By Cain Bradley
The rivalry that helped define British boxing more than any other over the past fifteen years has been George Groves and James DeGale. Fierce amateur rivals, who never seemed to move past their obvious disdain for one another. Throughout their careers, it was mooted as a potential fight for both men, although it only happened before either man held a world title. Both went on to achieve that feat, Groves in his fourth attempt and an incredible show of character whilst DeGale had to go abroad, fulfilling his dream to become the first British man to win an Olympic Gold Medal and hold a World Championship. With the pair retired, the legacy of both men comes into question.
It is sometimes true in the amateurs that your biggest competition can come from your own gym. Birtley currently dominates the British setup and have team-mates battling each other for coveted places, whilst West Ham has also had it in recent years. Dale Youth perhaps has the most famous example. George Groves and James DeGale. According to head coach Mick Delaney, the boys would cheer each other on. Neither of them remembers it being this way. DeGale claimed, “I never liked him and he never liked me.” DeGale was two years older and took the National title in 2005 and 2006. Groves had won four schoolboy titles and knew the clash was coming. In the 2007 London round, Groves took a debated victory, which can still be seen online. He went on to win the ABA title that year and followed it up in 2008. Still, DeGale would get the nod for the Olympics. This was after an international tournament which saw both men face the same opponents with DeGale fairing a lot better. Groves still wishes there was a box-off. The decision cannot be argued within hindsight. DeGale won the gold medal at the Olympics, a tough division with massive amateur names at time such as Derevyanchenko, Correa, Rasulov, Artayev, Korobov and Sutherland.
Perhaps this is the only thing that matters when it comes to comparing the pair. Groves got the win as a professional. The two clashes early in their careers, DeGale the British champion whilst Groves held the Commonwealth title. It was a tense buildup with DeGale labelling Groves “ugly.” Groves though deserves to be known for his ability to get in the mind of his opponent. He did it with Froch and he managed it with DeGale. Unlike the buildup, it was a tactical affair. Groves had made the big decision to box on the counter and it would pay off. DeGale lost the first half of the fight, unsure how to adapt to Groves. It started slowly but heated up throughout the middle rounds and by the final minute of each round, the two were often going for it. DeGale arguably had greater success in terms of hurting his rival and leaving his face looking worse for wear. It didn’t matter though, Groves got the win. A close majority decision, winning 115-114 on two scorecards. DeGale, as he did as an amateur, moaned at the judging but his surprise at the tactics of Groves cost him too many early rounds.
The key win came against Fedor Chudinov, in his fourth world title tilt. He stopped him in the sixth round before being overcome with emotion. Groves also managed to see off the majority of British contenders of the time, with wins over David Brophy, Martin Murray, Jamie Cox, Paul Smith and Kenny Anderson. His final win also game against a well known domestic opponent. It was Chris Eubank Jr in a World Boxing Super Series semi final. Groves showed everyone just how far Eubank had to go with a dominant performance behind a strong jab and good movement that Eubank just couldn’t live with. It was arguably his most impressive performance. Other big wins included Glen Johnson, Christopher Rebrasse and a victory that took a tragic turn against Eduard Gutknecht.
DeGale bounced back from his early loss to Groves by winning thirteen straight and arguably putting himself into the pound for pound conversation for active British boxers at one point. That was during the midst of his world title reign which started with a well-fought victory over Andre Dirrell, who famously gave Carl Froch fits. It was an underrated victory, Dirrell had only lost to Froch and many thought he won. I still believe he deserves to be world champion at some point in his career and DeGale dropped him twice. He had two successful defences, going to Canada to beat Lucian Bute by decision and then Rogelio Medina. He did win a second world title when returning to beat Caleb Truax, although most will argue that it shouldn’t have taken a second attempt for him to manage that. Other big wins mainly came before his world title reign, with victories over Paul Smith, Fulgenico Zuniga and Marco Antonio Periban.