‘Saint’ George Groves added the British super middleweight title to his commonwealth belt, outpointing James DeGale at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday night, and there was nothing ugly about Groves’ performance, as he out thought and out fought DeGale, to take a close but deserved majority decision.
The anticipation in the arena was building as Jimmy Lennon Jnr. the ring MC climbed through the ropes with his microphone at side ready to announce the fighters to the ring. Opinions had been split on who would have who’s number, in the run up to the fight and now we were going to find out, as the two fighters came to the ring to renew old acquaintances!
As we are all well aware by now, the pair fought as amateurs, Groves won, they’ve had a long time rivalry, call it what you will! and in the build up there had been some harsh words and cusses thrown about and tensions were high going into this one. So putting all that aside!
What entailed was a fight where the two men had the up-most respect for each other, who knew each others strengths and weaknesses and a tactical battle of hit and not be hit! Typical of a amateur contest, an area that the two London boxers are more than accustomed to, being well decorated combatants on the unpaid circuit.
It was evident from early on in the fight that both DeGale and Groves were fighting to a game plan, the counter attack game plan! Which early on moulded the fight into a stand off battle of wits, who was the quickest to the punch? who could find the range first? It turned out that Groves was the one who was able to answer the problems DeGale posed him and boxed to a game plan from the first, to the last bell. Where as DeGale seemed to be searching for the openings, switching stance and probing Groves for too long without getting his shots off.
It was a tentative affair and the crowd who wanted to see a grudge match toe to toe slug fest, booded the lapses in action at times early on. They never got embroiled in any sustained exchanges, but you could cut the tension with a knife.
DeGale looked relaxed, confident and started well, catching Groves with a couple of fast jabs early on and arguably took the first two rounds. But it was evident that Groves was getting into a good rhythm and in the third round began to land some good shots, particularly the lead right hand, the sucker punch for a southpaw!
They both opened up and landed good shots, but Groves seemed to land that extra shot! either coming in or going out. You got the impression DeGale was feeling Groves out, ready to explode when he felt the time was right. DeGale was the one doing the pressing, hunting Groves onto the back foot, but he found it hard to cut the ring off. Groves was proving an elusive target and DeGale shown his frustration by fouling Groves with his shoulder and elbow inside.
In round six Groves went on the front foot as DeGale again changed plan, trying to draw his foe in. DeGale had his successes and a combination of right and lefts got through, but DeGale still looked like he had another gear to go into and he ended the round well.
The fight was best suiting Groves though and he was happy to keep deploying the same tactics of keeping just out of range of DeGale’s shots and creating constant angles, never staying in one place for a second. Both traded good shots in the seventh and in eighth Groves turned on the swagger, looking more relaxed now and confident, he was up on his toes and again and landing the scoring shots.
DeGale come out for the ninth with a look of intent and started the round trying to get in close to Groves with some hooks. DeGale did seem to neglect his southpaw jab in the fight and would have had far more success if he was to have kept Groves off balance with it. Heads had been brushing when the pair came close and in the ninth accidental head clashes caused cut eyes to both boxers.
The ninth saw the fight open up and both landed good shots, Groves worked the body well of DeGale and was showing his own speed and flexibility. DeGale caught Groves with two straight left hands that had him staggering back, but again DeGale was not prepared to follow up and pin Groves down.
But what Groves was doing was out boxing the boxer! Many including DeGale had expected him to come to DeGale and try and use his power to try and knock him out. But Groves never did such a thing, he never let his his fiery side show through, he didn’t forecome to the taunts and wind-up of DeGale.
Groves stuck to the game plan devised for him by coach Adam Booth, showing a maturity and focus to never be fazed or put out of his stride and turned astute pugilist and technical boxer DeGale, into a come forward pressure type boxer trying to get inside an opponent and not the counter punching box fighter we have come to know. .
The heads continued to come together and Groves suffered a cut to his forehead in the eleventh, the blood dripped down his face as the two looked to gain an advantage and jump on the others mistakes. The fight was close and with no telling blows knockdowns or sustained pressure either way, it was a case of judging who landed the better punches, more frequently?
As the twelfth and last round finished, in the same tactical vain as the rest, the feeling was that Groves had done enough to get the decision. Groves had won the majority of the crowds vote and looked more like the victor at the final bell, whilst DeGale looked unsure and unusually quiet.
Groves had a positive energy around him from start to finish and he was confident enough to adopt a different approach to his usual fight style and deserved his victory. The judges scores were, Richie Davies 115-115 a draw, Dave Parris and John Kean gave it to Groves 115-114.
Groves had upset the odds, proved the doubters wrong and settled the score again with DeGale on points, as he had in their amateur fight five years ago. DeGale was totally confident he would beat Groves this time and looked disappointed at the verdict when it was announced. Groves and his corner, including world heavyweight champion David Haye were delighted.
The rivaly has again been stoked and afterwards neither wanted to acknoledge the other and avoided any embrace or contact. Groves was awarded the Lonsdale belt and lapped up the crowds adulation, as DeGale left the ring shaking his head. Expect a rematch and a third meeting between the pair to be the talk of the town!
Nathan Cleverly retains his WBO light-heavyweight title
In the first defence of his newly acquired WBO light-heavyweight world title, Nathan Cleverly overcame Poland’s Aleksy Kuziemski in four tough rounds when the referee waved off the fight when Kuziemski suffered a bad cut over his left eye, and a busted nose in the previous session.
The challenger landed some solid shots and was methodical in his approach, and looking to mix it with Cleverly. But the Welshman was in control, although rather than box his way in, he neglected his jab to trade blows with Kuziemski, landing good shots to the head and body and was beginning to get a hold of the fight it seemed when the fight was stopped.
Kuziemski was Cleverly’s third opponent in as many days, after the Juergen Braehmer withdrawal and then replacement, Tony Bellew failing to make the weight, but at short notice and was out of his depth and Cleverly moves onto hopefully some big name fights.
Frankie Gavin outpointed Young Mutley to win the WBO Intercontinental welterweight belt. But the fight wasn’t a classic as Gavin struggled to shine against his experienced opponent who was canny enough to ride his best work and do enough to survive, but Gavin disappointed and didn’t show the sharpness in his work we have seen before.
However he ran out a clear winner with scores of 119-110 twice and 118-110, and takes his professional record to 10-0 with the win, the first time he has gone the full championship distance.
Former WBO super-featherweight champion Nicky Cook, made a return to the ring after being stopped in his last fight against Roman Martinez, with a points win over Youssef Al Hamidi over six rounds.
Another fighter on the comeback after defeat, was former British super-middleweight champion Paul Smith, who returned to winning ways with a first round KO over Hungarian Josef Matolcsi.
Smith will now campaigning down at middleweight after losing his Lonsdale Belt to DeGale in his last fight. Smith having his first fight under new trainer Joe Gallagher. He takes his record to 30-2, 16 KO’s and looked in good shape and good form as he got back to winning ways.
Billy Joe Saunders impressively blew away Kevin Hammond in two rounds.
Francis Robinson out-pointed Johnny Greaves 40-36
Lewis Rees stopped Sid Razak in the second.
Jamie Cox stopped Marcus Portman in the third round.
O2 undercard results to follow
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