by David Simpson
Ahead of his headline fight at York Hall, George very kindly agreed to do an interview exclusively for GrovesvDeGale. Giving us the low-down on his glittering amateur career, all the history with James DeGale, and his progress since turning professional.
Tell us about your Amateur career and also how you came to boxing having started in Kickboxing.
I started boxing when I was 10, I went down to Dale Youth, I actually went down when I was 7 and they said you’re too young, you can’t box till you’re 11, and that’s what steered me in the direction of kickboxing but I always planned to be a boxer. I loved the sport of kickboxing, did really well in it, achieved all my goals, and then when I was about 13 I started concentrated on my boxing. In the meantime though I was doing boxing and kickboxing, so there were times when I’d be boxing in a schoolboy final on the Friday and then on the following Saturday I’d be boxing for a British Kickboxing title. In the end, I had to concentrate on just the boxing. I was quite big for my age and so when I was about 14 or 15 they started putting me in the England squads so I was training with the older guys and that gave me an extra edge. When I was 16 I started boxing for England and then went through to box at senior level as well which was fantastic. I really enjoyed my amateur days at Dale Youth, I’ve got so many friends down there, and the coaches, every time I go down there it’s a great feeling and a great reception. I was really proud when I won my ABA titles because it was my way of trying to say thank you for all the work they put in for me over the years. Because they’re down there and they work for nothing and they’re so dedicated to the sport so that was my little give back. I remember when I won four schoolboy titles and they were saying this is really unusual, only like 10 people have done it in so many years and one of them was actually a member of the gym a bit older than me, he’d done it as well so we had his shorts up on the wall and then my shorts up on the wall next to each other. That was when we were a junior club. Then when the juniors were doing so well we didn’t want to leave the club we wanted to stay on boxing, and that was when it became more of a senior club and we started having ABA champions like Lee Beavis, James DeGale and then I followed in their footsteps. We had like 5 ABA titles in 5 years, it was really good. Then I decided on my final year, and that I wanted to win the ABA’s and then go pro, so from there on that was the goal. I had to keep focused on the ABA’s and when that was done I had to find the right camp to go professional and now here I am.
So you won the ABA’s two years in a row and beat Degale en route, why was he then picked ahead of you for the Olympics?
The reason DeGale went to the Olympics is because he was the right man for the job. How can I argue and say ‘why did you pick him?’ when he came back with the Gold medal. Fair play to him, he did his job. After I beat him I thought ‘oh that’s it, I’m getting the nod, I’m in there’ but it doesn’t work like that, it doesn’t work like that at all. At the time I was a little bit bitter, you know, I couldn’t understand. And a lot of it, I still don’t understand, why I wasn’t, not necessarily picked in front of DeGale but why I wasn’t training with him, being closer to him, being able to push him, being sent on more competitive tournaments. I was never actually picked for a competitive tournament, a ranking tournament. It was always like we’re flying you off to Macedonia to fight in the Boxcup or something and it’d be a tournament where they’d say fight these guys, you’re not going to win but it’s the taking part that counts type thing. I remember once, a team was flown out to Macedonia and I boxed a Russian in the final and I was leading every round going into the last but then it finished and I’d lost by a point. I was shrugging my shoulders, I couldn’t understand it and then afterwards I won best boxer of the tournament, like they were saying ‘here’s your consolation prize’. Then, when it came down to it and I was saying to Terry Edwards please pick me, let me have my shot, let me go to the qualifier, he’d say ‘well, you lost here, you lost there’ and it was like if you’d seen it, you’d understand, but that’s how it goes, he has to go by the book, and I didn’t quite get the nod. Amateur boxing has changed though, it’s completely different to pro boxing now and the dream has always been to be a World Champion pro boxer. And that’s the goal I’ve set. I don’t have the style for amateur boxing at the highest level. I win bouts but when I get hit I don’t have the ability to just cruise and run away, it’s not in my make-up, it’s not in my genes, I want to fight, I want to entertain, I’m a bit too much of a crowd pleaser maybe. Having turned pro, I feel like I’ve taken to it like a duck to water. The ability to hit someone and hurt someone and then think right, I’m gonna step on them. I have that killer instinct and that’s what won me a lot of domestic bouts. I only ever lost to one opponent, one Englishman in 75 fights so it was on that aggression and will to win, that you don’t always get on International duty, but you do get in the pro game.
