Feud for thought
Glenn McCrory looks at the progress and potential of bitter rivals James DeGale and George Groves.
Last Updated: 12/07/10 2:43pm
As we come to the end of the season, I thought it might be a decent time to reflect on two of our brightest young talents and where they are at right now.
We will see one of them fighting in the States in our last show before a break and the other looks like being on a huge Frank Warren bill when we're back on air in September.
I am of course talking about George Groves and James DeGale, two of the rising stars in what is an exciting British super-middleweight division, led by Carl Froch.
Groves and DeGale have always been bitter rivals and even though they are only coming to the end of their first full season as pros, they are clearly going to be mentioned in the same breath for years to come.
I don't want to pin my colours to anyone's mast in particular, but I have to say I like what DeGale has to offer. I think he's got a very, very good chance of going all the way to the top. And I think he has the persona and the charisma to become a superstar of British boxing.
But right now, you've got to say Groves probably just has the edge over him in terms of achievement and experience. I like the way George is doing it, which is pretty much the Hayemaker way. He and Adam Booth are not afraid of taking risks - as we will see on August 1 when he fights on the Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz undercard in Las Vegas.
Groves is fighting a Mexican, Alfredo Contreras who, although he might not be a household name, is a good choice. Boxing in America and boxing Mexicans is something that every fighter needs to do if they are going to make it all the way and I like the fact that Groves is doing these things so early in his career.
He has already won a Commonwealth title in his ninth fight, cruising through what looked like a tough one against Charles Adamu - on paper at least. But Groves does have an advantage in that he is a big fish in a small promotional pond and will always get the gigs on David Haye's undercards, which is great for him.
It means he will experience that big-fight atmosphere without really being the centre of attention, the guy everybody is looking at. It does help early on if fighters can slip under the radar from time to time and George is kind of doing that at the moment.
DeGale though, is an Olympic gold medalist. That brings different sets of pressures and it does make him a valuable asset, one Frank Warren has to be careful with. And let's be honest, Frank does things differently to Hayemaker. That's not to say he is not brilliant at what he does, but the risk factor is never so much of an issue.
What Frank does is turn fighters into stars, who pack out arenas - not just halls and leisure centres. He did it with Naseem Hamed, he did it with Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe and he did it with Amir Khan. Admittedly all of those left him but you get the feeling he will do the same job with DeGale as well.
The two fighters are coming at the same goal from opposite directions and that makes their rivalry even more intriguing. And neither way is right, neither is wrong.
Personally, I came up the hard way. I fought abroad as a journeyman where you're expected to lose, I also sparred in the States where it was unbelievably tough, so I can see where Groves and Hayemaker are coming from. Of course, the guy in the other corner in Las Vegas on August 1 will be no match for George, but just fighting out of your comfort zone can make all the difference.
I would love to see DeGale do the same. It seems strange that a lad who has only had seven pro fights can actually have a comfort zone, but he's one of the main men on a Warren bill. When people come to fight him, they are coming into his backyard, where he is the king, the one we're all looking at.
At least in DeGale's case, he is no stranger to fighting on big bills in front of big crowds and he clearly loves it. I do think the Upton Park stage was perhaps a little too much for young Billy-Joe Saunders yet DeGale almost went the other way and was playing to the crowd a bit too much.
I guess being the golden boy from Beijing means it will be hard for him to do what Groves does and take himself off to other parts of the world and box on undercards, where the crowd don't really care and are only there to see the main event.
And that unbeaten record is something that can be nurtured and marketed to good effect. But it is a fine line.
What Frank, Dean Powell and before him the great Ernie Fossey, have done so well with their fighters is build them up and build them up, protect them with clever match-making.
Sometimes they can go the other way though and as we saw with Hatton, fighters do get frustrated, and the fans certainly do. You look at DeGale and see a young man who thinks he is destined for the top, so it will be interesting to see how he goes over the next 12 months.
What we don't want to see with him, or Saunders, Frankie Gavin or Tony Jeffries come to that, are guys that are so well-protected that they are just not up to it when their big chance comes. Remember dear old Frank Bruno? He was built up, moved into position on more than one occasion, but when it came down to his world title shot, he just wasn't good enough.
Right now Groves is the one that seems to be getting that experience in early and that can only be a good thing. I hope both have been to spar in the States and I hope they are planning to go again, because that is the one place to really learn your trade.
I remember sparring with Mike Tyson, James Tillis and Bert Cooper and it was a whole different world, it really was. Over here, we don't really aim to knock our sparring partners out and if we do, we tend to fuss round them, make sure they're alright and pretty much apologise.
Well, in America it's different. Tyson used to knock guys out on a daily basis and they would just stretcher them out and bring the next one in - after he had stood over the poor bloke calling him names!
American gyms still have that wild west mentality, they really do. Look at Amir Khan since he has been with Freddie Roach; yes Freddie is a great trainer but Amir knows every Mexican or Puerto Rican or American that walks into the Wildcard Gym wants to rip his head off! If James and George can get a decent taste of that, then we really will have two superstars on our hands.
Technically they have both adjusted well to the pro game, even if they do hold their left hands too low for my liking. I know it is something Adam Booth sees as a plus when it comes to landing punches from different angles and it does set up the hard, straight right beautifully, but whether or not it's down to Floyd Mayweather and the modern trend, I still think it will come back to haunt you when you are in with top, top fighters.
But both of these boys seem to have the fundamentals in place and look like they can think their way through fights. Saunders has kind of plataued, Frankie Gavin has looked good in bits and I still want to see Tony Jeffries in longer fights against more testing opposition. DeGale and Groves though, have looked impressive.
They both have a title to their name (although I will never understand what these 'international' belts are about!) and looking ahead to next season, I would expect them to really start making an impact in what is a pretty tough domestic division.
Paul Smith is the British champion, Tony Quigley is a decent name, Brian Magee has re-invented himself and I like the look of Kenny Anderson, who has quietly moved to 11-0. Stevie McGuire looks a decent prospect himself and Prizefighter winner Patrick Mendy is also in the mix now, so there are plenty of good, hard fights out there on their doorstep.
What we don't want to see is DeGale and Groves fighting each other... yet. It is a bit early for comparisons, but we could just have another Nigel Benn-Chris Eubank rivalry on our hands. There is clearly bad blood between them for a start, which can only help.
Groves beat DeGale in the amateurs, but DeGale is adamant he used to 'beat him up' in sparring, so who is the better fighter? Right now I would give Groves the edge in terms of the steps he has taken, but like I said at the start, I like the whole James DeGale package, I really do.
Let's hope when we do get to see which of these two is the man, there is a world title on the line.
Can DeGale and Groves go all the way? Who's side are you on? And who would you like to see them fight? Let Glenn know your thoughts by filling in the feedback form below...