Will this World Boxing Super Series super middleweight semifinal live up to the cruiserweights?
The beginning of 2018 has not been kind to American boxing fans, as, for the third straight weekend, the best fight will not be televised in America. While the American television market is flooded with aging retreads Victor Ortiz, Devon Alexander, Brandon Rios and Paulus Moses, the rest of the world gets a tasty grudge match between two top-rated super middleweights at or near their physical peaks in George Groves 27-3 (20) and Chris Eubank Jr. 26-1 (20). Judging from my Twitter and Facebook feeds, I am not alone in this opinion, with the World Boxing Super Series being lavished with praise from fans and pundits alike. On Saturday, the WBSS presents the best match-up of the weekend again (streamed live on the World Boxing Super Series Facebook and YouTube pages, for audiences in the United States, at 2 p.m. ET), this time with super middleweights, instead of cruiserweights. Groves and Eubank Jr. are less proven than the WBSS cruiserweight competitors but both have delivered exciting fights in their most recent outings, making theirs the best weekend attraction.
Granted, the WBSS super middleweight tourney has not gained as much traction with fans, as the cruiserweights, largely because they did not entice all four titleholders into the fray but, at the very least, it will produce the worthiest challenger to current WBO 168-pound kingpin Gilberto Ramirez. The winner of the Groves-Eubank Jr. bout will have a firm grip on the second spot in THE RING Magazine’s rankings that is currently held by Groves. If one of them goes on to win the WBSS tourney (Jürgen Brähmer and Callum Smith meet in the other semifinal), he may surpass Ramirez in the rankings, given the Mexican’s level of opposition has been decidedly weak, of late. None of that matters to Groves or Eubank Jr., at this moment, as the pair have been badmouthing each other with a ferocity fans can only hope their fight matches.
The fortuitous WBSS pairing of Groves and Eubank Jr. is a boon to British boxing, as the duo have been eying each other for years and are not shy about commenting on the other’s accomplishments. Especially since they have sparred on multiple occasions, so neither is walking into the ring blind to the other’s skillset. Groves came away from their sessions unimpressed, “We have shared a ring enough times. He knows what I’m about and I know what he’s about. He’s just not big enough. We used to spar and I used to steady his legs constantly with right hands. I never had a problem hitting Eubank; he was always easy to hit,” while Eubank Jr. told GQ Magazine another version of events, “We have sparred multiple times over the years. I would hurt him and he would leave the ring dejected and emotional.”
Both men exude confidence, even though they present themselves much differently at WBSS press conferences. Groves has the air of a man who has been on the big stage before, like the time he faced Carl Froch in front of 80,000 fans, and carries a WBA world title belt into the ring. The 29-year-old is a veteran who has come back from defeat to, importantly, show a better version of himself. Groves believes he has enough variations to his game to calmly beat back a cocky challenger. Chris Eubank Jr., much like his father, is an attention seeker who revels in tense atmospheres and does his best work under a bright spotlight. Neither will or have backed down from the verbal barbs and both have stated they expect the same type of fireworks when the punches start to fly. It may be the only thing the pair agree upon.
George Groves enters the fight having finally gotten over his title fight jinx, wresting the title from Fedor Chudinov via stoppage to finally became a legitimate world champion. In the WBSS quarterfinal bout, against Jamie Cox, he scored another stoppage, with a body shot in the fourth round, over a previously unbeaten challenger. Chris Eubank Jr. enters the contest as the hotter of the pair, looking sensational in his last two outings, since moving up to 168 pounds. He dominated former champion Arthur Abraham, then destroyed hard-punching Avni Yildirim to hand the Turk his first professional loss in a truly eye-catching performance in the WBSS quarterfinal.
A West London product, George Groves has a fine amateur background, winning two national titles but losing out on an Olympic spot to eventual gold medalist James DeGale. He avenged that by handing future champion DeGale his first defeat in the pro ranks and is a master at feinting and creating hesitation or balance problems for opponents with unorthodox lead punches and herky-jerky motions. These false attacks, both of hand and foot, help Grove on offense more than defense. Mostly, because Groves has a quick pair of hands and will zip toward an opponent to take advantage of an opening. Even in his losses, to champions Carl Froch and Badou Jack, there were stretches in which Groves was the superior technician.
