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DeGale-Groves is kids' stuff

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Ben Dirs | 14:01 UK time, Thursday, 19 May 2011

According to some wise heads in the British press, the mud-slinging between James DeGale and George Groves over the last couple of months has demeaned boxing. They might be right, but only because it has been so much kids' stuff.

DeGale's list of insults is straight from the playground. He has mocked Groves' dress sense, accused him of having bad breath and dubbed him "that ugly ginger kid". Over and over again. For the record, an entirely unscientific poll of the women in my office revealed Groves is better looking. Ner-ner-ner-ner-ner, in your face DeGale!

But the nature of the verbals is entirely in keeping with the fight itself. DeGale may be defending his British super-middleweight crown at London's O2 Arena, but he and Groves have had only 22 professional fights between them. Whatever the hype-merchants want you to believe, compared to domestic grudge matches of the past, this one features little more than a couple of excitable pups.

It has nothing on Mark Kaylor v Errol Christie in 1985. At a pre-fight press conference held at a London casino, Kaylor attempted to push his middleweight rival into a fountain. Foiled, he decided to stick one on Christie once inside.

Such was the fear of racial unrest on fight night that, as well as a ramped-up police presence, members of a London football firm were invited along to provide extra security - which is a bit like asking the Taliban to keep the peace in Afghanistan. To use the vernacular, the build-up to that bout was proper naughty.

James DeGale, Frank Warren and George Groves

Promoter Frank Warren struggles to keep old adversaries DeGale and Groves apart

However, while hardly Kaylor v Christie, DeGale v Groves is coursing with genuine bad blood. As amateurs, the pair shared the same gym, Dale Youth in west London. Both say they were never friends, but mutual tolerance curdled to mutual disdain when Groves beat DeGale on the way to winning his first ABA title in 2007.

"We weren't close before," Commonwealth champion Groves, 23, tells BBC Sport, "but that was the nail in the coffin. It meant he wasn't number one in the country - and he wasn't even number one in his gym. That was a bitter pill for him to swallow."

"That win is the only thing he's got on me," counters DeGale, who is two years older than his rival. "I don't think I lost that fight and a lot of people in boxing don't think I lost it. I was so far ahead I took my foot off the gas and started showboating. Maybe all the old judges round the ring didn't like that. They were all 70 or 80, it was a joke."

Groves won his second ABA title the following year but it was DeGale who took the middleweight slot at the Olympics in Beijing, where he won gold. "Since I won that medal," says DeGale, "he's always been bitter and jealous." As well Groves might.

The phoney war has been a game of two halves. DeGale's antics at the press conference to announce the fight looked a lot like bullying, largely because Groves had clearly been briefed not to retaliate. Rather than look dignified, the younger man just looked rattled.

Then, in a memorable head-to-head interview on Sky, DeGale tried the same schtick, only this time it backfired. Less passive than before, Groves still managed to make DeGale look insufferably bombastic. The comments below the video on YouTube revealed the champion had managed to leak a few thousand more fans.

"Success can go to anyone's head and he had a big head to fill in the first place," says Groves, who is unbeaten in 12 paid fights and hails from Hammersmith. "He's called me ugly - wow! It doesn't really cut too deep. He's called me ginger - it's not the first time I've heard that. That's the level he's at as a human being, but I'm above all that.

"At the press conference he was shouting insults at me from the other end of the table but sat next to me during the Sky interview, he could feel my presence. He suddenly realised I'm not who he thought I was. I'm a grown man who can string a sentence together, I'm not a child like he hoped I would be."

Says DeGale, unbeaten in 10 fights and from round the corner in Harlesden: "George Groves remembers me from four or five years ago, that's the last time we shared a ring. But I'm a different kind of animal now. I've come on heaps, he ain't, and he'll get a big shock on the night."

A question sports journalists often get asked is "what's he or she actually like?" In truth, it is difficult to get to know someone when contact is restricted to 15-minute interviews. But, I have to admit, I like DeGale: the patter, the twinkle in the eye, the well-timed deliveries ("of course I'll shake hands with him... after I've knocked him out"). He's just playing the game, and it's a game he usually plays well.

"It's all part of it," says DeGale. "I love it, all the mind games, all the banter, all the needle. What do you want me to do? If there were two George Groves at that first press conference, this fight would have bombed. Boxing's missing a bit of banter and, let's not forget, I'm making George money. He's getting a great pay-day, the best he's ever got. Although I'm getting a better one."

