• Steve Bunce

DeGale flawless in testing circumstances

Steve Bunce April 24, 2012
James DeGale is a lot smarter than people give him credit for - and, although he's got some maturing to do physically and mentally, he isn't far off the world-title picture © PA Photos

James DeGale had plenty on his mind against Cristian Sanavia at the weekend, so to win in the manner he did - via fourth-round stoppage after knocking the guy down a few times - was, in many ways, a flawless performance. His knockers, remember, will never be happy.

I think people underestimate how much pressure DeGale is under. Whether he's brought that pressure on himself, or whether it's a by-product of winning Olympic gold, I don't know - but he is under pressure: he lost to George Groves, came through a really hard test against Piotr Wilczewski to grab the European super-middleweight title, and then in his first defence had to face Sanavia, an Italian veteran, in Denmark.

Under those circumstances, it was some performance. He was helped because there was no press swarming him and putting him on the spot - instead, he was on his own, a fighter with a tiny little entourage, having to do the business in the ring against a tough and rough guy.

That made him focus, and it must have been a relief to not have people saying, "When are you going to fight Groves again?" or "What's happening with your promotional situation?" Both DeGale and Jim McDonnell, his trainer, need to be complimented on how they went about their business in unusual circumstances.

Yes, Sanavia found the odd hole in DeGale's defence, but I'd be disappointed if he didn't: this is a guy who's a former world and European champion, and who's been mixing in top class for a decade.

Sanavia would have known what DeGale was going to do: cover up for a few rounds to take Sanavia's power away, then step on it. So it's understandable that when DeGale did what his opponent expected, he hit him with shots here and there. The punches never exposed any big flaws because - get this - in boxing you get hit!

The Brit was shrewd in there - and it backs up what I've been saying in arguments for a long time: DeGale is a smart fighter. I know he comes across as a bit arrogant in interviews and sometimes doesn't sound very impressive, but essentially he's smart in boxing terms.

The George Groves fight taught DeGale plenty © Getty Images

He won Olympic gold (as a rank outsider) in 2008 after finding himself on a really tough side of the draw - and you don't emerge from that unless you've got a good brain. This is what people are overlooking. He's never been a one-shot puncher or a merciless banger - he's a thinker. If he doesn't come across like Einstein's cousin in interviews, that's irrelevant.

If he hadn't lost to Groves, we'd be talking about a British and European champion and thinking how promising his career looks. I still think he's got a bit of maturing to do, physically and mentally, but Groves and Wilczewski made him become a man quickly; he learned more being turned over by Groves than he did strolling past the previous opponents.

My advice to James now would be to stay busy and be a little bit more controlled when opening your mouth. He also needs to sort out his managerial and contractual situation, and my understanding is that the British Boxing Board of Control is involved in that - and rightly so. It's a distraction, he needs to get all of that sorted.

There's no need to set himself too many time-sensitive targets; he should hang around and see what crops up. What if WBO champion Robert Stieglitz has Arthur Abraham pulling out on him in June? Suddenly James could come in.

I think both Groves and DeGale have a chance against Stieglitz - although he is a lot better than people give him credit for. In the flesh, he's very good.

Groves and DeGale are certainly able to move in and around his level. If they fight Stieglitz and lose, it doesn't matter. They become better fighters and that is what the business is all about.

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Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.