I’m not world class – yet

Accused by James DeGale of “nicking” a victory against him, George Groves doesn’t seem bothered that his west London rival has still managed to steal the limelight.

As close and controversial as his points-decision win against DeGale was, it was still a win – and one that saw Groves add the British super-middleweight title to the Commonwealth belt he already held.

Yet almost immediately the talk was of DeGale’s future prospects, with his fight against Poland’s Piotr Wilczewski, in which the Harlesden man bounced back to become European champion, seen as a springboard to a world title shot.

It was as though Groves, who remains unbeaten and also overcame DeGale as an amateur, was the one narrowly defeated in that grudge match at the O2.

But the Hammersmith fighter, two years younger than DeGale, at 23, is unmoved by the hype surrounding the foe who routinely refers to him as “ugly kid”.

“Let him go around thinking he’s world class if that makes him happy,” Groves told West London Sport.

“If I wanted that, then I could have pushed for that, but I wasn’t interested in being linked to world titles. I didn’t fool myself into thinking I was world class just because I’d beaten James DeGale.

Groves will face ex-British champion Paul Smith next month

“Yeah, our fight got massive publicity, was a sell-out at the O2, and in that sense it was like a world title fight. But it wasn’t – and afterwards it was about getting back in the gym and improving.

“He [DeGale] fought for the European title coming off the back of a loss, which was great for him, but I’m 99% sure that fight was made before he fought me. He was so sure he’d win against me.

“That’s why I wasn’t making a song and dance, trying to link myself to world title fights. That’s where I’ll be in the future, but I know I’ve got work to do.”

Some of DeGale’s taunting of Groves has centred around the fact that he outclassed his nemesis’ next opponent.

Paul Smith will take on Groves at Wembley Arena on 5 November – 11 months after DeGale stopped the Liverpudlian in the ninth round of a one-sided fight and took the British title.

Some therefore see next month’s clash as a step backwards for Groves. Others, based on the boxing mantra that styles makes fights, feel Smith poses a much bigger threat than he did against slick southpaw DeGale.

“Boxing’s a funny business and sometimes different fights come along at different times,” Groves says. “This fight against Smith, at this time in my career, is exactly what I need.

“It’s going to be an exciting fight against an experienced fighter and in many respects still a learning fight for me, because there are things I need to improve.

“I don’t want to just be known as the guy who keeps beating James DeGale.”

“I made comments when I wanted to challenge him [Smith] for the British title, but that’s boxing. Sometimes when you’re not getting what you want in this game you have to shout a bit and throw a bit of a tantrum.

“It didn’t work then, but it did ruffle his feathers which is good for me because I know he’ll really be up for the fight and I want to be tested as much as possible.

“He’s a very good fighter and he hasn’t performed as well as he’s capable of in his last few fights.

“You can’t judge a fighter by their worst performance. You have to look at what they did well and I know Smith’s a good fighter who’ll come to fight and will want to produce a good performance.”

The contest will not only be Groves’ first since beating you know who, but also since signing up with promoter Frank Warren, who also handles DeGale.

Both boxers being under Warren’s umbrella boosts not only their respective world title prospects but also the possibility of a rematch.

Groves will continue to be trained and managed by Adam Booth and insists their relationship is as strong as ever despite Warren’s involvement.

Groves signed a three-year deal with Warren

“I rely on Adam’s expertise and experience. He’s one of the only people in boxing who I trust with my career,” he explains.

“We spoke about the deals on offer and what would be needed next to take me to the top, and Frank’s offer came up.

“Adam just said ‘It’s about what’s best for you, that’s the bottom line’ and we decided that was the best way to go.

“On the outside it might look a bit strange and like things were a bit awkward, but it was Adam’s idea as much as mine.

“Our focus is on the best way for me to achieve my goals, which are to improve and then eventually be the world-class fighter I know I can be.”

A victory against Smith would be another step in the right direction. It could also be a step towards a rematch with DeGale.

But while the loser of May’s showdown is desperate for revenge, the winner is desperate to carve his own reputation in the sport.

“My career doesn’t revolve around James DeGale,” Groves insists.

“I’ve beaten him twice. I’ve done what I need to. My career is about going on to be a world champion and the best fighter I can be.

“I don’t want to just be known as the guy who keeps beating James DeGale. There’s a lot more to me and I’ll show people that.”