By Keith Idec
George Groves has been pleasantly surprised since he arrived in Saudi Arabia earlier this week.
His World Boxing Super Series super middleweight championship match against Callum Smith seemingly belongs in the United Kingdom. Groves is from London and Smith hails from Liverpool, thus this would’ve been a heavily hyped domestic showdown in the UK, where boxing is one of the most popular sports.
Understandably, there was some trepidation from both camps when WBSS organizers determined the Groves-Smith match would be held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Jeddah is the home of nearly four million people, but it isn’t known for hosting boxing matches.
So far, so good, though.
“It’s great to only be a day or two away from the fight,” Groves said Wednesday during a press conference in Jeddah. “We’ve had a great camp, in the end. It took a long time to get back to full fitness, but we were there. And everything has gone as good as it possibly could. Even once arriving, as [promoter] Wilfried [Sauerland] said, it’s not as bad as you’re told back home.
“So we’re greatly received. We’re good, we’re happy, we’re stable. We’re ready to fight. And after such a long training camp, after such a long time since my last win, I can’t wait to fight. I can’t wait to collect some new belts, a trophy and, yeah, become a champion of the Ali trophy.”
Joe Gallagher, Smith’s trainer, feels removing his fighter from the distractions he would’ve encountered during fight week in the UK has been beneficial.
“We’ve had a great reception,” Gallagher said. “I just want to thank all the staff at the arena, gymnasium, at the Rosewood Hotel. They’ve made us feel very welcome. Settled in well and we’re being treated like kings. We had reservations before we came here, because everybody in the UK wanted to see George and Callum fight in London or Manchester. But now being here, from a coach’s point of view, I think it’s been ideal. I don’t know about Shane [McGuigan, Groves’ trainer], but it’s allowed to bring Callum here focused, zoned in, without the stresses that you get at home sometimes come fight week. … I just want to thank everyone for their hospitality. It’s been fantastic and it’s a pleasure being here. Thank you.”
The 30-year-old Groves (28-3, 20 KOs) and the 28-year-old Smith (24-0, 17 KOs) will fight for Groves’ WBA super middleweight title, The Ring magazine 168-pound championship and the World Boxing Super Series’ Muhammad Ali trophy Friday night at King Abdullah Sports City’s Grand Arena. DAZN’s stream of the Groves-Smith match is set to start at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT on Friday in the United States.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.