By Terence Dooley
“How many times do I have to beat this man – does he want best out of five?” joked George Groves after his narrow, tetchily contested majority decision win over bitter London rival James DeGale on Frank Warren’s big PPV show at the O2 Arena, London on Saturday night.
Scores of 115-115, from Richie Davies, and two lots of 115-114, Dave Parris and John Keane, were enough to hand Groves a deserved triumph – I had it 113-115 for Groves. More importantly, the 23-year-old added DeGale’s British title to his Commonwealth belt.
“I’m pretty sure I can find a better opponent out there than James DeGale,” said Groves as he mused over his next move. “I haven’t come out after winning tonight and made bold statements. My goal is to be world champion but I’m not setting a timescale.”
The fight itself was billed as ‘This Is It’. Many fans were left asking “Is that all?” after both fighters failed to reproduce the fireworks from the pressers and weigh in. Groves (167½lbs), however, fashioned a fine display of technical boxing to bamboozle DeGale. Building up a vital point’s lead over the course of the opening stanzas using lateral movement, a series of solid right hands and the technique of spinning DeGale whenever danger beckoned.
DeGale (167½lb), a gold medallist at the 2008 Olympics, had a look of concentration etched across his features early on yet it was Groves who got into his groove. Building his win one moment, one punch, one point and one round at a time en route to a satisfying success.
“It was about will to win and boxing ability,” stated Groves. “I beat DeGale in every aspect of his game, taking away his confidence and coming out the winner. I’ve beaten him but look at the cuts on my face, all from his head. This is my second win over him so what more do I need to do. I said that after I beat him I’d move on from the domestic scene.”
The new champion was cut over the left eye in round nine and suffered a gash on the forehead after another head clash in the eleventh; his right eye had bruised during the fourth.
DeGale was injured himself, a nick by his left eye in the ninth the first the real wound in a career that was chugging along perfectly until Saturday night’s defeat. A loss which looked on the cards as early as the fourth and fifth as ‘Chunky’ trundled after his foe, rather than cutting across him, and did not commit when he managed to close the gap.
Certainly, DeGale seemed to lose a bit of belief during the middle sessions only to come alive over the final third. Groves handed his rival a loss in the amateurs, this one must have felt sweeter still due to the circumstances surrounding it.
“It was satisfying when I beat him the first time purely because I’d been written off before it,” recalled the 13-0 (10) boxer. “I was written off even more widely this time. The whole nation was behind me but no one thought I could win.
“I’ve always wanted a Lonsdale belt. I said I’d go in with one title tonight and come out with two. Not one part of my boxing is perfect. We work on what I’ve got and what I need to bring on as a boxer to increase my boxing. We worked on punching long and out-classing him.
“We knew that one of his attributes was staying long and letting his hands go. We knew we were boxing on a rival promoters show so the concern was that he’d just let his slappy shots go and hope for a quick stoppage. When he wanted to open up I made sure I wasn’t there.
“I’ve always respected him as a fighter, just not as a person because of the nonsense he says. I’m happy to move on with my life. I shook hands with him and his trainer after the fight. I am ready to put all the nonsense behind me.”
DeGale, now 10-1 (8), bitterly disputed the decision. Groves, though, feels it would have been a clearer win had his opponent not resorted to a few dirty tricks – most notably the use of his elbow in rounds two and three and accidental head clashes in the ninth.
“If I didn’t have blood in my eyes from his head butts or problems with him stepping on my front foot or using his elbow then I’d have won clearer. Even with all that going on, I clearly won the fight,” blasted the 2007 and 2008 ABA middleweight title winner.
“Now he’s saying I nicked it. Didn’t he say beforehand that I couldn’t be all technical with him? I beat him long range when he said only one or two people can beat him at long range. Well I did it easy.
“James works on confidence, he’s forever getting encouragement from his trainer [Jim McDonnell] and it has worked for him so far. Even on the exercise bike he’s getting, ‘Good boy, good boy’, as soon as he stops hearing that he becomes clueless because nothing works and he runs out of ideas.
“I started going to the body and stomach (late), as I said I would, and he had nothing left. I had a gut check in the [Kenny] Anderson fight [last November]. I’m a big, strong man at the weight now and took a lot from the [sixth round TKO] win over Anderson.”
Groves took DeGale’s barbed comments in his stride during the build up; he has now taken his rival’s belt and is likely to receive a ratings boost. Groves insists that the lofty estimation placed on DeGale should now fall onto his shoulders.
“Yeah, DeGale is apparently world class, isn’t he? So I’m world class now and will get his ranking. We treated this fight like I was fighting [Andre] Dirrell, who does everything better than DeGale,” snorted Groves to questions of whether he will move up the world rankings.
“James is a good fighter with a good promoter so I’m sure he’ll get there. But I’ll be taking the most direct route.”
