DeGale fails to live up to hype
James DeGale has been earmarked for stardom ever since he gave up the amateur headgear and vest to join the professional ranks. A gold medal winner at the Beijing Olympics, DeGale had made an impressive start to his new career, securing 10 victories and remarkably the British super middleweight title. So rapid was his rise through the ranks that there was talk of him moving up to the “world” level with a fight against WBA regular super middleweight champion Dmitriy Sartisan this spring.
Instead, DeGale and his promoter Frank Warren chose to use a blockbuster rivalry with an old teammate to launch his career to new heights. Commonwealth champion George Groves had trained with DeGale at the same London amateur gym, and while it was DeGale who would excel in the unpaid ranks it was Groves who emerged victorious the only time they met in the ring as amateurs. Billed as “The Grudge,” Saturday’s fight between DeGale and Groves was the most eagerly anticipated British title contest for some time, with the fight even being broadcast live in America by Epix.
A large part of that interest was based on the idea that the heavy favorite DeGale would make a real statement in the fight, thereby proving himself ready to move up to world level at a remarkably early point in his career. While both fighters had warm-up bouts in March, in reality both last fought toward the end of 2010. Whereas DeGale put in a mesmerizing performance as he dismantled the defending British champion Paul Smith in the veteran’s hometown of Liverpool, Groves struggled to overcome an awkward Kenny Anderson. Because of the contrast in the two performances DeGale’s stock rose to new heights as doubts were raised about Groves’ technical ability.
Yet when the bell sounded Saturday a different story unfolded. While DeGale took the opening rounds he was not imposing himself on his opponent as he had done against Smith. He was and would remain on the front foot for most of the fight, but instead of pushing the action he was content to simply walk Groves down. For someone who had shown in his previous fights a mesmerizing ability to wear down and break his opponents with his speed and movement, his performance was oddly flat against Groves. DeGale struggled to pull the trigger and would often just stand in the pocket looking for an opening that would never came.
The lack of work from DeGale created an opening for Groves to win the fight off his back foot. While he couldn’t stand toe-to-toe with DeGale when drawn into open exchanges, he was able to nick several rounds with well-timed counterpunches. DeGale belatedly started to realize that he was gifting rounds to Groves in which he had been the one with the positional advantage.
Only in the ninth did he put it all together and dissect Groves in the same way he did Smith. Showing blistering handspeed and dynamic shot selection, DeGale had Groves rocking by the end of the round. While not quite hitting those heights again, he would be similarly dominant the 11th and 12th. However, despite hurting Groves in the ninth, DeGale would come out cold in 10th and failed to outwork his opponent. This failure caused him to lose the fight, with two of the judges giving the underdog Groves the victory by just one round on scores of 115-113.
The victory shocked a DeGale, who had prematurely begun to celebrate upon hearing ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. announce that the victor was still undefeated. Whereas they had planned to start talking about world title fights, Warren and DeGale were left demanding a rematch with the new British and Commonwealth super middleweight champion. However, even Warren admitted that DeGale’s unassertive performance had allowed Groves to steal rounds and that if he had been more aggressive he’d have secured the early victory.
James DeGale was worthy of the hype that surrounded him going into this fight. Sadly for him he was only able to show how good he can be for a quarter of the fight and that simply wasn’t enough to grab the victory. But in those flashes he showed why he was so heavily favored and how it wouldn’t have taken that big an adjustment in attitude and tactics for DeGale to have won comfortably.
After George Groves defeated him in the amateur ranks, James DeGale went on to become an Olympic gold medalist. Few would bet against the possibility that this defeat will spur DeGale on to eventually becoming a world champion in the professional game.