Confident not arrogant

Prior to interviewing James DeGale I didn’t have a high opinion of the guy.

My perception of him was slightly biased as I’ve interviewed his arch rival George Groves several times and despite his love of Chelsea (I’m a QPR man) I’ve always been impressed by the way he spoke and carried himself.
In the build-up to their grudge fight in May, Groves had the backing of the majority of the crowd at the O2 Arena – which wasn’t surprising.
DeGale did himself few favours. Constantly referring to Groves as “ugly boy” and “ginger kid” may have been slightly humorous the first time but as the media interest in the fight grew, he looked and sounded very immature by constantly mocking his opponent like a kid in a playground.
Groves is very quick-witted. It’s no act, he is funny off camera as well as on it. He seemed to enjoy hearing DeGale rabbit on about him and then cut him down to size with smart one-liners like “James destined to fail”.
At 25, DeGale has two years on Groves but mentally Groves had the upper hand going into the fight.

DeGale must learn from May's loss

On the night, I was convinced Groves deserved the win but several boxing commentators felt DeGale was unlucky and the man himself certainly believes his British super-middleweight title was stolen.

Despite much speculation in the aftermath of the defeat, DeGale opted to keep Jim McDonnell on as his trainer.

McDonnell also trains Steve O’Meara, who recently won the southern area light-middleweight title by beating fellow West Londoner Ryan Toms.

After congratulating his stable-mate on his win, DeGale literally came skipping and jumping out of O’Meara’s changing room, so I was well placed to grab a word with him about his immediate future and, first of all, how he felt about his promoter Frank Warren signing up Groves.

The response surprised me as I’m used to hearing very dull responses – usually from media-trained footballers – but DeGale called it as he saw it.

“At first I was p***d off to be honest,” he admitted.

“But I went and met Frank, who explained everything. I digested it and it’s perfect. By the early part of next year if Groves keeps winning, I win this European title, then the fight with him is there – it’s on.”

None of the clichés I’m always getting from footballers. No hiding the truth. The question was put to him and he gave a straight answer. Refreshing.

The defeat to Groves obviously hurt his pride and although he had the odd dig at Groves during the interview, he acknowledged that he is a good fighter and the favourite to win his next fight against Paul Smith despite it being “no foregone conclusion”.

Warren believes DeGale can challenge for a world title in 2012

He appears to have learnt from the Groves fight. He has respect for this weekend’s opponent, Piotr Wilczewski. He doesn’t feel it necessary to try and wind him up and he realises that the Pole is no mug.

He is well aware that people are expecting a reaction from him against Wilczewski in what Warren has rightly dubbed a “must-win fight.”

DeGale has gained a reputation as an arrogant so and so, and a lot of fight fans aren’t keen on him. But having spoken to him ahead of Saturday’s fight I can say that it isn’t arrogance – he is just incredibly confident in his ability to get to the top of the super-middleweight division.

McDonnell has a phrase which is often repeated by the boxers he trains: “records are for DJ’s.”

DeGale no longer has a 0 by his name but has toned down his mouth a bit and seems to have gained some maturity.

Now he needs to win in style on Saturday night to convince his many critics he has what it takes to win back that British title from Groves and eventually take his place at the top table of what is a very strong division.