Groves is confident he will have the lion's share of support at a sold out O2, and he is probably right: British fight fans do not tend to warm to grandstanders, and DeGale fits that bill. But the $64,000 question is this: who will the boys back at Dale Youth be cheering on?

"Whenever I go down there they're all on my side," says Groves. "But then again, I don't go down there on junior night when the 12-year-olds are training. Maybe the kids are leaning towards DeGale, maybe they understand the things he says."

"This guy is living in some mad dream," says DeGale. "I trained with two of them the other day, Steve O'Meara and Simon O'Donnell - whose team are they in? My God, George Groves is so annoying..."

If this fight had taken place a couple of years down the line, as maybe it should have, perhaps the verbals - as well as the action in the ring - would have been more manly. But it would be churlish to complain. These boys really do not like each other, which is a recipe for a fun old night - and there aren't enough of those in boxing nowadays.

As well as my blogs, you can follow me when I'm out and about - or on the sofa - at http://twitter.com/bendirs1 

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I agree, too early for this fight, particularly for Groves who's footwork and defence still need work, unfortuately for all the hype I see Degale out boxing Groves but rivalry does funny things to people. Shame about the Cleveley shambles, just hope his head is right for the fight, if it is the replacement should cause no problems. As for a recipe for a fun old night, for once it's a great card, got my money I'll be there ringside, as well as the big two you've got Lewis Ree's fighting, be interesting to watch him, the Simmons fight should be decent, Smith coming back off the Degale loss, and then Gavin and Saunders, although they should both win comfortably. I'm one of the first in the queue to knock Warren, but fair play this is decent event.

  • Comment number 2.

    I know Groves is Hayes 'prodigy' but DeGale reminds me of so much of Haye before a fight, constantly trying to bully his opponents, slating them at every oppurtunity. It either works for you or against you, you get guys like Gomez who would wind his opponent up so badly he would get a pasting come fight night, DeGale tho is a real class act, the way he picked Smith apart was a joy to watch, Groves was very very poor when he faced Anderson and was very lucky to get the fight stopped.

    Both will turn out to be brilliant fighters in time, i just think DeGale is better and it will show on the night with a 9th round stoppage.

  • Comment number 3.

    Professional boxing seems more and more like wrestling with the pre-fight build up involving each fighter trash talking the other and suggesting it's a grudge match which will be a tear up, which the fight itself never seems to match.

    It's marketing to try and sell the fight nothing more nothing less.

    Wait till the end of the fight and see how much respect they give each other, and then judge if the "grudge" is anything more than a press stunt to sell the fight. I suspect they will be friendly to each other and the facade of "mutual dislike" will disappear until the next re-match.

  • Comment number 4.

    I have to agree - it's all a bit silly. DeGale does have a point though - if there were two Groves' in this fight it would be a dull build up. It's getting silly now though - especially the 'bet' at yesterday's press conference. The authorities won't sanction that, so it's all clearly all for the cameras (remember this is a PPV event, after all). Warren must be laughing.

    I know very little about either fighter, but the impression I get is that DeGale is trying to tempt Groves to come out and swing at him by goading him in the build-up.

    If he takes the bait then DeGale's three round KO prediction will probably happen. I'm hoping Groves boxes a bit more clever than that. I still think he will lose, but if he can get DeGale in the 'trenches' it will then be down to who blinks first.

    Just hope it lives up to the hype!

  • Comment number 5.

    How is this still on PPV? there are no world class fights!!!

    @1 i can see where your coming from they are good fighters, but there all just starting off fighting nobodys getting the rounds under there belt. apart from cleverly none of them have had more than 15 fights.

    @3 completley agree with you. All this pre fight hatred is just a tool to try sell the fight, if fighters deserve to be on PPV they they will be, by the class of opponent they are fighting. All these fights will all be 1 sided contests apart from degale v groves if degale gets his game plan wrong.

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi Ben,

    I thought it was only me who thought Degale is acting like a child! I believe that both fighters can win this, but it's important for Groves to keep his discipline, if he can do that throughout the fight he has a chance, I think Degale might be taking Groves' somewhat underrated power and speed too lightly, having said that, Degale is super-confident with fast hands and power of his own. The build yp has been comical, and doesn't show DeGale in a good light for me, but he's the type to back it up in the ring. The difference in this fight might simply come down to DeGale having a better chin. A good old scrap, with the boxers showing that they are able to adapt in the ring is what I'm looking forward to.

  • Comment number 7.

