James DeGale: ‘Envious of George Groves? No, he should be worried about me’

PUBLISHED: 16:31 26 February 2014 | UPDATED: 16:32 26 February 2014

James DeGale

James DeGale

PA Wire/Press Association Images

As George Groves prepares for his highly anticipated rematch against Carl Froch, James DeGale could be forgiven for casting a wishful glance in the direction of his bitter rival. In fact, the Harlesden fighter believes the opposite is true: “Everyone keeps asking me if I am envious of Groves, but it’s the other way round really,” he says. “I’m going to sneak in under the radar”.

Groves and Froch meet again in front of 80,000 fans on May 31. Froch retained his WBA and IBF titles with a ninth-round stoppage in November, but the IBF awarded Groves a rematch after upholding his claim that the fight was stopped prematurely by referee Howard Foster.

DeGale, meanwhile, continues to tread his own path, albeit with a sense of frustration that his career has meandered in the years since he won Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008. DeGale has since lost his British title to Groves in 2011, a blow which still rankles despite his calm demeanour.

The malaise continued into 2014, with DeGale undergoing an operation for a groin injury. Now recovered, he is fully focussed on an overdue world title challenge.

The super-middleweight takes on Gevorg Khatchikian in Bristol on Saturday, a warm-up for a final eliminator for the WBC belt against Swede Badou Jack. Should he win that, Sakio Bika awaits. Groves may be hogging the limelight, but his old Dale Youth ABC adversary is more than happy to continue his recovery in the shadows.

“I can sneak in and get my chance,” DeGale said. “I’m on my own path. I’m a fight away from the world title, so as soon as I get that fight then I can start making some noise again and start calling the shots.

“A lot of people have been asking me where I’ve been, saying I’ve been quiet, but I’ve been here keeping a low profile. I’m not really in a position to start running my mouth and calling people out, so I’m just training now and letting my boxing do the talking – for now.

“I’m just carrying on what I have been doing. I have got one of the best coaches in Jim McDonnell, so I’m just training hard, doing what I normally do. I’ve been a pro for five years but I still learn something new every day under Jim.”

DeGale attributes the lack of progress in his professional career to a number of factors. He split with promoter Frank Warren in January 2012, instead opting to work with Mick Hennessey. But the big fights have not materialised. DeGale has instead been restricted to appearances at Bluewater against opponents of mediocre calibre.

Injury, too, has not helped. During his last fight, a unanimous points victory over Dyah Davis in November, DeGale was hampered by a muscle problem called Gilmore’s Groin.

“It’s basically a torn groin. To run, to spar, to do bits of ground work was just impossible,” says DeGale. “It was driving me mad. Before my last fight I said to Jim ‘I’ve got to go and get this checked out’.

“The physio said I shouldn’t really box. If you watch the fight back you can see that I just got through it. I hit him and hurt him. But I couldn’t throw my left hand properly.

“I couldn’t bend or dip, I fell over a couple of times because it was weak. It was a good fight but it shouldn’t be lasting 12 rounds. Ten days afterwards I went to Harley Street and now it’s all fixed. It’s been eight or nine weeks since the op and I’m fit. My movement, my running and sprinting is all so much better.

“Now I can’t believe I actually boxed with the injury.”

That he did so says much for DeGale’s determination to succeed. Thoughts of meeting Bika are put to the back of his mind. For now, DeGale is focussed only on Khatchikian, and another step towards that elusive title challenge.

“I don’t know too much about him,” admits DeGale.

“I’ve seen bits of him and seen his record. Potentially it’s a banana skin, but the way I’ve been training I’m feeling nice. I feel like a bit of a parrot by keeping on repeating myself saying I want to put on a show, but you’ll see.”

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