Groves clearly enjoyed the win. The Hammersmith-based warrior struck a relaxed figure when mulling the fight over. Even joking about his perceived chin troubles. “I’m supposed to be chinny so he can’t hit hard can he, clearly,” laughed Groves.
“Lucky for me my forehead is tough, it took some solid butts and I took some solid elbows on the chin, he is a dirty fighter. He got away with it and you have to respect him in that respect.
“I learned from the Anderson fight that you have to stick to your game plan. I put it into practice tonight and he was clueless. The blood flowed in my eyes. I couldn’t really see but it was OK.”
Adam Booth is proving to be British boxing’s man with the plan; the coach has given both Groves and David Haye the perfect blueprints ahead of their biggest performances. Telling George to “Not be greedy” when ‘Saint’ got too involved with James. Booth will now review the overall display, he was also adamant that his charge will not be forced into a rematch.
Saying, “I want to watch the fight again, see where he can improve and take our time with George. Frank can do and say what he wants (about a mandated) rematch. The board can do what they want. We’ll do what we want and what is best for George’s career. We always said that his career is not based on DeGale, it is about becoming world champion.”
Warren cut a disappointed figure; the veteran promoter has moved DeGale well but could only look on as his man meandered away the early rounds of this fight, always a mistake in a title contest. Frank, however, felt that his guy did enough to take the decision.
“I thought James won the fight by one or two points. There wasn’t a lot of action in the early rounds. I wanted to see him throw more. There was a period where there wasn’t much action from both guys. George was backing off, James was walking him down but wasn’t letting shots go, he should have threw more jabs and uppercuts. It was his fight to win,” insisted Warren.
“I don’t think George did enough. James didn’t look in distress tonight and at times George looked quite frail but he did what he had to do and caught two of the judges’ eyes.
“The board should order a rematch. The board ordered this fight so why not the rematch, who else is there for George to fight? It is a big fight, the crowd would come out again and looking on what we saw tonight I don’t think George will be around in a few years, and I’m not being nasty with that. Step him up in class and he’ll struggle. That is my opinion.”
All in all, the contest failed to live up to the hype: the styles did not gel, the fight did not ignite and the crowd booed gaps in the action. “The lack of action was from both of them,” argued Warren.
“If James was more emphatic in what he was doing then there’d have been no doubts. I’m not crying about it but I don’t think George won the fight. James gave it to him, if you want to look at it like that, because he could have been more emphatic in some rounds that lacked action. But I felt he won it. You have to jump on the other guy and show you’re the better fighter. James was never troubled, never looked like he’d be knocked over but it looked like George could have been gone a few times had James stepped it up.
“You have to learn from it. When you have the class James has you have to leave the judges with no doubt, he didn’t do that in the early rounds but look at the later rounds. He could have stopped him if he’d stepped it up.”
“James sold more tickets than anyone on the bill so someone must have been cheering for him. The crowd were booing the inaction – they weren’t booing him,” he said, bristling at the suggestion that DeGale has built a ‘bad boy’ image.
“People pay their money and can do what they like but we had all this when he made his debut. Fifty Irish guys boo him, it becomes the usual myth in boxing and they say the whole place was booing. One way or another the fight will happen again. I’m sure George doesn’t want a hollow victory so we’ll see what happens,” concluded Warren.
Breidis Prescott blasted Amir Khan aside in a single session only for inspired promotion and matchmaking to propel ‘King’ Khan back into world title contention. James, though, thrives on confidence, Groves has just laid down the template on how to beat the former amateur star: careful movement, stabbing straight shots and orthodox, solid boxing.
Although he disputed the result, James will be disappointed by his own mistakes when he reviews his performance, especially the fact that he often switched stance only to fail to pull the trigger regularly enough in either pose.
However, the 25-year-old will have to accept that there was a strong argument for him ceding the decision if he is to put this one behind him. But there was no sign of the southpaw confessing that he made a lot of mistakes on the night.
“How can you win the title as a challenger on the back foot like that?” he asked. “There were a couple of rounds that he nicked but I thought I won the majority of them, landed cleaner shots and hurt him.
“I could see what he was doing and that he wanted to nick it on the back foot. Amir and [David] Haye both got knocked out when they lost. He nicked the title from me. I want the rematch. I was pushing him, he was just moving and the judges have given it to him on the early rounds.
“We never liked each other, ever, and will always be opposites. He can’t be proud of how he won the title tonight. Everyone says they had me by one or two rounds. I want a rematch as soon as.”
Referee Howard Foster implored both men to produce more action during a tepid sixth round, a session that featured only six successful punches. Indeed, DeGale tried to spark things into life once or twice by verbally goading Groves only to find that his flame haired foe had ice in his veins.
“He said he’d knock me out in four rounds. Then he was moving around from the first bell and I thought, ‘Here we go’. I asked him to come and fight me,” admitted DeGale. “I thought he won a few of the first six but I won the late ones. I’ll be back and want the rematch as soon as. But I don’t really need Groves, if he wants to take the title like that then let him.”
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