By Shaun Brown
WBA Super Middleweight champion George Groves (28-3, 20 KOs) says he has two or three big fights left in his career beyond the World Boxing Super Series.
The 30-year-old Londoner will face 28-year-old Callum Smith (24-0, 17 KOs) in the final of the 168lbs tournament which began on September 16, 2017 when Smith, the number two seed, won his quarter final against Sweden’s Erik Skoglund with a wide points decision victory.
Although not yet confirmed it looks like the super middleweight finale will land in Manchester within the first two weeks of September. A win for Groves not only sees him retain his world title, but also the coveted Ali Trophy which is awarded to the series winner.
Groves admits it would be a nice way to bow out of the sport but says he will carry on so long as the big fights are there.
“As long as every box is ticked then I'll keep going,” Groves told Boxing Scene.
“As soon as one goes I'm not going to try and carry on and fudge it through. If the big fights are still there, if I'm motivated, if I'm excited and if I'm earning money, if I'm not getting hurt, if I'm managing to spend enough time with my family, my wife and kids then I can keep going. But as soon as that stops I'm stopping.
“The body's feeling good and I'm really enjoying my training with Shane McGuigan. I love the atmosphere in the gym. I love working alongside Josh Taylor and the young guys coming through that Shane's working with. I'm sure we'll get a real good result, a good win, injury free and then we'll see what big fights out there can get done.
“I ain't writing my retirement speech yet. I don't think I ever will but that doesn't mean I'm going to box forever.”
Groves former gym-mate David Haye announced his retirement from boxing earlier last month, ending a career of two halves which Groves witnessed fighting on some of Haye’s undercards. Groves would make his debut on a ‘Hayemaker’ bill in November 2008, a night where Haye’s career in the heavyweight division was officially launched against the clumsy Monte Barrett.
Haye, Groves and their trainer Adam Booth were a formidable trio and saw the world together building relationships and memories. Although Groves and Haye have drifted apart, he wishes the former cruiserweight and heavyweight champion every success in the next chapter of his career.
“I think he'll do alright. He's pretty good at whatever he turns his hand to,” said Groves of Haye who will now focus on guiding the career of fighters like heavyweight prospect Joe Joyce under the Hayemarker/Ringstar promotional banner.
“I hope he succeeds in whatever it is he needs to do or makes peace with whatever he needs to make peace with. You can't be in boxing this long and not have some ill feelings towards certain people or crossed a few paths. But don't take nothing personally, ever. Just roll with the punches. And I think he's got to that point now where he's happy and content. Hopefully he is.
“For the pure boxing fans and purists, the first half of his career fantastic, second half was about becoming famous and making money which had its up and downs. But I think ultimately, he wouldn't change anything for the world. Good luck to him.”
Fortunately for Groves he hasn’t had to contend with the number of injuries that blighted Haye’s career. The dislocated shoulder Groves suffered in the final round of his bout against Chris Eubank Jr in February was the worst in-ring trauma he has suffered, and his immediate thoughts were of ones that his own career could be over.
“I thought is it going to take a year to get back working and then in a year am I going to get stripped? That was just that one moment. I was in a lot of pain. Hopefully it looked good on TV when my shoulder popped out (laughs). At least everyone noticed. Everyone knew! It was a great night for me. I won a big, high profile domestic dust up. Last time I did that was against James DeGale which was so long ago and was much closer. I've had the [Carl] Froch fights, failed both times but obviously this is nice to have had that.”
That night at the Manchester Arena belonged to Groves in more ways than one. He had put an end to a short-term domestic rivalry which many thought Eubank Jr would conquer with his all-out aggression and power. It was not to be. Groves’ guile, timing and experience were too much for a fighter who, at times, looked out of his depth.
“You're fighting someone who doesn't have good footwork so as soon as you adjust the distance with hands or feet he can't punch. When he does punch he jumps and he's falling over the front foot. So, you either hit him on the way in or make him miss totally. Fundamentals beat him,” Groves recalled and advised at the same time.
