By Terence Dooley
George Groves annexed the Commonwealth and British super middleweight titles with a slender win over fierce rival James DeGale at London's O2 Arena on May 21st in a fight that was waged against a backdrop of mutual animosity, long held rivalry and the need to progress up the professional ladder. Groves emerged from the showdown with more than just the belts, 'Saint' had a serene air of confidence going into the bout and seemed to diminish DeGale's faith during twelve rounds of bitty action.
James lacked lustre in picking up the EBU belt with a decision over Piotr Wilczewski, his confidence and swagger not quite as pronounced as it had been going into the meeting with Groves. George has his first outing since that night when defending both belts against former British boss Paul Smith at Wembley Arena this Saturday night.
Smith picked up the crown by out-muscling and out-pointing Tony Quigley in 2009, his first defence saw the 'Real gone Kid' register a W over Tony Dodson at the same Echo Arena venue. DeGale, though, prevented a home hat-trick by taking the belt from 'Smigga' with a ninth round stoppage in December of last year. The Liverpudlian has since registered single stanza wins over Jozsef Matolcsi and Paul Samuels to earn a crack at his old belt. The 29-year-old has been characteristically candid during the build up without crossing the line, leaving the champion without anything to get his teeth into bar the contest itself.
“It is a bit different,” said Groves. “I'm a bit miffed because I don't know what I'm doing now – I'm not getting drawn into any slagging matches or anything. It has been forever since I last boxed, the longest break I've ever had, so I had a great downtime, have been back in the gym and can't wait to get in there.”
A Hayemaker fighter since the start of his paid career, Groves adopted a new philosophy, provisionally called 'Once you've beaten them join them' by inking a deal with Frank Warren Promotions in the summer.
“It is still early days. It is going well. I'm really happy with the situation since signing with Frank. I wanted to get cracking and move onto a different level. I've on this massive show in Wembley, it is against an opponent who suits me and will be good,” Groves take on the decision to talk to Frank.
Although not a classic fight, DeGale-Groves whipped fans into a frenzy. The defending commonwealth titlist received a great reception that night, with 'Chunky' having to run the gauntlet when making his way to the ring. A sign of burgeoning fan appeal that Groves hopes will continue come Saturday.
Saying, “I didn't have a clue what sort of reception I'd get at the O2 – I knew people would be there for me but didn't realise how many there'd be. Hopefully the same will happen again at Wembley. A lot of people had a great time last time, they've waited patiently for me to get out again and it is perfect that it is in London.”
When winning a belt all that matters is the 'W'. Defending it, however, requires a little something extra; fans will expect an increase in performance level yet Smith will no doubt raise his own game in order to wrest back his former title. Leaving the onus on George to produce a champion's performance.
“I think it is important to show who I am as a fighter,” mused Groves. “They say the styles will gel. I'll have too much for Smith. As long as I box to the best of my ability and do what I've been doing in the gym it should be a good win.
“I'll be expecting the best Smith possible. I've prepared for that and genuinely believe that he can be better than ever. He hasn't boxed too well of late, there's been a few performances against lesser fighters that produced knockout wins but he knows that a loss to me could spell the end both of his super-middleweight and boxing career. I expect him to be hungry for the win, to be at his best and to bring out my best.”
Although expected to sail through his last two in style, Smith looked a fighter reborn whilst bashing Matolcsi and Samuels. His decision to hook up with Joe Gallagher one that he felt should have been taken prior to the DeGale bout.
Indeed, Smith is flourishing under Gallagher's gaze, the trainer has worked for years for the opportunity to match his wits against the best in his profession and will relish his own battle with Adam Booth, the trainer and manager of Groves. George confirmed that Booth has been picking over Smith's style in order to make his man's job that little bit easier.
“Adam explains himself much better than I do. I can understand things quite well but can't always convey them as well, which is why I’m not the coach! Adam has a look, then comes up with a fight strategy and it all sort of happens organically. We never try to force one thing. We work on my natural ability, the things I am best at, and by the end of the camp we are working on different stuff to improve things,” George's thoughts on the importance of his trainer.
