle down a bit, slow down a bit and work on different things to improve as a fighter.
“When someone has that amount of fire in their belly, a love for a tear up, then of course it is always about getting them to think logically rather than just going on instinct. You know the fighting spirit is always there but it can be channelled into other little steps. That fighting energy can be put into a jab, then you release it by letting punches go but you don't do it with emotion, you do it with your brain knowing that once you've had that tear up for a few seconds you go back to doing something else.”
Groves was floored in the third round of his Commonwealth title defence against Anderson; the tough Scot handed George some meaty blows during the November 13th scrap, impressing on the 23-year-old the importance of not eschewing the lessons of the gym for the machismo of a punch up.
“It is a lesson that every fighter has to learn. It is something you need to go through rather than just have someone tell you how to get through it. That Kenny Anderson fight was like the Carl Thompson [versus David Haye] one because it helped him understand that what you do in the gym has to be what you do on fight night. However obvious and logical that sounds it doesn't always come into the fights,” ruminated Booth.
“I knew his mindset (on Saturday) was to be prepared for anything and stay doing what he does. What I see now is him getting back into the gym after a little break to work on things that we haven't had to work on because we were on this particular game plan for a while. Since the Anderson fight it was all about James DeGale so that is half-a-year just working on winning the DeGale fight. A lot of things have been left on the shelf. We can dust them off and work on them again.”
Booth's calm corner work permeated through to 'Saint' George, who had the patience of the proverbial when under attack. Opting to get on his toes rather than seeking to match fire with fire. When Groves did land, Adam warned his charge not to “get greedy”.
“Don't get drunk on your success,” he explained. “You will win as long as you are hitting and don't get hit. Remember, any fighter who throws a shot leaves an opening so the more you punch the more vulnerable you are to getting hit.
“It was the type of fight, because he was in with a good boxer, where you can't afford to just let your hands go without thought. It was about keeping to the rhythm we worked on. Don't get greedy just because you've landed a good shot because James has got a good chin and you'd have to follow through on him. Just chip away, take it away from him mentally and technically.”
DeGale was greeted by a smattering of boos when he made his way to the ring, a reaction to his pre-fight persona. Although those who have spoken to James, this writer included, have seen the considered, humble side of the 25-year-old the TV spots leading into the contest saw 'Chunky' take a number of verbal swipes at Groves, who responded in kind.
As Groves said, some members of the boxing public wanted him to win but many wrote him off as soon as the fight was signed; the two time ABA winner was aware that many in the trade felt he would come undone.
“I think you can look at that two ways,” says Booth as talk turns to whether the underdog status had impacted on George. “You've got all these media and Internet tools these days so imagine you're going to have a fight with someone and everyone out there, the experts, are saying you can't win. You've got to have total commitment to stay on track and not let that affect you, and George didn't let it affect him, he knew he was going to win that fight.
“Boxing is about styles, styles make fights and if you don't respect what someone else can do then you're not fully prepared. I've watched the fight a few times now, twice with the volume turned down, and I had it 115-113. James needs to take a rest, look after himself and like I said, James is a good fighter – there was never any doubt about that.”
DeGale slipped to 10-1 (8) when the majority decision came in. His usual bubbly demeanour was not on show during the post-fight presser. There are now genuine fears that this setback could knock his confidence and development. Booth, though, believes that there is still a bright future for the southpaw. Saying, “It all depends on James, he's a good fighter with attributes and he'll beat a lot of good fighters out there. To beat all the fighters he comes across he needs to have all the tools in his tool box.”
“Whenever I work on something with George, I tell him that that's another tool for his box and when he turns up for a job he may have to use those specific tools. James still has a lot of tools to put into his box. It is one thing to say you'll improve but you've got to get out there and do it. He'll have to have the desire, that is one thing, plus the determination and discipline to do it as well as understanding. Practice only makes perfect when the practice itself is perfect. That is his challenge. If I was him, I wouldn't follow the old cliché of getting straight back into the gym – I'd take a bit of time.
“He needs to come to terms with the fact that he lost. It may have been a close loss and he disagrees with the decision but it is a loss – how do you deal with the disappointment of that? How can you train and work on things with that disappointment still hanging over you? He has to get over it, get back to the gym and be a professional.
“Punching yourself out, getting stopped and hurt is different to losing a close, technical battle so there is a lot of pluses James can take away from the fight. But he mustn't celebrate his strengths, he should work on his weaknesses. James is a good fighter, an Olympic gold medallist, the win is a good mark of where George is at this time but they both have to keep improving.”
Booth's goodwill does not extend to DeGale's trainer, Jim McDonnell; his attitude towards the former world title challenger was summed up by a hand signal directed towards McDonnell as the result was read out. When speaking about Adam's gesture, Jim said, “That was a disgraceful thing to do to a fellow pro”.
