Groves Proves That Nice Guys Don't Have To Finish Last

by John Wight: No one should be left in any doubt after witnessing George Groves’ victory over James De Gale in front of a packed crowd at London’s O2 Arena on Saturday night that poetic justice is the sweetest kind there is.

In the lead up to the fight, De Gale and his camp had engaged in a relentless and malicious campaign of personal abuse and slander against Groves, one that went far beyond any pre-fight hype designed to generate ticket sales and PPV subscriptions. It was nasty to watch; so much so that by fight night probably ninety percent of those watching ringside and at home wanted nothing more than to see the Olympic gold medal winner and now former British super middleweight champion being made to eat his words. Making his defeat all the sweeter was De Gale’s insistence with a handshake at the pre-fight press conference on a side bet with his opponent, with the winner taking both purses. The word is that after the press conference De Gale’s trainer, Jim McDonnell, declared to certain sports writers that if Groves refused to honour the wager after the fight they would sue him in court.

Aaaah…doesn’t that humble pie smell good?

Fortunately for the sport, and for the enduring power of natural justice, in direct proportion to De Gale and his camp’s arrogance, lack of class and respect, Groves and his camp proved themselves the epitome of professionalism, dignity and equanimity throughout. Not only that, most crucially they did their talking where it counts, in the process upsetting the bookies, pundits and the result expected by the vast majority who turned up and tuned in to watch the action unfold.

As a fight it was more chess than checkers, with Groves and Booth clearly having done their homework, giving De Gale a lesson in discipline and tactics as the Commonwealth champion doggedly stuck to the gameplan of remaining on the back foot, from where he spent the entire night frustrating his opponent, who’d arrived in the ring expecting a gunfight and clearly as the night unfolded without any Plan B worthy of the name.

No matter, De Gale managed to find purchase in the later rounds and wobbled his opponent in the ninth with a stunning left hook right hand combination. But Groves equally was finding the target with a fast jab and straight rights, timing them to counter De Gale as he came forward. The refusal of either boxer to give way was evident in the blood that poured from both their faces going into the tenth round, and though De Gale looked the stronger in the home stretch Groves had put in enough of a shift in the earlier rounds to take the fight on the Judges’ scorecards by 115-115, 115-114, and 115-114 to the rapturous acclaim of the overwhelming majority in attendance.

Immediately after the fight calls for a rematch were raised by the De Gale camp through the personage of Frank Warren, De Gale’s promoter. Looking as sick as the proverbial parrot, Warren faced the cameras in De Gale’s stead to maintain that he thought his fighter had done enough to win the fight. Well, not according to the judges he didn’t, with the result that Groves is the new British super-middleweight champion, having handed James De Gale his first professional defeat, adding it to the defeat he’d previously handed him as an amateur back in 2006, when both boxers fought out of the Dale Youth Amateur Boxing Club in West London.

Despite stooping so low with personal abuse in the lead to the fight that by the time he entered the ring he bore all the characteristics of a man who could get under a snake’s belly wearing a top hat, De Gale remains a talented athlete, if not a likeable one. However, if he is to progress beyond domestic and European level he must acquire the ability to adapt to any style that sets apart the sport’s elite from the rest. As for Groves, the decision to go up in class in sparring with the likes of Andre Dirrell in Miami clearly paid off, especially after his previous less than convincing performance against Scotland’s Kenny Anderson. He can also count himself fortunate to have a man in his corner in the shape of Adam Booth who combines intelligence, confidence and tactical acumen in equal measure. Furthermore, the aura of camaraderie and togetherness that Team Hayemaker brings to the table is a breath of fresh air amid the cynicism that all too often bedevils the sport.

Overall, though, isn’t it good to know that nice guys don’t have to finish last?

Article posted on 23.05.2011

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