On Saturday night in Denmark, James DeGale continues his career rehabilitation after a painfully humiliating loss to George Groves. Not that there's anything humiliating in dropping a razorthin decision to the classy Saint George, but when you've so persistently run your mouth about how much you hate your opponent, how you're in a different league and how you're going to knock him out, a loss of any kind is humbling. As David Haye found out in Hamburg last summer, nothing receives more scorn than a boxer who talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk. And whatever you think of David Haye he's a world-class smack talker – witty, vicious and eminently quotable. DeGale's vocal howlers have been compiled into a YouTube video where he informs us that "The buture's fright, the buture's Chunky" - infinitely more entertaining than any of his telegraphed one-liners.
But let's not distress ourselves weeping for DeGale just yet, as he has a lot going for him. He brought a gold medal back from the Beijing Olympics, has talent to burn and fights in the loaded super-middleweight division where several big-money fights await him should he fulfil his potential. The question that persistently arises, though, is can he achieve his goals under the tutelage of coach Jim McDonnell?
He has stuck with McDonnell after the loss to Groves despite criticism of his approach, and offers from other trainers to jump ship. Fitness fanatic McDonnell is regarded within the game as a great conditioning coach, but has little reputation as a tactical mastermind. He is a cheerleader in the corner, light on specific advice, and when George Groves surprised everyone with a cagey, pot shotting style McDonnell had absolutely no plan B to counter it. This is a big concern for James going forward.
DeGale is a southpaw who is comfortable fighting in both stances. Slick, fast and with decent power he has all the offensive tools to give anyone in the division problems. Defensively he likes to operate out of the cross-arms Philly shell style Floyd Mayweather favours, turning his body sideways, employing shoulder rolls and tricky counters to frustrate his opponent. It's a highly technical, difficult style to pull off but extremely effective if you can do so, and DeGale has looked very comfortable with it, slipping and blocking with a good inside game allowing him to work up close to the body and head. DeGale has nearly everything it takes to be a world champion one day. What he doesn't have is the right trainer. If you look at what Freddie Roach has done with the in many ways more flawed Amir Khan you can only imagine what a world-class trainer could do with DeGale.
His opponent this weekend is Cristian Sanavia, a former WBC titleist after edging out Markus Beyer in a shock split-decision victory in 2004. After being knocked out in the rematch he's done little of consequence on the world stage, fighting mainly six and eight rounders, then winning and losing the European super-middleweight title. The three of his five losses that came by way of KO were to guys without impressive knockout records and in May last year he was put down in the second round by Pavels Lotahs, a fighter with 17 losses in his 25 fights. He's 5 inches shorter and 11 years older than DeGale and with only 13 knockouts in 51 fights he won't have the power to keep James honest.
I think DeGale will want to make an impression after his narrow victory over Wilczewski, and will look to stop the overmatched Sanavia, a fighter in the twilight years of a decent but unspectacular career, who simply doesn't have enough to keep off another young lion with world title dreams. So, take the 1.50 on offer for a DeGale stoppage victory. Chunky has a fright buture, alright – starting this Saturday.