‘DeGale will produce’

Jim McDonnell knew it was a matter of time before his future as James DeGale’s trainer was called into question.

Many a high-profile fighter – Lennox Lewis and Amir Khan to name just two – has waved goodbye to their trainer as well as their unbeaten record after a first professional defeat.

And DeGale’s controversial loss against George Groves in May immediately led to speculation that McDonnell might be replaced.

“Well before that day came, I was prepared,” McDonnell told West London Sport.

“I always said to James: ‘When we’re winning, we’ll be the best thing since sliced bread, and when the first thing goes the other way, people won’t say it’s your fault – it’ll be mine’.

“That’s how it is and you’ve just got to accept it. I know what some people were saying after the Groves fight but it didn’t bother me.”

The irony of Groves’ narrow points victory was that, beforehand, there was a feeling among some boxing fans and pundits that he was not developing under Adam Booth’s tutelage as quickly as DeGale was under McDonnell’s.

“I’ve sat down and dissected the Groves fight and worked with James on what he needs to put right.”

Groves’ unconvincing display against Kenny Anderson – a war in which he was floored before stopping the Scot in the sixth round – suggested the Hammersmith fighter, who beat DeGale as an amateur, should avoid a showdown with his arch rival.

Yet Booth was later credited with coming up with a masterplan to upset DeGale, with the spotlight falling on McDonnell’s role.

“It shows how fickle the sport can be,” McDonnell said.

“None of those people who called for James to get a new trainer are qualified to make a judgement. James is.

“What I do with all my fighters is tick things off. James will never go into any fight without saying to me: ‘I’m happy with all my sparring, my running, strength work, speed work, endurance work – everything.

“That way, you’ve got an understanding and I can say that my job’s done, now they’ve got to do theirs.

“So when people on the outside say that James should make a change, to me it’s like water off a duck’s back.”

But another defeat for DeGale would not be so easily shaken off – either by the Olympic champion or McDonnell.

His European title challenge against Poland’s Piotr Wilczewski in Liverpool next month has been described by promoter Frank Warren as “a must-win fight” for a man who cannot afford to slip up again.

McDonnell expects DeGale, 25, to be much more assertive than against Groves, who made the most of his opponent’s ponderous start.

“I’ve sat down and dissected the Groves fight and worked with James on what he needs to put right,” McDonnell explained.

DeGale is under pressure to perform

“In sparring he put a really good fighter to the sword and said to me afterwards: ‘I’m never going to let anyone steal a fight from me again’ and that’s experience coming into it – he’s learned from the experience of that fight.

“At the press conference [with Wilczewski] James was looking at that European belt and clearly thinking it looked nice. He wants it.

“So I’ve had a photo of that belt taken and two or three days before the fight I’ll blow that picture up and show it to James. That’ll be a good stimulant for him.

“Frank Warren deserves a lot of credit, because to bring James back in an eight or 10-rounder would have been difficult for him, but getting a fight like this has been the perfect pick-me-up.”

Wilczewski has lost only one of his 30 fights and as well as being European champion is ranked number two in the world by the WBO.

Beating him would propel DeGale towards a world title challenge, not to mention a possible rematch with Groves, but the Harlesden southpaw is under pressure to deliver.

DeGale, 25, believes he will excel under that pressure and McDonnell – himself a former European champion – agrees.

“He thrives on pressure and it is the case that the better the opponent, the better he tends to perform,” McDonnell declared.

“It’s the case in sparring too, as the better the people he spars with the better he looks. It brings out the best in him.

“When he went up to Liverpool and fought Paul Smith – a really good opponent – for the British title, he was different class and that again showed he can step up a level when he has to.

“The thing with the Groves fight wasn’t how good Groves was or how much pressure there was, it was that it was so personal between them.

“I observed them and they were both very tense. You could see it in their upper bodies. James is usually nice and loose but there was such a personal thing going on there that it affected both of them.

“I think with this fight, he knows the guy is very good and what kind of performance is required, and I really believe he will produce his best performance so far.

“Out of something dark comes something light. Out of something bad comes something good. I think the Groves fight could be a blessing in disguise for James.”