Inside Lines: Haye issues DeGale warning as he fights Groves' corner

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The Independent Online

David Haye takes time out from being verbally outjabbed by Wladimir Klitschko to carry the flag – and the bucket – for his protégé George Groves next Saturday night.

The WBA heavyweight champion will be in Commonwealth champion Groves's corner for the long-awaited super-middleweight grudge match with British title-holder James DeGale, an encounter Haye says has more needle than between him and Klitschko.

That is certainly true. I have known both boxers since they were young amateurs and their mutual dislike is genuine and intense, unlike the manufactured bums-on-seats trash talk disfiguring the £50m heavyweight showdown in Hamburg on 2 July.

"I will do anything to help George," says Haye. "I will be in the corner with the spit bucket, make sure his water is nice and chilled, his Vaseline is handy and he's ready to go."

Naturally he thinks Groves, 23 and unbeaten – as is 25-year-old DeGale – will triumph. "George has been training with me in the Fifth Street gym in Miami. He is in fabulous shape. I know how tough he is, his skills are underrated. DeGale reminds me of Audley Harrison and I don't mean that in a disrespectful way. He is an Olympic champion from the same part of London, tall, a southpaw, not a big puncher and he talks a lot."

There is a touch of Klitschko classiness about Groves. He is intelligent, articulate and unemotionally deflects what he calls DeGale's "bullshit". He aspires to be a stand-up comic, and when promoter Frank Warren asked whether there might be some slapstick on the night, he quickly retorted: "There's only one slapper in there."

An anticipated crowd of 20,000 at the O2 Arena shows what a refreshingly attractive match this is, even overshadowing the WBO light-heavyweight title challenge by Nathan Cleverly against Jürgen Brähmer, a hard-nut German whose history suggests he is as handy with his fists outside the ring as he is in it. Maths graduate Cleverly will find this a problematic equation to solve.

As for DeGale and Groves, it surely comes down to who has made the better progress since the latter's disputed victory when they met as amateurs, the root cause of their lack of west London neighbourliness. DeGale has delivered when it matters, winning Olympic and British titles, and I expect him to do so again. Both fights are live on Sky Box Office HD from 8pm.

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Sky's political correction

Nervous Sky host Adam Smith implored the combatants to mind their language before last week's Haye-Klitschko press conference in London, aware of the distasteful ribaldry of previous encounters.

Yet the network still thought fit to apologise to viewers when Klitschko wickedly suggested that after flicking through the copious beefcake poses of Haye in his own glossy Hayemaker Magazine, the journal "should change the H to a G".

Just as well, then, that Wladimir was off-air later when he likened the fight to a chess match. Asked which piece he considered Haye, he joshed: "I'd better not say queen, had I?"

Definitely a bit of a Wlad.

Terry's screen test

Terry Downes, Britain's oldest surviving world boxing champion at 75, also picks DeGale to beat Groves, "though he's a bit flash and lippy, don't like that sort of thing meself".

Despite his renowned brashness, Downes never resorted to today's ritualistic bad-mouthing of opponents. "Never felt the need to. All I ever wanted to do was to get in there and punch the daylights out of them."

As we report today, the old warrior is to be given a deserved tribute night at the Hammersmith Novotel in London on Saturday 28 May. However, one important item is missing: a film of his victory over Paul Pender at Wembley 50 years ago. Downes loaned his copy to a friend some years back but it has gone AWOL.

One of the event's organisers, referee Bob Williams, is keen to hear if anyone has a copy to show with other footage of Downes's memorable fights on what will be a nostalgic night, for which a few tickets are still available.

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