It’s always a pleasure to see two names who, in the grand scheme of things, go to war knowing they could not have moved any further up the boxing hierarchy without settling their own differences first. Five years ago those names were James DeGale and George Groves.
Two unbeaten British prospects. Both already decorated athletes, both tipped for world title honours in the same division and both seemingly incapable of avoiding questioning about the other fighter.
Add to this a genuine dislike of each other and you have all the makings of a hallmark ‘Grudge Match’.
You have to tip your hat to both men – they played their parts in selling the fight expertly time after time.
Month after month we were greeted to each individual calling out or insulting the other on national television, until the inevitable match up was finally made.
This slanderous self-promotion resulted in the fight being made as a pay-per-view event here in Britain – extraordinary considering the pair’s individual fight records had barely entered double digits.
It just goes to show the power of the media to sell a fight, or sell anything really.
Throw enough hatred at the cameras and it becomes a must-watch event, expanding beyond sport and becoming something wholly personal – or so they would have you believe.
The pair met on the 21st May 2011. In a rip-roaring 12 round nail-biter, in the end it would be ‘Saint’ George who came away with the split decision victory, after some embarrassingly early celebrations from a heartbroken DeGale.
(James Degale and George Groves full fight in 2011 – hat tip to DaveyBoyEssexUK /Boxing Rd4 YouTube)
Groves was on the way to bigger and better things. But that coveted ‘W’ in a big match situation does not guarantee success.
Not entirely, anyway. In his first world title shot Groves stunned the world when he dropped a usually granite-chinned world champion in Carl Froch, and dominated the majority of the action, before being stopped in what many saw to be a controversial call from veteran referee Howard Foster.
Personally, I felt it was justified.
Even through loss, for many Groves emerged the victor, albeit without a world title around his waist. The British public demanded a rematch and, once again thanks to media hype and speculation, we got it.
The only difference this time? It would be in front a packed 80,000 strong crowd at Wembley Stadium – talk about hype, right?
Groves would emerge with a cavalcade of fire eaters, scantily-clad dancers and pyro, atop a double decker bus in boxing extravagance not seen since the days of Naseem Hamed and Chris Eubank.
He would leave a broken man after Froch produced one of the most impressive one-punch knockouts ever seen on these shores. A thing of undeniable spiteful beauty.
Would it be third time lucky for the ‘Saint’?
Little over a year later Groves would travel to the states in an attempt to rip the WBC belt from a Mayweather-endorsed Badou Jack.
A close fight to be sure, but a couple of flash knockdowns in the first round prevented Groves from picking up the belt away from home.
But what of James DeGale?
It would take time and dedication for ‘Chunky’ to rebuild his reputation, taking on a slew of smaller names in the process, before he would finally get his shot at the big one.
After an impressive stoppage victory over Brandon Gonzales (on the undercard of Groves’ second losing effort to Carl Froch I might add) DeGale would travel state side, much like his former foe, with world title aspirations.
Things would go a little different this time, though.
DeGale took on a huge name in Andre Dirrell for the vacant IBF Super Middleweight title, and came out swinging, dropping the slick Dirrell with a thunderous left hand in the second that would have left most competitors picking up their teeth.
He continued to persevere for the following rounds, landing heavy shots and looking like a champion doing it. It was at the half-way mark, however, his work rate began to slide.
Breathing heavily and sweating profusely it appeared as though ‘Chunky’ had emptied the gas tank trying to finish off the American early, struggling through the following six rounds as Dirrell began to take over.
When the final bell rang, it was anyone’s fight.
DeGale lifted the IBF crown unanimously on all three cards and exploded into the upper-echelons of the world rankings doing so.
Since then, DeGale has continued to be as outspokenly arrogant as ever, garnering victories over Rogelio Medina and former world champ Lucian Bute – a fight some saw DeGale dropping his newly earned title. A little hasty in the prediction, if you ask me.
With the recent announcement of a unification fight with WBC champ Badou Jack, the comparisons between the two Brits in discussion is only set to continue.
The tables truly have turned in the DeGale/Groves story.
But with Groves looking to climb his way back up the ladder with a couple of impressive wins it isn’t crazy to think these two might cross paths once again one day.
The slow-burning rise of the defeated Olympian and the crushing blows suffered by the victor present a great irony when compared side by side.
It just goes to show that the success or failure of a fighter’s career can never ultimately be attributed to the results of a single night, no matter how great the victory.