The setbacks proved Groves can be mastered physically but Groves never gave up mentally and has shown better stamina, as well as power under the guidance of Shane McGuigan, who took over two years ago and with whom Groves is unbeaten. Groves believes he has been to places which will allow him to best a Eubank Jr., of whom less has been asked. (Eubank Jr.’s) got two game plans: He could either bum-rush me or he’s going to showboat and skills rounds. I’ve got a lot more experience than Junior. I’m 29 and he’s 28; there’s not a lot of an age gap between us but I’ve been involved in the big-time.“ That is true; while they are around the same age, there is little doubt Groves hold an advantage, in terms of ring maturity.
The experience factor is the only concession Eubank Jr. is ready to make…begrudgingly. Eubank Jr. told Anson Wainwright of THE RING Magazine, “The one thing he does have over me is experience and that’s what I think he’s going to try to use over me in this fight. It’s just not going to be enough. I’m too hungry. He’s not going to last the 12 rounds. I’m gonna go in there and rip that belt away from him.” It may seem impossible but Chris Eubank Jr. could be just as self-confident and cocky as his mercurial father, who is a constant presence in his son’s corner. Both men like to make bold statements with their mouths, attire and, most importantly, their fists.
Like George Groves, Eubank Jr. has been able to overcome a loss (though much more controversial, coming via split decision instead of a stoppage) to emerge a better and stronger boxer. His setback to Billy Joe Saunders, four years ago, as both men were still maturing, is never acknowledged as a defeat by the Eubanks and did not nothing to curb their perceived arrogance. This shows, when Eubank Jr. is asked about the outcome of the Groves clash, “This is my stage, my time, my opportunity to show everyone that everything I’ve been saying is real. It’s time to prove the doubters, the naysayers and keyboard warriors wrong. There is no way it can go the distance: I’m going to stop him.”
The knockout route is the path most expect Eubank Jr. to take, a frontal assault with a lot of combinations and pressing, as Eubank Jr. has done his whole career. Overwhelming foes with punches is what Eubank Jr. does best but will that work against a Groves who enjoys soaking up pressure to give himself openings? The one time Eubank Jr. was faced with a smooth boxer, he was outhustled by current WBO middleweight titleholder Billy Joe Saunders but Carl Froch showed that Groves can be pressured into mistakes as well. It makes for intense speculation and is the reason many see the fight as a 50/50 proposition. At all the events, Eubank Jr. did seem the smaller man, both in stature (though both are said to be around 5-foot-11) and frame, so he will have to make up for these limitations with speed and volume.
Chris Eubank Jr. wants everyone to think he is the ice-cold killer of the duo, while some observers at the press conferences came away with a sense that Groves is very much the ice to Eubank’s fire. No matter how much Eubank Jr. tried to take over the stage at the WBSS events, Groves usually got the last word. Groves stayed late, after Eubank left with fanfare, to tell the individual press people his keys to victory. “Obviously, this is (Eubanks’) first really big fight, definitely at super middleweight, and I believe that he is going to fall short in a lot of categories. It is not his time. No one owes him anything. This is about who is better…and he is not.”
I have a feeling George Groves won’t get the last word in the ring (losing by a close and debatable decision) but have no doubt Groves will ask questions of Eubank Jr., for which he will have no answer. Even though, as he told THE RING Magazine’s Anson Wainwright, Eubank Jr. is never short of an answer. “I’m going to make a statement. I’m not in this tournament to breeze by and steal rounds and do the bare minimum. I’m here to make statements. I’m here to let the fighters know I am the man to beat. I want everybody to know that I am the superior man. I’m not going in there to do just enough to win. I want to take this man out.” Eubank Jr. wins but, as always, with Groves, his stature is only slightly diminished by a loss.