by Cliff Rold
In a battle of the top two seeds in the field, arguably the most experienced fighter in the super middleweight division faces a fighter who made it to the World Boxing Super Series final still a question mark.
Friday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (DAZN, 1 PM EST), questions will be answered.
George Groves, the WBA titlist hasn’t won them all but he’s faced his share of the better lights around his weight. He’s only been beaten by some of the best 168 lbs. had to offer. There was the early career win over James DeGale; the controversial first, and uncontroversial second, knockout losses to Carl Froch; the hotly contested decision loss to Badou Jack; and finally, the decisive semi-final WBSS win over Chris Eubank Jr.
Groves is as seasoned as Smith isn’t. There are some positive signs to point to along the way. Smith’s first round stoppage of Rocky Fielding and his two lopsided wins in the tournament so far hint at what there is to like about the big framed challenger.
He has shown promise.
Promise is only a possibility until it’s fulfilled in the ring.
We have an intriguing final on our hands.
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Title: WBA super middleweight (2017-Present, 2 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Height: 5’11 ½
Weight: 167 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
Record: 28-3, 20 KO, 2 KOBY
Rankings: #1 (TBRB, Ring, Boxing Monthly, Boxrec), #2 (ESPN)
Record in Title Fights: 3-3, 2 KO, 2 KOBY
Last Five Opponents: 127-9-2 (.928)
WBSS Seed: 1
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: James DeGale MD12; Glen Johnson UD12; Carl Froch TKO by 9, TKO by 8; Badou Jack L12; Fedor Chudinov TKO6
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 167 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Liverpool, Merseyside, United Kingdom
Record: 24-0, 17 KO
Press Rankings: #3 (Ring, Boxing Monthly), #4 (BoxRec), #5 (ESPN), #8 (TBRB)
Record in Major Title Fights: 1sttitle opportunity
Last Five Opponents: 96-12-5 (.871)
WBSS Seed: 2
Current/Former World Champions Faced: None (Rocky Fielding TKO1; current WBA sub-titlist)
The Case for Groves: If the fight comes down to experience alone, Groves wins. Experience is an inefficient gauge; no one is experienced until they are. Groves has learned from past failures and shown great mental resolve to put together a seven-fight win streak that marks the best work of his career. Against Smith, he appears to be a hair quicker and more fluid; it could make the difference in close rounds. If the fight falls into clinches he’s good at working the free hand and when both are free he works the body well. If Groves can make the longer Smith reach, his overhand right is likely to find a home. A lot of his game works off the jab and Groves comes into this fight after surgery following a dislocated left shoulder in the Eubank fight. Is he fully recovered? That’s a question mark, as he’ll need the lead to get into the distance he needs with Smith. There have been concerns in the past about the late stamina of Groves; this looks like a potential distance fight so pacing his approach will be important.
The Case for Smith: Smith is big for the division; the same listed height as cruiserweight tournament winner Oleksandr Usyk with a slightly longer reach. He’s about four inches taller than Grove with more reach on him than Jack or Froch. Smith has an excellent, long jab and it will be the foundation of any hopes for victory. It is the weapon that can take away any split second edge in speed Groves possesses. Smith, one of four fighting brothers including former Jr. middleweight titlist Liam, has appeared the most talented of the brood. While he lacks in professional experience on paper, his immersion in the sport should make up for some of that. While he’s gone the route in both tournament fights so far, he can punch with the right hand. It’s one weapon in an offensive arsenal that includes a sharp left hook, uppercut, and willingness to go hard to the body. If he can rise to the biggest moment of his career, he has all the physical tools for the upset.
The Pick: One thing we haven’t seen much of in the WBSS so far is upsets. The seeding played out to perfection in the cruiserweight field and has done the same here. Groves has been on a roll and Smith is still unproven. That probably won’t be true anymore after Friday. Smith has looked like a champion in wait for a while. His longer jab, sharper offense, and physicality should be enough here to end the hot streak for Groves. The pick is Smith to emerge as a new, central force in the super middleweight, perhaps with a late stoppage.
Rold Picks 2018: 31-13
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]