“The fight went pretty much how I expected it to. (Trainer) Shane [McGuigan] said 'Hit him with something hard early. Let him know.' And I think I did. I scored with a good few shots. We never scored with a knockdown. There was a couple of flash... sort of... it might have been knockdowns it might not have been. There was a good few moments where he felt power and definitely thought twice about ploughing forward because that's what his dad was telling him to do, and he couldn't do it, he didn't do it.
“I think in the build-up he believed his own story. This ain't the Crossfit games. It's not just training. It's not how many times can you run up a hill. How many press ups can you do. How many chin ups can you do. How many times can you hit the speed bag in three minutes. It's art. He didn't have it and he didn't want any help.
“His dad's got a lot of knowledge but he's not a teacher, he can't get it across. He talks in riddles. Even though Chris can understand it better than anyone else there was no clarity in his corner. No instructions, no help. I think that's the one thing he'll now look to address. I thought he would have done it before our fight. I tried to goad him into making a decision, telling him he's going to have to conform and he decided to not. It worked to my advantage anyway.”
DeGale, Froch (twice), Eubank Jr… four bouts that certainly secure Groves’ British boxing legacy for a mixed bag of reasons. A close points decision, grudge matches, big attendances and proving people wrong. A little bit of everything that has seen Groves get better with age, and saw him mold the good, the bad and ugly of it all to his benefit.
And it is with all that which leads Groves to exude the kind of confidence, which we similarly saw in the build-up against Eubank Jr, ahead of his fight with Callum Smith. A new batch of problems present itself in the shape of the unbeaten Liverpudlian. The height, the reach and the power to name but three. But Groves’ unfazed attitude about everything boxing nowadays sees him almost laid back to the point of being horizonal regarding the final bout in the World Boxing Super Series.
“He [Smith] didn't look good in his last fight, but he'll have the excuse of fighting a last-minute change of opponent who wasn't a southpaw like he was preparing for [Juergen] Braehmer. But ultimately the guy [Nieky Holkzen] was a kickboxer with 12 fights. If you're supposed to be the best in the world you've got to be getting rid of these guys with ease and he didn't.
“Before then he fought [Erik] Skoglund who was his choice. He struggled with him. He was getting out-jabbed for large parts of the fight. He just blew hot and cold, and he ended up just hanging about on the ropes and he's not that sort of fighter.
“His big wins were Rocky Fielding who he knocked out in a round and a few others where he has got rid of them early. I think that's what he is, he's dangerous early.
“He can punch long when he wants to because he's got such a height and reach, and definitely has a heavy handedness that he can budge you and finish you. You don't give away no free shots early but once you get down to looking at him stylistically we know what he does well.”
The casualness of Groves’ appears to have grown and grown over the years. He’s not as easily ruffled as maybe he once was. Everything has brought an experience which he has added to his non-punching arsenal. And even when he is not fighting, and the build-up begins in earnest, he will use all of it to his advantage. All of which began on May 21, 2011 against James DeGale at The O2 Arena, London for the British and Commonwealth Super Middleweight titles. The type of domestic, marquee fight that very few could pull off and sell to the masses in 2018.
Groves and DeGale will be written about in the same column inches well beyond their respective retirements. They are part of one another whether they like it or not. Both have had success, both have done it their own way but once the World Boxing Super Series is over with it may just see them go full circle and meet each other once again.
“He definitely needs me more than I need him,” Groves said of his old foe.
“I'm fortunate that I'm part of this big tournament and it's paying well and there's options post-tournament. I don't need DeGale for a financial reason.”
With a hint of sarcasm Groves added: “He wants to look back on his career and say 'I done well. I was the road warrior! I went to America’. I won the belt. I done this and that'.
“But then he came home and for want of a better word fucked it up. He wasn't fit, he wasn't healthy, he wasn't over his injury. He took this guy [Caleb Truax] too lightly and he paid the price for it and now it's aged him. At this stage of his career what does he want? If he wants to earn some money he's going to earn that against me.”
Shaun Brown covers British boxing for Boxing Scene. Contact him on Twitter @sbrown2pt0