The WBSS 168-pound tourney to end with a bang on DAZN
A dislocated shoulder George Groves suffered in a dominant win over Chris Eubank Jr., prevented the super middleweight World Boxing Super Series tourney from reaching a well-deserved crescendo. The WBSS 168-pound tourney can still end on a high note, as it did with Oleksandr Usyk drawing rave reviews by unifying every belt in the cruiserweight division. The winner of the George Groves, 28-3 (20), and Callum Smith, 24-0 (17), clash ascends to top dog status in the division, presenting a clear, as well as lucrative, target for American-based WBO beltholder Gilberto Ramirez and WBA titlist David Benavidez to chase. It is a shame those two boxers were advised to skip the WBSS tourney, especially since the division has been dominated by European boxers over the last two decades. Still, the super middleweight division is better off for the tournament.
The WBSS final is broadcast on the DAZN app, an ESPN+-style sports subscription service that delivers 32 boxing events a year for $9.99 a month, this morning/afternoon in America (1:00 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT). The DAZN streaming platform drew positive reviews last weekend, presenting Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight title defense against Alexander Povetkin, with Sugar Ray Leonard’s disappointing commentary my only issue with the new service. The exotic locale for the showdown, at the King Abdullah Sports City, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is unique but will surely lack the atmosphere this all-England showdown could have fostered in Liverpool or London. Then again, the site fee goes a long way to paying the nine million-dollar winner’s share awaiting the victor!
The tourney final would have garnered a lot more buzz, given Groves’ beatdown of Chris Eubank Jr., if it had taken place in June, as originally planned. The WBSS had the contractual option to replace the reigning WBA super middleweight titleholder in order to award the Muhammad Ali Trophy in a more timely manner. However they rightly decided it was in the best interest of boxing and its brand to give Groves time to recover from his surgery. The 30-year-old Groves has declared himself ready on every level, “It has been a long preparation for the fight. I am fit; I am healthy. I have put in the work.”
Despite dispatching a streaking Eubanks Jr., who many considered a favorite in their fight last February, Groves believes Smith represents the sternest obstacle of the tourney, “This will be the toughest test yet in the tournament but I am boxing better than ever and I don’t see Callum posing a threat. I expect another comfortable win. We are preparing for the very best Smith possible. We know what to do and I am capable of it; I just need to get it done.” There is also a family feud element to consider, since Groves beat Smith’s eldest brother Paul in 2011.
A clearly-focused Groves said he believes his history of taking tough fights, not all successful, is what will separate him from Smith in the championship rounds. The relaxed Londoner said, “In any other sport, an easier route to the final is your best route but, in this sport, it isn’t. He has not been able to test himself at the highest level. If it’s not required, you’re not going to push yourself and you’re going to take the route of least resistance. He doesn’t win fights as easily or as convincingly as he should do. He labors to a points victory or a late stoppage. His biggest win is over Rocky Fielding (in November of 2015), which he did win early.”
It is true that Smith’s route to the final has not been as steep a hill or as dangerous a curve to navigate, when compared with Groves. The Liverpudlian started impressively by winning a wide decision over previously undefeated Erik Sjoglund and was scheduled to face former WBA and WBO light heavyweight titlist Jürgen Brähmer but the oft-injured German pulled out with yet another injury. Smith has not let that deter his championship ambitions, “I am in a good place, feeling good. I feel comfortable in winning. I just feel I am a better fighter than anyone he has fought in this tournament. I feel confident I will come out on top. The fans should be in for a treat. I am looking forward to becoming a world champion.”
What a 28-year-old Smith may lack in experience or veteran opposition, he hopes to make up for in intelligence and athleticism. At 6-foot-3, Smith is a big super middleweight and sports stinging punches he can employ to maximum effect, given a considerable reach advantage. Smith told The Liverpool Echo newspaper, “There’s a lot of ways to fight George Groves. He’s done what every boxer dreamed, so I do credit him for that but I do feel, in doing all that, he’s put a lot of miles on the clock. He’s an old 30-year-old and there’s only so many times you can put your body through it. I feel I’m the younger, fresher man. I feel I’m the better fighter and it can go many ways but if I concentrate on me, then that should be enough to come out with the win and the belt.”
The promoter’s patience was stretched to get to this point but Kalle Sauerland is happy with the pairing that brings the super middleweight tourney to a dramatic end, “The fight has all the ingredients to capture the world on a stage not normally associated with boxing. It’s an incredible match-up. They are two proven gladiators, making this a final not to be missed.” Sauerland pointed out that this fight takes on historical significance, given it is held in Saudi Arabia, which has “never seen boxing before at this level. One day Groves and Smith will be able to tell their children and grandchildren that they were the first to fight in this region.”
Naturally the boxers prefer the event take place in England but both admitted they understood that they had no say in where the final fight was to take place. Smith noted, “I would have loved for this super-fight to be in Britain. British fans are second to none. Two Brits fighting abroad is a bit unusual but this tournament has been a bit unusual from the start.” Smith added an apt soccer analogy, “It’s been a bit different like the Champions League but that is how it was sold to us boxers from the start.”
There are cultural and logistic reasons to have reservations about the host country. Saudi Arabia has restrictive laws concerning women and religious practices but, in the recent past, the government has tried to address concerns, even hosting a WWE wrestling event (in the very venue in which today’s event will take place), the “Greatest Royal Rumble,” in which women were welcome to attend. In fact, WWE will return to the region in early-November for a card called “Crown Jewel,” in Riyadh. The same assurances were given to Kalle Sauerland before the venue was green lighted by the WBSS board.
In the end what matters most to boxing fans is the fight and this is a quality match-up with both men rated in the Top 3 by all respected ranking bodies. It is worth seeking out, despite the difficult start time for North American fans. The odds makers also have the fight finely balanced with Groves rated on average as a -145 favorite, with Smith backers finding +115 at most betting portals.
The participants consider this is a career pinnacle and Groves thinks he and Smith represent the best possible pairing, “We are in a different domain but I’ve got more experience than him. I’ve boxed all around the world and on big shows like against Badou Jack in Las Vegas on the (Floyd) Mayweather (Jr. vs. Andre Berto) undercard. This is a massive step up for him but it’s not my hardest fight on paper.” Smith said his lack of limelight to date is actually a bonus, “Boxing’s not as glamorous as people think. There’s easier ways to make a living. He’s put a lot of miles on the clock and had a very tough career for a 30-year-old. Because of the vulnerability, with the added mileage on the clock, I do feel he’s there for the taking.”