So you went pro and signed with Hayemaker. Tell us about that choice and tell us about the set-up there.
All my boxing training is done with Adam Booth, David Haye’s trainer, and I’m in the gym with David as much as possible as well. Because, although we’re different fighters with different styles, there’s things I can pick up from him and do pick up from him from being in the gym with him. It’s important to go into the gym and have that role model to look up to as well. I sort of missed that in the last part of my amateur days because I was sort of top of the tree, I was doing really well and I was the guy everyone else looked at but now I’ve got someone who I can ask, ‘what do you think of that David?’ and that’s really important to me. When I was thinking about signing with whichever team I wanted to go with that was a big part, being able to train with a World Champion. Also when we sat down and spoke they were saying things I agreed with, they’re philosophy of boxing, it’s an old school style but also with new training techniques, a bit more scientific. I think that’s the only way to progress, to study what’s good before and then try to improve upon it. Training’s a very well thought out process. We’re not in the gym training every day hitting bags, it’s important to rest as well. It’s not about being in the gym working hard every single day, otherwise you’ll have nothing left to give come fight night. It was never about who’s going to give me the most money or even the most exposure, to start with, because that’ll come when it’s ready. It was also about getting the right training and working in the right environment, having the right opportunities. They have connections with Golden Boy and that means going out to spar some of the top Americans and that’s priceless, especially at my stage. I’ve had the opportunity to go out to Italy and I’ve been sparring out there, and it’s not just sparring world class guys, it’s going away, being outside your comfort zone, sleeping in dodgy hotels, getting early morning flights, that’s what toughens you up and prepares you for a hard fight. You don’t want life to be too easy, because if it is you have no drive and no hunger. It’s all been thought out and it’s worked out well so far.
You’re boxing in London on October 4th. Will you look to fight in London often and continue to build on your growing local fan base?
Yeah of course, you never forget where you’re from. I had the option of not boxing on October 4th, there were other options, but I said no I’ll box on Oct 4th because that way I get the chance not only to box in London but also to go round and meet people and talk to people and literally the phone doesn’t stop ringing for tickets and you can have that personal touch which is really nice. I don’t want people to think I’m a boxer now and I box on TV and don’t have time for anyone. All my friends understand how busy I am now, training in the mornings and evenings, it’s hard for me to find time just to kick back and watch the footy or something, let alone anything else. It’s lovely though, it’s the only time all my family and friends come and are all together and we have a good laugh. It’s usually a good night, I’ve never lost before at York Hall! I wouldn’t know what it’d be like if I did – I think there’s a back exit somewhere!
* Since this interview it has been confirmed that George will fight Matthew Barr on October 4th *
Will you be fighting on the Undercard of Haye v Valuev on Nov 7th?
I hope so. As far as I’m aware, I’m due to box and I’ll do anything to box on that show. It’d be a dream come true. My pro debut was at the O2 arena, probably London’s best modern, up to date arena, for anything let alone boxing and that was fantastic but to box on a Heavyweight World title fight after 6 fights would be amazing. For me, it would show where my career’s gone and that I’m in with the right people. Obviously it’s not a Hayemaker promotion so it’s down to them [German promoters Sauerland] but they’ve asked for a slot for me. If I do get to box on there, Sky Box Office will cover my fight as well and that’d be a really nice bit of exposure and good for the fans who can’t necessarily afford to come out to Germany to watch the fight, they can tune in and watch it on TV.
You’ve had 4 fights now, what route are you looking to take in your career?
I’d like to do it the traditional way, you know, step up the ladder. I don’t really appreciate the fighters who boycott British and European level and then go straight in for a lower version of the World title because I think you’re cheating the fans really. I’d love to win the British title out right. That’s something I’d like to do sooner rather than later. I’ve had a look at the guys above me and they are really good guys, they’re a lot more experienced than me but I think I’ve got the tools to beat most of them if not all of them, maybe not yet but in the near future. There’s talk of the Southern Area title and the London title, hopefully in the beginning of next year I can target one of those, that’d be my aim. The next fight is a 6 or 8 rounder then the one after that one in Germany, that’ll be an 8 rounder, then after that I’ll be ready to kick on. In an ideal world I’d like to be boxing Tony Salam for the Southern Area title early next year. Whether anyone else agrees with that I don’t know. I understand I have to be reigned in sometimes, I get carried away. People I’m with know I need to be tested but within reason and I trust their judgment.
