Boxing: Groves holds edge on sour night for DeGale
Golden boy loses his crown as bitter rival proves elusive in grudge match
Five years of feuding ended in the shock result last night, when 23-year-old George Groves repeated his controversial amateur victory over the Olympic champion and current golden boy of British boxing, James DeGale. He added DeGale's British super-middleweight title to his own Commonwealth championship with a stunning majority verdict, two ringside judges awarding him the frenetic bout 115-114 and the third calling it a draw at 115-115. No doubt the two bitter rivals will have to do this all over again, so the result didn't really settle anything. In the end, it was a fight that lived up to the hype and became a terrific scrap over the last four rounds with both men bleeding and brawling.
Personally I thought the result could have gone either way but Groves deserves credit for the way he fought skilfully and courageously, usually on the retreat with DeGale, although always the aggressor, finding him elusive. There was no love lost between the two either before or after the fight. The grudge match in Greenwich was a tense and intense battle of wills, full of spite and fury.
Groves, his face caked in blood from gashes on his forehead and over his eyes – DeGale suffered similarly from slighter eye cuts – always maintained he had his fellow Londoner's number as he did when they fought in the ABA championships.
The rhetoric may have stopped when the gloves came off and they started slinging punches instead of mud. Five years ago they battled before a few hundred at Brent Town Hall; last night they provided a gladiatorial duel for a near capacity crowd of 17,000, sharing a purse of £320,000. There were verbal as well as fistic exchanges during the bout and at the end of several rounds Groves raised his hand to indicate that he had got the better of both the talking and the fighting. For DeGale it was a sour night and one he will not wish to remember.
Newly installed as Britain's fourth world champion, Nathan Cleverly made a first successful defence against Polish opponent Aleksy Kuziemski when American referee Mark Nelson called a halt midway through the fourth round. The Pole's face was clearly a mess, bleeding from a broken nose and a cut around his left eye, but he was still battling gamely and the crowd considered it a premature conclusion.
Cleverly was champion by default, being awarded the title – as was Lennox Lewis, of course – without throwing a punch when German holder Jürgen Brähmer became a no-show. Kuziemski, 34, was already on standby and is a former stable-mate of Brähmer, one of the two men who have beaten him in his 21-fight career. But he came to fight and caused Cleverly some anguish in the third round, staggering him with a left hook when the young Welshman was foolishly showboating.
But the referee clearly had been concerned with the Pole's facial injuries. Cleverly remains unbeaten at 23 after 22 fights and at least he looked sharper than last time out when he admitted he lost his mental focus against another substitute opponent.
Kuziemski's corner immediately demanded a rematch, which is arguably deserved though promoter Frank Warren indicated it is unlikely to happen. Said Cleverly: "It's been great to say 'Nathan Cleverly, champion of the world.' It's a wonderful feeling, something I've dreamed of since I was 11."
The former world amateur champion Frankie Gavin acquired his first significant professional trophy, the WBO intercontinental welterweight belt, with a unanimous points victory over fellow Midlander and former British champion Young Mutley. It was a workmanlike performance by 24-year-old Gavin, if a somewhat uninspiring one. He had to go the full 12 rounds against a 35-year-old opponent who was cagily defensive.
The bout was enlivened by an out-of-the-ring scuffle in the eighth-round interval between heavyweight contenders Tyson Fury and Dereck Chisora, who had to be pulled apart. They are due to meet in a British title fight.
Gavin's former GB team mate Billy Jo Saunders won his ninth professional fight, picking his punches neatly against the Lincoln middleweight Kevin Hammond. It was an assured performance which saw the referee stopping the bout as the bell sounded for the end of the second round, Hammond having taken two eight-counts from body shots.
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