    No way is this fight too early, I think it's great that they get it on now and we have meaningful domestic fights. There's no reason why the loser can't still reach the top. If they both keep progressing, then who knows, they may one day have a re-match for a world title. That would be fantastic and then this fight would mean a lot more than some amateur fight that no-one saw. Mexcian fighters get in the ring with other contenders early on, why shouldn't our boys. There's too much fear in losing an unbeaten record. Fighters are too protected. David Haye did it right in getting knocked silly by Carl Thompson, he said himself, he learnt a lot in that fight. It's a great shame Hatton never fought Witter or Khan. Get it on and then whoever wins get in with Froch somewhere down the line. Staying unbeaten isn't everything.

  • Comment number 8.

    What I was most shocked about was how Jim Mcdonnell acted at yesterdays press conference. He acted like the school bully's best friend, constantly whispering into Degale's ear, then jumping up when Degale made the 'bet' with Groves.

    Ben, I do agree that this fight could have happened further down the line, perhaps when one held a world title - which I think James will do in 18 months time. However I do find it admirable in an age where many boxers like to bolster there records, and are so seemingly worried about losing there '0', that these two are getting it on so early in their respective careers.

    As for my prediction. I think it will be closer then many people believe, and I feel that Groves will trouble Degale like he has not been before. However I generally believe Degale is going to be a somewhat special boxer, and I think he will win by late stoppage.

  • Comment number 9.

    I personally think DeGale is a jumped up ignorant and stupid bully. He has got obvious talent but absolutely no grace. I hope Groves humiliates him and if he doesn't then Froch decimates him. Will probably make him return a better and more humble fighter....see Khan

  • Comment number 10.

    Think itll be the best fight on the card thats for sure but as for paying £15 for a playground scrap and a world champion who is really not that good I think ill just tune in to the radio. It is quite an interesting fight but I dont think Groves is well rounded enough to hurt Degale so if he doesnt knock him out in the first 6 its definitely Degales fight. Degale is the only world class boxer on the card and I think he is destined for big things. Groves will need to improve a lot if he is going to break into the world elite. Cleverly just isnt good enough to be a world champion he has not fought a single world class fighter and although he will win on saturday he will be knocked off his perch soon enough. Much better fights to watch on PPV in the coming months including Haye-Klitschko so put your money away and listen to Steve Bunce would be my advice.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think DeGale is doing his best to hype a relatively pedestrian domestic fight. As a previous poster says, the pre-fight it is all getting a bit WWE, but unlike that nonsense, it will be real when the guys are in the ring.

    (I read once that a WWE 'star' was talking about leaving because he had not got enough good 'storylines' of late. You cannot compare professional boxing - where guys genuinely put themselves on the line - with such dross.)

    The interview I saw with Groves showed him to be sensible and impressive, but I still think he's going to lose. He's fighting the Olympic gold medallist! Considering the Cleverly fiasco, I think both guys should be applauded for trying to make this an event for British boxing.

  • Comment number 12.

    Although it would be great to see these two fight when they're a little more seasoned i agree with those saying it's refreshing to see two unbeaten young prospects - as for the moment that's all they are, despite their titles - risking defeat. Especially given that they seem to detest one another.

    Viewing from afar, i actually think both seem quite likeable guys. Groves is obviously more more down to earth and seems quite dry, but Degale just makes me laugh, even though this 'ugly ginger' stuff, childish to start with, has worn off completely. It wasn't funny in the first place and i'm not ugly (apparently) or ginger (definitely).
    Still, i think a lot of it is tongue in cheek and he clearly knows what's required to sell the fight.

    So good luck and fair play to both of them, and i'm sure given their age, history and ability this won't be their last fight against one another.

  • Comment number 13.

    This is a great match up no doubt, but wouldn't it be in everyone's interest to build up these fighters where your average sports fan can watch on sky sports 1 or 2 [even better a free channel]. hardly anyone will know there's a fight this weekend whilst most other major sports will be covered with easy access.
    boxing could be a headlining sport if managed correctly, but instead its been sailed down the river for a fast buck for the few... what a shame for the sport and the fans

  • Comment number 14.

    @fatloz

    I must say I totally agree with you there in regards to this should not be a PPV event, especially with the lose of a credible opponent for Nathan Cleverly. A card like tomorrow would be perfect exposure for the sport, and would ignite interest back into the sport.

    That being said there has been much media coverage to do with this fight, and it does seem to have caught the public imagination. Indeed, when discussing it with a few casual sports fans a while back they were talking about the Degale vs Groves, as opposed to what was going to be the Cleverly vs Braehmer, fight going on at the O2.

  • Comment number 15.

