Thy name is Ego.
Vile, loathsome bile instead of fire spouts forth.
How Saint George the Steadfast stilled
thy self-regarding roar.
On Saturday 21st May two young boxers met in the ring to settle their bitter rivalry. They'd been members of the same boxing club as amateurs, sparring together many times and sharing the same transport to competitions. When they fought each other in the Amateur Boxing Association Championships 'Saint' George Groves had beaten James 'Chunky' DeGale, and the loser felt the loss so keenly he refused to return to the club where his rival was being feted. Since then it was DeGale who had risen to greater prominence, unexpectedly taking the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, whilst Groves' career had taken a quieter path, noted by boxing aficionados but a less public figure than his larger than life rival.
Before and after turning professional, DeGale never missed an opportunity to 'trash talk' his opponents and display his ever-inflating ego. Crucially, though, he was able to back up his self promotion with sleek and impressive boxing skills. Groves, quieter and more modest, just let his fighting do the talking, although he often became hot headed and tore up his carefully prepared game plan as well as his opponents. This was a serious flaw, making him vulnerable to being hurt.
Neverthless, both fighters entered their showdown undefeated in the professional ranks, with DeGale the firm favourite with bookies and pundits alike. The public, however, and the crowd in the O2 Arena, were hoping to see his ego dented, and the boos outweighed the cheers as he swaggered into the ring. Groves looked more apprehensive, although some read his demeanor as quiet concentration. Many expected him to charge in, inflamed by DeGale's 'ugly boy' insults and a need to prove that the amateur win was no fluke, and be caught out by DeGale's more polished style. Adam Booth, Groves' manager, had other ideas. One of the most intelligent men not just in boxing but in all of sport, Booth had schooled Groves well. The plan was to frustrate DeGale, to make him overreach and miss, to do the seemingly impossible task of making DeGale doubt himself. Not only did the tactics work but, astonishingly, Groves found the discipline to follow them throughout (most of) the twelve rounds.
Notably, Jim Watt, commentating for Sky Sports, seemed to have missed the point spectacularly and wasted a lot of breath talking about how Groves was being pushed on to the back foot and thus was losing the fight. He may not have heard Booth's instructions between rounds which might have helped him to understand the tactics- 'if he lets go and touches you, he'll get more confident, if he touches nothing, misses, he'll lose confidence'. Groves was successful for much of the fight at making DeGale miss although the times when he started to stand and trade were worrying for his supporters and when DeGale landed cleanly Groves was clearly hurt and marked. Head clashes caused cuts to both, but with Groves having the pale, fragile-looking skin typical of a redhead the marks were more striking. A head clash caused a cut to his forehead and blood poured down his face, heartening DeGale.
After the full twelve rounds no one could be sure which way the decision would go, and it was a tense wait for both camps until the scorecards showed that one referee called it a draw and two favoured Groves by one point. DeGale looked stunned as the crowd wildly cheered Saint George, who had slayed his dragon for a second time.
They are still in the early stages of their careers, and with Groves now holding the British and Commonwealth Super Middleweight titles DeGale won't rest until he has wrested them back or gone on to bigger and better on the European and World stage. This is one dragon who won't stay slayed, and he may well come back looking for revenge. Will Saint George be up to the task for a third time?