“What I had a disagreement with Jim about was what happened at the press conference on Thursday,” countered Booth. “It was to do with how he confronted me when I had my two-year-old daughter in my hands. That was my problem with Jim.”
Inevitably, the 'UK's online man of the moment' torch has been passed to Booth, who was quick to point out that he enjoys the plaudits but is aware of the dangers of believing in one's own hype. He said, “There was a quote I read a long time ago when I was doing things that weren't going quite so well and it was, 'Treat praise and criticism as the same imposter'.”
“You can't absorb praise and ignore criticism. If you're not susceptible to one then you mustn't be susceptible to the other. You've got to have conviction in what you do. It is nice when people take time out from their day to say nice things and share in a moment of celebration. That is really appreciated but it doesn't change what I am as a coach, whether I'm a success or not.
“I've seen it so many times where people get dizzy on their own success but it is always my ambition to strive to be better. I'm never good enough and will never be good enough. That is just me and how I deal with it.”
Booth has a single-minded determination, it is shared by Haye and Groves. I have often wondered if the trainer seeks out fighters who share his way of doing things or moulds them into Boothesque Padawans. Adam thought for a moment before outlining the things he looks for in a potential charge.
“I work best with people who are realists. People who you don't need to lie to. Even when leading up to a fight, and if things aren't going well, you don't just boost them up blindly but say, 'If you do that then this will happen and if that happens you won't win, you'll lose'. We're realists even during the difficult times. David and George are both realists. We gel, we understand each other, that understanding creates a bond, the bond becomes a belief and the belief becomes a conviction.
“George and David are the only two fighters that I'll train. I have no thoughts of any other fighters. I have enough with these two. I stress over what I do and have my own life and family outside of boxing, although I haven't much of a life at the moment because I obsess over what I do. There is only a certain amount that I can give. George and David are people that I gain immense satisfaction from working with and who are close friends. I get a great amount of enjoyment from my working life because I get to do something I choose to do with the people I choose to do it with. And that is all you can ask for.”
Groves, now 13-0 (10), and Booth certainly enjoyed their night's work on Saturday, striking a relaxed, happy pair when facing the press at the O2 Arena. Booth chuckled at the memory of letting a few belly laughs break out during Groves' entertaining post-fight ruminations.
“When we're sitting down in the press conference you don't want to see us jumping around in celebration like fools. People want to know what we're thinking and what's in our heads so we talked about what you guys saw and things we believed. Then we let it run riot a bit and savoured the moment, which is all we are doing at the minute as far as George is concerned. But I can't do that totally because I’ve got to put it in the bag until July 2nd,” declared Booth, his mind turning to the showdown between world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko and WBA boss David Haye.
Haye, Groves and Booth have been jokingly described as practitioners of 'Dark Energy'. The term was coined by legendary Internet forum poster Flint Island. It has come to define a certain calmness and unstinting self-belief in what you are doing, with Booth painted as the 'Dark Lord' of this energy. Indeed, boxing artist Stewart Howe mocked up a comic strip image of Booth in his full 'Dark Lord' regalia, much to Adam's amusement.
“It is funny,” chuckled Booth. “Around the time David was to fight Mark Hobson, before he was European champion and around the advent of the boxing forums, I got drawn into the forums. Then I realised I was spending a lot of time and energy reading things and arguing. It was very distracting.
“Then someone emails me a picture the other day of me done up as the 'Dark Lord'. It really tickled me and it was a nice bit of fun that was a bit outside of boxing. It is nice to share the fun things like that with people in moments of celebration so I did have a look at the (ESB British) forum and posted a couple of messages. It tickles me that people pay attention to what I do.”
“I had a superhero outfit made up as well, didn't I,” he laughed. “What cracked me up was the belt buckle with a little 'A.B.'. I've had a lot on my plate for the past few years but because I've got half the workload this week I've got more time. David trains quite late, I come home, have some food and I'm not as exhausted as I was when I was also training George for this fight. I sit there about three in the morning when I can't sleep and have a look at the forums. It is really entertaining. It is funny.”
These bursts of levity are a good thing, especially when you are at the business end of a sport that chews people up and spits them out. “Yes, boxing is a great sport but a disgusting business,” mused Booth, who closed out the interview by pointing out that too many people are overlooking the qualities of Wlad Klitschko due to his perceived chin problems, which was the exact same situation faced by Groves going into the DeGale bout.
“It shows that people must never underestimate Wlad's boxing ability. They go on about his chin but overlook his skills, and those skills are what makes this a fascinating battle,” says Booth, the irony being that people do the same thing when writing off Haye's hopes going into the unification battle.
'Dark Lord' comic image courtesy of Stewart 'Long Count' Howe.
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