By George Ogier
At the height of the build up to George Groves’ fight with James DeGale in May last year I was asked who had the better long-term prospects. I was convinced, as were many others that it was DeGale. The Olympic gold medallist had disposed of Paul Smith Jr with ease and many were backing DeGale to defeat his amateur nemesis Groves in similar fashion
At the same point in time, George Groves had struggled to beat Kenny Anderson and previous to that had looked mediocre against a clearly past-it Charles Adamu. Fourteen months on from Groves’ surprise (to me at least) defeat of James DeGale if I were to be asked about the two men and their futures I might have to reassess my opinion.
James DeGale is currently the European super middleweight champion but he is also locked in contract dispute with current promoter, Frank Warren. It is believed that the root of DeGale’s displeasure is the fact that Warren signed George Groves to a promotional deal in August last year.
At the time it was thought that the Groves deal would facilitate a much-anticipated rematch between DeGale and the new arrival. DeGale however saw the signing as a show of disloyalty from Warren and has been angling to break away from the promoter who paid James handsomely to turn pro after the Olympics.
As a result of the contract wrangling there has been an air of stagnation about DeGale’s career. In fairness to the Harlesden boxer he has fought more rounds than Groves since the two men met but it has been done with much less fanfare.
Both of DeGale’s bouts since the Groves fight have been overshadowed by other cards or contests. When James won the European title it was on the undercard of Nathan Cleverly’s huge match with Tony Bellew. Similarly, when DeGale made his first defence of the title it was on the same night that Derry Mathews shocked British boxing by knocking out Anthony Crolla.
Both performances from James DeGale were worthy of more attention but sadly they were swallowed up in the maelstrom of domestic boxing. As it stands James is still contracted to Frank Warren although a deal is on the verge of being struck whereby DeGale can fight for another promoter, he just has to give Warren 15% of his purse.
It would be reasonable to assume that becoming European champion would have given James DeGale a profile boost. However, it is George Groves that has taken the media spotlight in the last year. A highly publicised spat with Kenny Anderson regarding their on/off rematch plus an aborted world title shot against Robert Stieglitz has kept Groves very much in the pages of the boxing press.
Like DeGale, Groves has boxed twice since the clash at the O2. You could argue that Groves has fought easier opponents than DeGale in that time but it is the nature of the Hammersmith fighter’s victories that have stuck in the mind.
It took all of a round and change for Groves to knockout former British champion Paul Smith Jr. I was convinced that Smith would give Groves real problems that night but George was utterly clinical in his triumph.
The real talking point in Groves’ career progression came last weekend in California. I have, for a long time railed against the insular nature of British boxing. Far too often we see fighters from these shores lauded by our own press as world-class. As soon as fighters step outside of that bubble it can be a real culture shock, as we saw when Kell Brook faced Carson Jones recently.
It is therefore heartening to see that Groves was prepared to fight in the US against a live opponent. Not for George the Tommy Karpencys and Luis Galarzas of this world. Groves took on Francisco Sierra, a man who is the same age as Groves but who has fought world title challengers and has a superb KO percentage.
Sierra took Groves into somewhat uncharted territory at the weekend. The Mexican showed tremendous punch resistance for the first five rounds and also punished Groves repeatedly for carrying his left hand too low.
Groves hadn’t fought for eight months before Saturday’s outing. He was keen to get rounds under his belt ahead of a bill topping appearance at Wembley in September against an as yet unnamed opponent. Both the experience and the September card were thrown into doubt when Groves was cut badly over his right eye in the third round.
However, excellent work from his corner meant that George could keep a cool head in the face of a possible stoppage. As a result he was able to wear Sierra down and victory came soon after a fabulous four punch combination put the Mexican on the canvas.
The cut that Groves suffered from a clash of heads in the Sierra fight should have healed in time for September 14th. It is thought that George will face Scot, Kenny Anderson for the British and Commonwealth titles, a contest that has been put out to purse bids.
George Groves will hope that a dominant showing in September will secure him another world title shot. Groves had been due to fight Robert Stieglitz for the WBO title but had to pull out due to injury. George has even mentioned his dream of fighting at the home of his beloved Chelsea Football Club, Stamford Bridge.
What a difference a year makes. 12 months ago people were still in shock that Groves had triumphed over DeGale. Talk of an immediate rematch was still swirling around and Groves was thought to be on the verge of signing up with Eddie Hearn at Matchroom.
One year on and James DeGale has almost become the forgotten man of British boxing. Caught in a contract dispute and no fights on the horizon you could forgive the Olympic champion for looking slightly bewildered. George Groves on the other hand seems to have built on his success against DeGale and now seems equipped to challenge for a world title sooner rather than later.