    I have been stunned by just how much contempt has built up in me towards DeGale over the last few months. I have found him immature and annoying, I understand the importance of mind games in boxing but with consistent comments about Groves breath, clour of his hair and his looks have I beleive turned the knowledgable boxing fan off. I have found him irratating beyond belief and as he as talented as he is egotistical. I will not be wasting my money on this as I feel the line up does not merit £15, however I wish George Groves the best and hope he comes out victorious.

  • Comment number 16.

    hi guys, could anyone tell me possibly when this fight will start, i know the programme starts at 8 but if anyone could tell me when this fight is on that would be appreciated.

  • Comment number 17.

    @Medio - It slated for 21:35 approx.

  • Comment number 18.

    cheers buddy

  • Comment number 19.

    I don't normally buy into the playground stuff. These two don't like each other much but it's not exactly Morales v Barerra or Spinks/ODLH/anyone for that matter v Mayorga. Mayorga may not be the absolute crassest but he's got to be up there! He made Haye sound like a doe-eyed fanboy.

  • Comment number 20.

    I'd be surprised if Groves wins - even his friend Carl Froch can't bring himself to back him for victory, merely for a 50/50 chance. There's the psychological aspect of course - Groves having beaten De Gale before could throw De Gale off his game. I think that he's so well drilled now that he won't be thrown like that though. Groves is a decent prospect but raw. He looks to me like a future good pro, not a future world champ. Think Jon Thaxton. The parallel I'd draw here is with Thaxton v Hatton when both were on their way up. Thaxton lost and kept improving, then reached a very good level, Hatton went stratospheric. I suspect we'll see Groves lose, become a very good domestic pro but not quite world class, with De Gale moving onwards and upwards. Better this way than for Groves to be like poor Junior Witter, who is better known for being turned down by Hatton than for his WBC title win.

  • Comment number 21.

    I'm on a hat-trick - 3 posts in a row. Never happened on 606!

    Although I've said that De Gale will probably win, I hope that whoever does (and I like Groves, just think De Gale's a better boxer) is the next big thing at SMW. With Froch enjoying only hard fights he may be washed up by 2013. Beat Glencoffe to face 'Homer' Ward, if Showtime let him win that it's a unification against Bute or Kessler (Showtime's clear preference is a US winner of Super6, giving Ward all home fights). IF the cobra beats all of them, the winner of this or even Clev may follow and possibly a handing over of the baton to the next generation. Or it's possible that Groves, De Gale and Clev could all face one another over the coming years.

  • Comment number 22.

    Its interesting that these guys are accused of playground insults, I think its all been rather tame!

    Look at the things said before fights by the likes of Mayorga, Tyson, Mayweather and even Haye in recent years - talk of ending opponents' careers, serious injuries, mothers not recognising their son after the fight etc.

    I think both these guys have been told to moderate it and they have. A few jibes about being ginge won't upset anyone outside of boxing, so I think they should get credit for not overstepping the boundaries of taste, as much as being considered purile for their juvenile cursing!

  • Comment number 23.

    If one accepts that in boxing the psychology of the fighter is as important as technique and strength in order to win a fight, then this could go either way. DeGale constantly mocking Groves sounds less and less like confidence and more and more like insecurity now.

    Furthermore, I think his Olympic gold medal may be an irrelevance. Remember, Audley A-Farce Harrison won Olympic gold and look what happened when he took on a real fighter in David Haye.

    DeGale edges it but this definitely could go either way in my view.

  • Comment number 24.

    I see it that Groves beat DeGale and DG has some deep seated doubts hence all the posturing, conversely Groves has done a good job of winding up DG and has hit a nerve. The paradox with boxing is if you loose your temper in the ring your intentions become very predictable. If Groves has improved in his camp and can keep his chin out of trouble, then Groves on points. im off to the bookies with that.

  • Comment number 25.

    Can't wait till DeGale knocks out Groves and then goes on to do the same to Carl Froch

  • Comment number 26.

    I'm thinking something unpredictably predictable.....like a draw which sets up a monster of a trilogy that spans two whole careers.

    One thing I know for sure, when a fights had this much build up, it can only serve to dissapoint, so I think this is going to points either way with neither boxing doing what they've said they would do.

  • Comment number 27.

    Should be a good fight, but it's obvious that Degale is worried about it as he is trying to undermine his opponent in the basest way as is Haye with Klitschko.
    De gale should take a look at hinself, he has the side profile of a donkey, his chin will have to be tucked into his shorts, difficult to cover it and I expect upper cuts to settle this one and not in his favour.

  • Comment number 28.

    All im hoping is for a knock out ,dont care who wins just hope the ref doesn't stop the fight for something silly

 

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