By Geoff Poundes
Unloved and unwanted at home, Englishman James Degale takes his show on the road this weekend when he travels to Denmark to defend his newly won European super-middleweight title against experienced Italian Cristian Sanavia.
Degale, the reigning Olympic champion, has had a topsy-turvy ride as a professional, but his talent is undoubted and in the long tradition of British 168 pounders he remains nailed on to pick up one of the myriad versions of a world title at some point in his fledgling career.
At 26, Degale has still only had eleven paid contests, winning ten and losing one – a top-of-the-bill grudge affair with long-time nemesis George Groves in May last year, when Degale allowed himself to be out-thought by the highly impressive Groves. Degale dropped a wafer-thin and highly contentious majority decision, and is itching to draw his fellow Londoner back into a ring so he can put matters right.
First he’ll have to deal with Sanavia, 45-5, 13 KO’s, who comes to the ring with impressive pedigree – he briefly held the WBC title back in 2004 – but who at 37 has his best years behind him. Sanavia failed in two tilts at the European crown in 2008 and 2009, losing by decision and tenth round stoppage to Karo Murat. Since then he’s feasted on strictly journeymen, and remained unbeaten, but Degale represents a very different class of opposition. It may be that despite fifteen years as a professional, Sanavia has yet to meet a slickster like James, who goes by the nickname “Chunky”.
Degale’s public persona has landed him in hot water with British fans at various times since he returned from Beijing with the gold medal, and he made something of an idiot of himself during the pre-fight shenanigans with Groves, who won a good deal of public respect for the way he handled himself in the face of Degale’s puerile and class-less taunts. “Chunky” has some public relations work to do before fight-goers in the UK will be prepared to get behind him, and he’ll be disappointed that he’s had to go abroad to defend his title. Sanavia, of course, thinks he’s going to leave Denmark on Sunday title-less:
“He had a great amateur career but has never been in the ring with someone as experienced as me,” he told BBC Sport.
Meanwhile Degale is looking past his Italian opponent, and can’t get George Groves off his mind:
‘I’ve got a better title than him now. A rematch with Groves would be massive in Britain for whatever title. It’s a genuine needle fight. I’ve gone back to how I used to box which is how I won a gold medal. I’ve tried to mix it and entertain too much in recent fights. I don’t have to do that – first and foremost I have to make sure I win”, he said.
“Like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for exclusives and other bonus material from Boxing’s Independent Media. You can also keep track of all the latest in boxing news and views by downloading our safe & free toolbar: