James DeGale and George Groves really are the best of enemies

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When it comes to the world of boxing, the word hate is somewhat overused and thrown around before fights as a marketing tool. Fighters sometimes feign ill-feelings towards each other to make sure fans want to see them beat the crap out of each other.

How many times have we seen fighters get heated before the bout and then embrace one another after, as if celebrating that they have just made each other a hell of a lot of money? 

This is definitely not the case when it comes to bitter super-middleweight rivals James DeGale and George Groves. The animosity between these two is very much real and it dates back over a long period of time.

London roots

George Groves from Hammersmith, west London and James DeGale from Harlesden, north-west London found themselves both learning their trade and climbing the ranks at the Dale Youth boxing gym in Ladbroke Grove.

At first, the pair were good friends and supported each-other on their own individual missions to boxing glory. However, the friendship would not last too long.

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Talented youngsters

Speaking to to the Groves vs DeGale YouTube channel in late 2010, Mick Delaney, Head Coach of Dale Youth ABC explains their story.

"They were both very strong, even when they were juniors and carried that when they made the step up from junior to senior. At the age of 18 they were both beating full grown, fully mature senior boxers.

They were both very technically gifted and sharp, picked things up after me showing them something once, they stood out wherever I took them to spar.

"They won as schoolboys out in America, so to me the writing was on the wall that they were going to move on to professionals, which they have."  

Different styles

DeGale and Groves have very distinctive styles, something which was evident as youngsters when they were developing their boxing identity. Dale Youth coach Peter Carson described his observations during the same interview.

"George is a very good puncher, he can take a punch and get up again, he's got a big heart and he's like a lion.

"Chunky [DeGale] is a very good boxer and his footwork is good so it would be a very hard fight to predict."

Trouble on the horizon

As with most boxing rivalries, the animosity between the pair began after they first squared off in the ring at the ABA Championships, the premier tournament hosted by the Amateur Boxing Association of England.

DeGale and Groves clearly both had the desire necessary for a boxer to succeed, the ego which makes them want to be number one and the centrepiece of any boxing discussion. So of course, both men wanted to be ABA champion in their weight division and nothing was ever going to be the same after.

Good friends once upon a time

During their time at Dale Youth, the pair were great friends and it is said they went to shows together, traveled together, ate together after they both boxed and were always supportive of each other.

Both were bubbly characters always cracking a joke or two but there could only be one Dale Youth representative in their weight division in the ABA Championship. Groves and DeGale were on a collision course and the atmosphere at the club changed forever.

Bad blood begins

Mick Delaney outlines how competitive the pair were. "They both knew, in the same weight division, that they were going to come together at the ABAs so they both obviously fancied beating each other.

"From the eight years of sparring they did together they knew each-other inside out. The national coach of England said it should have been an ABA final and it was a shame they had to meet. George won and that's the way it went."

Olympic controversy 

After losing in the ABAs to Groves, there were some eyebrows raised when it was DeGale who was given the nod to represent Great Britain at the Olympics in 2008. But it was a decision that paid dividends.

Expectations for Chunky were low especially as he was drawn against Egypt's world bronze medalist Mohamed Hikal, but he prevailed comfortably.

DeGale then went on to face Ireland's Darren Sutherland later in the tournament, a man who had beaten him four times in their last five fights. By his own admission, this was going to be a tough fight.

Speaking with Ring TV in March 2011, DeGale said “Obviously I thought, ‘Ah, no, I’ve got him again. All of our previous fights were very close, but in those I was fighting his game – standing in the center of the ring.

"I knew it was going to be hard, but I was confident of winning if I could stick to the tactics given to me by our coach, Terry Edwards, which was to hit and move and keep a tight guard, and I won easily, 10-3. The movement was too much for him.”

DeGale strikes gold

DeGale went on to claim the gold medal after a tough fight with Cuban Emelio Correa - it was a sensational performance. The result also justified the choice to send DeGale to the Olympics ahead of Groves, something which must not have sat well with the Hammersmith bruiser.

DeGale was regarded as one of the most promising British boxers after this and his turn to the professional game was highly awaited. Chunky was the talk of the sport.

Professional ranks

On December 2, 2008, DeGale agreed a deal with promoter Frank Warren to become professional in a lucrative deal. DeGale went on to breeze through his early competition winning his first ten fights with ease and eight coming by way of knock out. 

Groves joined Hayemaker promotions as he turned professional and made his debut in November 2008, enjoying a similar start to his career as DeGale. He won his first 12 fights, with ten via TKO. 

The scene was set for DeGale and Groves, a grudge-match dating back to the early rivalry at Dale Youth, to take centre stage in British boxing.