You’ve been getting in some quality sparring recently, with the likes of Froch and Fragomeni, does that allow you to step up the level of your opponents?
I was sparring with Carl Froch after 2 bouts and I wasn’t shocked but I think Adam was a little bit shocked at how well I’d done and Carl was really chuffed with the spar and commented on it and said he’d help me if ever I needed it. And then after that spar, the caliber of opponent I had for the next fight went up a few levels. I think it’s about proving yourself in the gym so you can put it into the fight and then once you’ve proved yourself in the fight you can crack on. You don’t want to rush but at the same time, there’s no point in wasting three years fighting bums and knocking people over, even if it looks good on paper, you need a test. I’d rather box someone who’d won one fight out of 50 but I know he’ll give me a hard 6/8/10 rounder than someone who’d won 49 out of 50 but you know you’re going to knock him out in 30 seconds. It’s about learning at this point for me. Then when it comes to British/European/World titles, then I’ll knock people out and look good for the cameras!
Tell us a bit about your style. People have commented on the low left hand for instance.
Well, I’m working on different styles. The hand, I’m keeping the hand up a lot more, but people say ‘he’s going to get caught, he’s got a low left hand’, just because your hand’s up don’t mean you wont get caught and just because your hand’s down don’t mean you will get caught, you know. They’re down for a reason and it’s something that I found quite natural when I first went pro so that’s why – all the natural stuff comes out in the fight, all your patterns of movement, and you haven’t got the experience to go through anything different. But I’ve been working on a lot of different stuff now so in my next fight, it’s 6 months since you last saw me, you’ll see a lot of new stuff. The low left hand works, but it won’t work with everyone so you need to adopt different styles.
What are the advantages of that technique then?
From an offensive point of view you’re quite well balanced with the low left hand so you can use it as a counter balance for your body movement so you can speed up your body movement basically. Also, when you attack with a lead left hand, it comes from out of eye line so it’s quite hard to tell where it’s coming from. What’s harder about a low left hand is the defensive point of view of it and obviously Mayweather is a master of it, he never gets hit, he rocks and rolls with the shots, his shoulder comes up at the perfect time and you do have to find that perfect range of movement. If you’re boxing someone that’s taller than you and you’ve got a low left hand it’s much harder because they’re punching down on you so even when you roll back your head is still in view but if you’re boxing someone smaller than you, once the shoulder comes up and the head goes back it’ll bounce off the shoulder.
Tell us about fighting at Super-Middleweight. Are you big at the weight and are you likely to move up in the future?
I think I’m still growing into Super-middleweight, I mean I walk around heavier than Super-middleweight obviously, but once I trim down and get all the body fat down to the right percentage then I’m a Super-middleweight. With the training I’m doing, I’m filling out, I can feel myself getting bigger, I feel I’m getting harder, I’m doing a lot of strength work which has translated into my boxing. I might not be the tallest Super-middleweight and I might not have the most muscular physique but I’m also pretty young compared to the current crop. I’m just 21, I’m still coming into my own, I’ve had a year of professional training and I feel like I’ve matured and become that bit tougher. Maybe in the distant future I can see myself going up to Light-Heavy. When I first went pro I had this delusional thought I could make Middleweight but straight away Adam said no, he said I don’t want you getting to British title level and then deciding you have to move up a weight cos you can’t do Middleweight anymore. I’d rather you be smaller and grow into it. If you look at David Haye as an example, when he went Pro I’m not sure if he was Light Heavyweight or Cruiser but he was tiny compared to what he finally ended up. His last fight at Cruiser against Maccarinelli he looked like a monster and now he’s even bigger. With the training and the accumulative process and natural ageing you’re going to get heavier, but I’d like to be a Super-middleweight World Champion and so I plan to be here quite some time.
Tell us about James DeGale and the history between you two.
