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