DeGale vs Groves

On May 21, 2011, at the 02 Arena, George Groves and James DeGale faced off in a British super-middleweight title fight. The explosive build-up to the fight reminded the country just how much these two disliked one-another. This explosiveness followed the pair into the ring too.

Much like their bout years earlier in the ABAs, it was a very tight affair once again. Groves came out on top in a contentious and controversial points decision. Groves certainly looked like the beaten man, a cut below the eye worried the ref towards the end of the fight and DeGale also looked fresher, finishing on the front foot.

The fight did absolutely nothing to settle the feud as DeGale was left furious by the decision. Groves certainly got his tactics right from experienced trainer Adam Booth who instructed Saint George to fight on the back foot and keep DeGale frustrated and out of range.

Groves then stepped in and clipped DeGale when he missed with reaching shots - it was a an approach which caught DeGale by complete surprise. Whether it was enough to win the fight is something fans still debate to this day.


The loss was a huge setback for DeGale who had to contend with fighting on less glamorous cards and arenas in order to rebuild his career. By winning the EBU super middleweight title, and then the WBC silver super middleweight title, DeGale managed to do that. It was not an easy road for him but all boxers face adversity and this was a challenging time on the fringes of British boxing which tested his resolve.

Groves went from strength to strength, scoring impressive victories over world renowned names such as Glen Johnson and Noe Gonzalez Alcoba. Under Adam Booth's tutelage, Groves was becoming a real force to be reckoned with in the boxing world. 

Groves vs Froch

This led to a huge showdown between Groves and IBF and WBA super middleweight world champion Carl Froch in Manchester. Groves did not enjoy the ideal preparation going into the fight, splitting with Booth, of whom many credit as the mastermind behind his rise.

It was revealed that a breakdown in trust was at the heart of the surprise split, which saw trainer Paddy Fitzpatrick step into the equation. Groves was already the underdog and this late drama did nothing to help his cause.

But Groves was ready for war when the battle commenced November 23, 2013. Booed as he entered the ring for his pre-fight exploits, Saint George was cheered heavily in defeat at the end of it. Groves delivered a gutsy, and at times a lethal display which had him winning the fight in the eyes of pretty much everyone watching. 

Then came the infamous ninth round where Froch was gearing up to land a shot towards a wobbling Groves before Howard Foster jumped in between the two and called it a night.

Froch retained his title in the most controversial of circumstances which had the crowd jeering at the premature conclusion. Groves, a very smart fighter indeed, knew how to use the situation to create an even bigger rematch for himself. Meanwhile, DeGale watched on from the wilderness desperate to get involved in the action.

Groves vs Froch II

Froch had no choice but to grant Groves a rematch, with the perception being that he would have been running scared had he not. Groves again went to work on Froch, psychologically breaking him down before a punch had been thrown.

The rematch took place on May 31, 2014 at Wembley Stadium and was officially declared the biggest grossing fight in history on British soil. But this time the result was painfully obvious. Groves started well again and was probably edging a close fight until a spectacular ninth round knockout. It was a devastating end to the fight which has still left lasting damage to the Londoner's confidence since.

DeGale lurking

Prior to the Groves-Froch match-up, DeGale had declared he hoped to see his old adversary get knocked out. Well, he certainly got his wish. On the same card at Wembley, DeGale destroyed American Brandon Gonzales in an IBF super middleweight title eliminator making him the mandatory challenger for Froch's IBF title.

Backstage bust up

Both Groves and DeGale were included on the undercard of Tony Bellew and Nathan Cleverly's highly anticipated re-match and, after their weigh-ins, it was reported that troubled flared up between the pair yet again.

Words were exchanged, sparking some pushing and shoving which escalated into the camps of both fighters, with family members even becoming involved. If ever there was further evidence to highlight how personal the feud had become, this was it.

Groves & DeGale go after the Dirrell brothers

While they are hardly joining side by side to go in pursuit of the Dirrell brothers, Groves and DeGale both have the American super middleweight world champions in their sights. DeGale is certain to fight for the IBF title, which Carl Froch vacated, on April 25 at the 02 against Andre Dirrell. 

It is a shame Groves will not be fighting Andre's brother, Anthony Dirrell, on the same card as the American champ is due to fight a mandatory challenger first. Although the timing may not be perfect, it is ironic that the Dale Youth youngsters pair off against these brothers in pursuit of their goals.

Degale vs Groves II - World title unification fight?

Both DeGale and Groves have expressed their openness to a re-match with each other and they seem to agree it would be most prestigious for them to do so in a world title unification bout.

What a story it would be. From juniors, once friends, learning their trade in Ladbroke Grove to having a unification fight on the world stage with not one ounce of love lost along the way. James DeGale and George Groves really are the best of enemies.

Who would win James DeGale vs George Groves II?

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