Me and DeGale, we grew up boxing together as such at Dale Youth. I was sort of a growing lad at Light-welter, I remember at the time, and he was a podgy 81kg Light Heavyweight, and we used to have tear ups in the gym then. We never really used to bad mouth or anything, at the end we’d touch gloves and forget about it. There was a lot of pressure put on both of us inadvertently when I stepped up to Middleweight. By then he’d won two ABA titles at the age of 21 or something like that and I wanted to do the same. I was 17 and I was like ‘Mick[Mick Delaney – Head Coach, Dale Youth] put me in, I’m ready’, but I’d neglected his advice once before and I’d paid the price for it, which everyone lets me remember – that was with Travis Dickinson, and I thought I can’t do it again so I took his advice, I waited another year and then in the ABA’s the following year I boxed him, bashed him up and went on and won it, which was great for me. It was great for me because it proved the doubters wrong and let people know I mean business and not only am I a good junior but I’m a good senior as well. It showed I’ve got boxing ability, I’ve got skill, I don’t just have mature aggression, bullying 15 year olds, I can mix it with the men as well. Which I knew because I’d been doing it since the age of 14/15 in the gym, you know, and as I say, I’d been sparring with DeGale all my life, so I did the job and beat him in the ABA’s.
Tell us about that fight with DeGale in the ABA’s.
I had a lot of support there that day. So did he, and I think down at the Dale Youth it was 50-50, you know, no one knew what the outcome would be. Except me! I knew I could beat him, I knew I had the technical ability to beat him, I just wasn’t sure how to go about it. It was at Brent Town Hall, North West Divs in the ABA’s, I wasn’t sure what type of scoring it was going to be, whether it’d be computer scoring or judges scoring or whatever. We both gave it our all that night, but it’s the little details that get forgotten that make it really interesting. For instance, I had boxed earlier on that night, I’d boxed Louis Reed, who was the Novice Champion, from our gym as well, I’d done 4 rounds with him like an hour and a half before I boxed DeGale. So while he had his feet up, doing his bandages, watching my fight, I was in there slugging it out. So I did 8 rounds that night and if you see the last round, I stuck it on him and he couldn’t hack the pace. So, I’d love to have boxed him again, I’d love to have boxed him fresh because I think I would have set that relentless pace from the start, but on the day I had in the back of my mind to keep a bit left in the tank. He was a brilliant amateur though, he had the amateur style down to a tee, he was right on his feet and he had the long arm shots, but, he can have a go in the pros, but he won’t be able to do that. I think he’s waking up to that now and he’s adapting. All the good fighters do adapt and I’d like to see him do well, you know, because he is a Londoner and as much as he’s my rival, I’d like him to do well. That’d be good for me as well because one day down the line if he can keep up with me, I’ll fight him in a Super fight and I’ll knock him out.
What happened after that win?
When I finally won, that’s when the real pressure started. Because there’s no shame losing to the Commonwealth Bronze medalist and double ABA champion, but now you’ve got to go beat someone no one’s ever heard of and you can’t lose to those guys. I think that’s when I really grew up during that ABA Championship. I had a couple of tough battles that I had to slug my way through, I had a couple of fights where I had to show I could get up on my toes and box and fortunately for me the final was in London at York Hall, which has been a good place for me, it was on the BBC, you know, I got some real good exposure and I think after boxing in that final and winning I got people’s respect.
Unfortunately for me, off the back of that I couldn’t get into the Elite set-up at England. I was sort of in the reserve team and then I was coming up to the age of 20 and I was training with 15 year-olds and I was losing the passion for it because it was a bit like ‘why am I here?’ I had no one to look up to and when you’re training with 16 year olds it’s difficult because you’ve been there and done what they’re doing and you need to kick on. So I went to a few tournaments, unfortunately broke my jaw so I was out for a bit there and then the ABA’s came round again and that was when I decided that I’m going to turn professional now, I can’t wait for London 2012. I desperately did want to wait for the London Olympics but I was under the impression that there were going to be massive changes in the amateur set-up, with coaches going out and in and in my previous experience it takes a couple of years for that all to settle down and I didn’t really want to be in no man’s land for a few years worrying about my future when I know I could crack on and get stuck into a new challenge, which was what I desperately needed really.
People bring up the Travis Dickinson losses in the amateurs, tell us about those fights.