“It means I have confidence and faith in one person, there's never any questions there at any moment. The fact that he delivers clear, concise, accurate and calm words helps, he doesn't say five words when one will do. It does help you as a fighter. You don't realise it at the time but you do when you watch things back. Other fighters go to a corner where they're drivelling on with rubbish and you think, 'He's told him nothing', whereas Adam is clear in his instructions.”
He added: “Plus it is always stuff we do in the gym. He never asks me to do stuff in a fight that I’ve never done before, which is important.”
Gallagher is also a man with a plan, fastidiously working on key areas, shots and bringing his boxers to their physical peak. However, should things go awry, Groves also feels that Smith's innate determination, as shown in his previous British title wins, and ability to dog out a win will have to be negated.
“Yeah, that wouldn't surprise me at all if things aren't going his way,” he concurred as talk turned to Paul's gutsy title victories. “If he wants to hold and drag the fight out then I know how to deal with that through quality sparring with Nathan Cleverly. I went toe-to-toe with a stronger man than Smith. It helped me learn how to deal with it so I'm not fussed. I believe I'll win in style. I do not think Smith will hear the final bell.”
Although adamant that he is not looking beyond his opponent, Groves acknowledged that there is already talk of possible rematches with DeGale and Kenny Anderson, the big Scottish bruiser who pushed Groves hard before losing in the sixth round last November. Groves, though, feels that DeGale's tight EBU win hinted at a dip in confidence, telling me that 'Chunky' may have to get in a few more Ws before they go at it again.
“Personally I hope it (my win) hasn't knocked too much out of James because that is what he thrives on,” his thoughts on DeGale's self-belief. “Fighters who are born out of ignorance and create confidence and arrogance to a certain degree have careers that don't recover after someone's exposed their flaws. But it happened to him fairly early so he can go away and rebuild – I may have done him a favour.
“Sometimes fighters get carried away with the hype from everyone. Then they get into a real fight and come unstuck. James definitely didn't seem the same fighter confidence-wise. They can inflate him up again, I suppose.
“But I'm not going to fight him unless it is on my terms. Last time it was the right time for us, the public was demanding it so it was time to fight. I haven't boxed since then and am not in an immediate rush to get a rematch on. I want to improve as a fighter, you can't improve by fighting the same guy. Down the line it will happen again as long as we keep winning, it grows again and the public get back into it. It will happen but not any time soon would be my guess.”
Leaving Anderson as another possible option for 2012 should Groves prevail against Smith. Paul has also stated that he would be prepared to meet the Edinburgh fighter. Making a Groves/Smith-Anderson clash a big possibility.
“Yeah, that is much more likely,” agreed Groves, 13-0 (10). “I feel I didn't do myself justice in the first fight. I didn't perform has I should have and Kenny's a really good fighter. There's people who feel that he could have done better with more time and he'd like to prove that. It goes on risk again, I could walk away from it and say, 'I've already beaten the man so what more can I do?', but if the fight comes around and is the right move then I’ll take it because I think I can do a better job with my improvements.”
The 23-year-old has been a confident figure throughout his career although there were some who worried that his bravado had been largely borrowed from Haye and that the mask would slip when under fire. The opposite has been the case, Groves had a quiet, steely air during the pre-fight verbal jousting with DeGale, admitting that his approach is both natural and nurtured.
“Some of it is natural but you learn to deal with things a bit better. I've been exposed to the highest levels of boxing through David – I've been on big shows, met all the people involved and all those things that help you. The right philosophy for the DeGale fight was not to get emotionally involved, to detach from the situation as much as possible – I think that is how I came across,” he opined.
“It is how I felt inside. I am glad people liked it. I wasn't sure (if it was affecting DeGale), I felt that even if the doubts didn't surface at the time (of the pressers) they would surface in the fight at some point because that stuff is inevitably going to. There is no doubt that I'm a more clever fighter than James but the most important thing was letting him know that and not just everyone else knowing it.”
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