By Tris Dixon
World Boxing Super Series super middleweight finalist George Groves is gearing up for his September 28 showdown with Callum Smith in the fight that “most-excited” him at the start of the tournament.
They meet in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and Groves always felt it might boil down to him versus Smith.
“I thought it would be the hardest fight for me and therefore be the most entertaining to watch,” he said to BoxingScene.com.
“They’ve added their own spice to the tournament with you picking who you wanted to fight and my fight with [Chris] Eubank Jnr created a tremendous hype and buzz and stuff like that, which people said should be the final. But by the time we get close to September 28 people will realise that this was always going to be the final. It’s the number one seed versus number two and if you’re going with the tournament formbook, I don’t think the A-side has lost yet, across the cruiserweights and the super-middleweights. “There’s only one fight left and it’s up to me to make sure that tradition continues.”
And while Groves, who holds a 2011 win over Smith’s older brother Paul, reckoned it would boil down to him and Smith, he feels the Liverpool man has plateaued during the WBSS after wins over Erik Skoglund and Nieky Holzken.
“He’s a good fighter but he’s an unproven fighter and he’s never campaigned at the highest level,” said Groves. “He hasn’t boxed anyone of any particular note or credit. The biggest win of his career you could say was when he beat Rocky Fielding in a round, which was a great win for him. Fielding has gone on to win a world title but up until a few months ago a win over Fielding lacked a bit of depth.
"But he [Smith] has struggled of late. He hasn’t looked good in this tournament so far. From what I know and what I’ve learned about sport and maybe this sport in general is potential, someone’s potential and being a prospect, it has a shelf life. You can’t be a prospect forever. You need to step up and engage and whether it’s your fault or not there are loads of fighters out there who never get the chance to step up and then they go stale. Smith has to hope that he hasn’t gone stale and when the time comes he’s going to be able to pull the trigger. But I don’t think that’s going to work in his favour because it’s the first time he’s fighting someone and he’s not the favourite and even if he was the favourite at the start of the tournament he won’t be come fight night. But he’s from good stock. He’s got his brothers around him. He’s heavily involved in boxing.
"The pressure’s been off him his whole career because he’s been looking up to his brothers doing well and achieving things and winning titles in the pro ranks but it seems like the last few years when the focus shifted to Callum of being the star of the quartet I don’t know whether he was reluctant to take that role or he wants to and he can’t because we’ve yet to see anything special from him.”
Of course, one of the central talking points concerning the final has been the controversial location. Two popular Brits are taking part in a highly-anticipated fight in Saudi Arabia.
“Dubai would have been lovely,” Groves joked. “And it’s easy for fight fans to get to. That part of the world would have been more logical because it’s more westernised and there’s more freedom for movement and tourism and stuff like that. I doubt we’re going to see an army of British boxing fans making their way to Jeddah, even if they went there with the best of intentions to start with and they’re happy to have a sober night at the boxing… The problem they have is visually, on the TV, I think it looks great. They’ve got a production line that carries out for every show and it always looks very good, very professional, expensive, high end, for TV.
"With a packed arena the only added benefit that has for TV is they can pan across the crowd every now and again but people will probably enjoy this fight more on TV than getting to the arena because I don’t know much about where it’s going to be but it might be a really subdued atmosphere this time round. There might be a lot of non-boxing fans in there or just the locals who have no connection to me and Smith. It will be a different sort of vibe but I’ve experienced everything so far in my career and nothing ever really takes me by surprise anymore so Jeddah, I’m sure, will be more than suitable. And it will be nice to say I unified the super-middleweight division, picked up the WBC Diamond belt, picked up The Ring magazine belt in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. No one’s done that before and maybe no one will do it after.”
Thirty-year-old Groves is 28-3 (20) and he still holds ambitions in the sport that extend beyond Smith and the WBSS. But after a 10-year professional career he is nearer the end than the start. There are still more boxes to tick but he is not looking too far ahead.
“No, I think that’s a dangerous thing,” he admitted. “I’ve got a little checklist and I can be quite ruthless with that checklist now, so if one thing isn’t ticked off then I’m happy to walk away. Am I going to be financially secure? Am I going to spend enough time with family and my two kids? Am I going to be motivated to train? “There are some big fights out there for me. As long as all those things are still there I will keep going. But coming back from a shoulder dislocation, into the final with so much on the line, it was well worth my while to get myself back in and back to my best in the gym and with rehab etc etc. But say that happened again in a fight or two I might be tempted to say, ‘I’ve had a crack. I’m 30 years old. It might be time to call it a day.’ But I’m really enjoying my boxing. I’m enjoying being in the gym. I’m winning and I’m winning well so long may it continue.
“I’ll beat Smith and then I’ll probably get the list out in the ring after they give me that trophy and then we will see.”