I lost to him twice. Both in the juniors. The first time was a close little battle and I paid the price for underestimating an opponent. Two weeks before that fight I was boxing out in Poland and I was sent home because I had Mumps. I didn’t think I had it that bad but it was in my system and it was in my system for a long time but because I was in the semi-finals of a national title and I was thinking ‘who is he? I’ve never really heard of him, he looks alright but he wont beat me’ and I went into the fight and I was just not ready for it and I think I hadn’t lost before, I was unbeaten so he was obviously going to go into it fired up and it was a close thing but he got the nod and that’s like fair play to him. It was a funny one because I was actually leading going into the last round but I thought I should have been down and I had my best round and ended up losing so it was a bit backwards but I couldn’t argue with the decision, whichever way it went you know. And then a year later, after all the I told you so’s, I didn’t listen again, it was a National finals this time and I wanted to prove everyone wrong, I was still young and naive, I was thinking I’m just going to go out there and prove the first time I was just ill and this time I mean business, you know, and I came out and we were both catching each other and in my head I was thinking ‘this guy’s going to go soon, I’m landing big shots’ and then I got put down. I thought ‘come on get up, get back to the drawing board’. I got back up onto my toes and started boxing him but then got carried away and drawn into a brawl again and we both landed big shots but obviously amateur boxing, safety first, you know, I got a count and they’d brought in a new rule that year that two counts in a round and you lose the contest, so you get stopped so I was absolutely gutted, I was on my knees begging the ref, ‘come on, you don’t know the rules’, it was really hard to take but I had kind words from a lot of people, learnt from it and thank God I made that mistake when I was 16 or 17, I could have made that mistake when I was 25 fighting for a world title. Fair play to Travis, he’s a pro now, he’s unbeaten and I would love to get it back on with him. I know I can beat him, I’d love to fight him one day. He’s grown, he’s up at light-heavy and he’d tower over me, but I’ve got the ability to beat him and hopefully we can get it on. I think that could be one of the most interesting fights out there today.
Outside of boxing, what are your interests?
I like watching sport in general, all sorts of sport – football, athletics, anything. I like to spend time with my girlfriend, my family. I like stand-up comedy as well. I can’t get enough of it, guys like Frankie Boyle, Michael McIntyre. I try to get to see it live as much as possible as well, it’s become quite a passion for me really. I try not to watch too much TV though. I mean when you’re in training for a fight you get down time and you really need to take that rest. You’ve got a session in the morning, and then you’ve got a session again at six, there’s quite a big gap in between, sometimes a six hour gap, where you can’t go shopping or do this or do anything because you’re tired from the last session and it might not catch up with you that night but it’ll catch up with you after a few days, so when it’s time to rest you need to go home and put your feet up and properly chill.
Who are your Boxing heroes and why?
I’d say De La Hoya for his image and people skills and popularity, that’s important to the sport. You have characters in the game, like Mayweather is a character. He wouldn’t necessarily be your best mate but you’d always choose to watch him because he’s hilarious, you know, some of the things he says. De La Hoya on the other hand, sometimes he might be a bit, he might not be as controversial, but he’s a nice guy you know, he’s got a big following, he’s smart, and he’s sort of a role model for me in that I’d like to be like De La Hoya in that he’s a role model for everybody else and he was a great fighter as well. Otherwise, I like the same as everyone else, the Leonards, the Durans, also Nigel Benn, he had so much heart and courage when he boxed. I think that’s important, he was willing to put everything on the line and that’s how you feel. Sometimes when you’re in there you’d give your right arm for a win sometimes. Afterwards you might think ‘what have I done that for?’ But I think when it really hit home for me was my first senior international and I was away boxing in Poland and I was sharing a room with Anthony Ogogo, former Big Brother star, and we were sitting there and he had lost on a count-back and he was laying in his bed and I was laying in my bed with a broken jaw, but I won the fight. I broke my jaw in the second round and just carried on boxing and won the bout fortunately. And we were both lay there and said to each other which position would we rather be in? He’s sitting there with a loss but he’s fine, I’m sitting there with a broken jaw, but I’m thinking I wouldn’t trade this to be where he is, not at all. I couldn’t face going home telling people I’d lost. That said, when I got to the doctors the next day and had an X Ray and they said you’re going to be out for 6 months, maybe I would have taken his position! But that’s how you feel, I’d give anything for a win.
George returns to action on October 4th. For Tickets call 07939 387 980
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