Groves makes fools of us all
It is difficult to think of a sport with the capacity to make people look as foolish as boxing. And not just the participants. At Saturday's post-fight news conference at the O2 Arena, some of the journalists looked as sheepish as James DeGale.
Intelligence is not a trait always associated with the fight game, which is not surprising: even by boxing's standards, the hot air exhaled by DeGale before his shock defeat to George Groves was enough to singe the hairs of your nostrils.
But Groves demonstrated intelligence in spades to upset the odds and wrest the British super-middleweight crown from his arch rival, who he also beat as an amateur in 2007.
The pundits thought there was no way the challenger could prevail fighting the way he did. And they were probably right. So Groves rewrote the blueprint.
"I wasn't sure what he was going to do," admitted DeGale, who looked close to tears during a grim post-mortem. "He said he was going to come out and knock me out in four rounds. But from the first bell he started to move around the ring and I thought, 'oh, here we go'."
That was the closest DeGale came to admitting he had been outfoxed. But outfoxed he had been. "What, he thought I 'nicked' the fight because I didn't come and give it to him?" countered an understandably elated Groves. Just as he had been countering all night.
The accepted wisdom was that the 23-year-old Groves knew only one way to operate, that he was a come-forward fighter with a ragged defence and a tendency to lose his shape when it was time to mix it. Trainer Adam Booth, perhaps the wiliest in the business, knew otherwise.
David Haye (left) helps Groves celebrate his win over DeGale. Photo: Getty
Booth spent pretty much the whole fight instructing his charge to "step", the plan being to keep DeGale out of range, keep him frustrated, and clip him when he missed. It was boxing's equivalent of a mousetrap, laid by a trainer DeGale had dismissed as a "glorified fitness coach".
"We worked on punching long and outclassing James DeGale," said Groves. "As soon as he went to open up, I just wasn't there. And as soon as he fell short, I'd catch him. Adam is a little bit more than a fitness coach, he knows a little bit about boxing."
DeGale's assessment of the tactic was poignant in its naivety. "I was a little bit surprised he fought on the back foot, I thought he was going to come to fight," said the 25-year-old, who came through the ranks with Groves at Dale Youth amateur boxing club before striking Olympic gold in 2008.
"I said to him at one point, 'come on, fight me, fight me'. He nicked the fight - if he's proud of that, then let him be."
DeGale's promoter Frank Warren, although he thought his man should have been awarded the decision, was more realistic.
"When you've got the class that James has, you've got to be emphatic and leave the judges in no doubt," said Warren. "George did what he had to do and he caught two of the judges' eyes. You can't go crying over decisions."
Booth is in the business of drilling his fighters to "do what they have to do". We saw it from David Haye in his victory over Nikolay Valuev in 2009, and I have a funny feeling we will see it again when he fights Wladimir Klitschko in July.
In short, Booth is not worried what people think about him, he is only worried what is right for his fighters. Which is why an immediate rematch is unlikely, whatever Warren or the British Boxing Board of Control have to say about it.
While the majority of the journalists ringside thought it was DeGale who had nicked it, the consensus was it was a horrible fight to score and it could have gone either way.
Losing to his bitter rival was hard to swallow for DeGale. Photo: Getty
So Groves should feel no shame in denying DeGale a rematch, as Warren suggested he should. "I've cleaned up the domestic scene," said Groves with understandable relish, "it's onto bigger and better things."
Perhaps they will meet again in a couple of years when they both hold portions of the super-middleweight world title - perhaps they won't. But for now, it is "the ugly ginger kid", as DeGale dubbed his nemesis, who holds the bragging rights down at Dale Youth ABC.
"The whole nation was behind me but didn't think I was going to win," said Groves. "But who's going to be able to hold his head highest down west London now? I guess that's me."
As for DeGale, he only has to look at the careers of Haye and Amir Khan to realise an early career defeat is not necessarily calamitous. And there is nothing like being made to look foolish to focus the mind on bigger and brighter things.
Talking of wily tacticians, is there a wilier operator in all of sport than 46-year-old Bernard Hopkins? On Saturday, the ageless 'Executioner' became the oldest ever boxing world champion when he defeated Jean Pascal for the WBC light-heavyweight crown in Montreal.
Earlier in London, Wales' newly-crowned WBO light-heavyweight king Nathan Cleverly defended his title for the first time with a fourth-round stoppage of Poland's rugged Aleksy Kuziemski, before declaring: "Let's get the big fights on."
Now is the time for Warren to tug on Cleverly's reins. The 24-year-old is an exciting talent with a dazzling variety of shots, but Hopkins, and even Pascal, would be too soon. Liverpool's Tony Bellew, who bangs hard and makes lots of noise, would be a more sensible short-term option. Hopkins can keep until he is 50.