21st April 2012 

The weight of expectation has placed an unwelcome burden on the
muscular shoulders of Harlesden super-middleweight James DeGale since he
annexed an unexpected gold medal for Great Britain at the 2008 Beijing
Olympics.

 
The man they call ‘Chunky’ was
bizarrely booed on his February 2009 pro debut at Birmingham’s NIA and
there appeared a collective air of glee when he was contentiously
stripped of his unbeaten status and British super-middle belt by
despised rival George Groves at London’s O2 Arena last May.

 
But behind the sweet looks, and an
amiable laidback persona that those who know him privately will swear
to, there lies an iron hard resolve. Rather than procrastinate bleating,
the 26 year old jumped straight back on his horse and, just five months
after the Groves heartache, he rebounded to annex the European crown
from Poland’s Piotr Wilczewski at Liverpool’s Echo Arena last October.

 
It was a performance that
highlighted both the steel and the silk in DeGale’s fistic make-up and
the majority decision in his favour saw him enter the record books by
securing both British and European titles in the fewest number of
bouts(12). Yet still, several pundits remained far from complimentary.

 
DeGale’s cocksure swagger and acid
tongue, particularly in the prelude to the Groves’ spat, have earned him
as many detractors as admirers. For that, he has only himself to
blame. 

 
Defending the title for the first
time tonight, he faces a testing mandatory engagement overseas against
veteran ex WBC king Cristian Sanavia of Italy at the Arena Nord,
Frederikshavn, Denmark.

 
His Italian challenger is also a two
weight former European champion but, at 37, he has undoubtedly seen
better days and, even in his prime, was a solid rather than spectacular
operator.

 
Like DeGale, Sanavia, from
Pontelongo, is a southpaw and, at just 5ft 7 1/2 in tall, his lack of
inches could serve as much as an inconvenience to the west Londoner as
proves advantageous. That Sanavia’s promoters, Round Zero, are
co-promoting with Sauerland should also provide the Italian with
inspiration.

 
However, the DeGale camp will be
buoyed by the fact that Sanavia has been dormant for nine months and
three of the defeats on his 45-5-1 slate have come via stoppage. He may
not survive long enough to profit from an ‘erratic’ decision, intended
to court favour with the promoters.

 
Fighting abroad is always precarious
but particularly when EBU judges are involved. Nevertheless, having
circumnavigated the globe several times on national service in the
amateurs, DeGale is unlikely to be fazed. Given his challenger has
registered just 13 quick wins in 51 starts, defeat by stoppage is
improbable (barring cuts or injury), particularly as DeGale has shown a
sturdy beard thus far.

 
Technically, this should be a
mismatch – DeGale is significantly slicker and quicker – but
concentration shall be absolute for DeGale here. He must keep it long,
impose his fight plan, avoid prolonged and messy exchanges. Provided the
English champion is fully switched on mentally, he should retain
comfortably enough and, if he chooses to touch the accelerator down the
stretch, a stoppage victory in the final third is not inconceivable. 
By Glynn Evans

 
Watch DeGale v Sanavia tonight live from 7pm on BoxNation (Sky Ch. 456/Virgin Ch. 546).  Join at www.boxnation.com