By Chris McKenna in Monte Carlo, courtesy of The Daily Star
GEORGE GROVES is aiming to prove he is the best super-middleweight on the planet – and will start by beating his former roommate.
The WBA champion will face fellow Brit and former England amateur team-mate Jamie Cox in the debut season of the revolutionary new World Boxing Super Series.
Groves, 29, is eyeing up world domination but his quest will start closer to home with an October 14 date with Cox pencilled in at the Wembley Arena in London.
The Hammersmith-born fighter caused a surprise by picking unbeaten and hard-hitting Cox as his quarter-final opponent for the new tournament in what will be the first defence of the title he won in May.
Groves was No1 of the four seeds so could pick his opponent at a lavish draw gala in Monte Carlo on Saturday night.
Each seeded boxer stood on a podium before walking onto the main stage to select their next foe in a unique event.
Liverpool’s Callum Smith selected Swede Erik Skoglund for his opener while Chris Eubank Snr surprisingly picked tough Turk Avni Yildirim over American Rob Brant, who will now face fourth seed Jurgen Braehmer.
Eubank Snr was selecting for his son, who will enter the competition should he beat Arthur Abraham on Saturday night.
“You weigh up all the factors and it’s the most sensible choice for me,” Groves said. “It’s always good to have a domestic dust up.
“I felt capable of beating any of the four unseeded guys but I think Cox is probably the easiest route. I’m not afraid to say that. I picked him because he is the weakest.
“I’ve been ballsy in the past and it hasn’t worked but this is about winning the whole thing.”
Groves said he “showed Cox around” when they roomed together on the England junior squad while the Swindon bruiser joked he kept the Londoner in line with a “dog collar”.
But the pair don’t like each other and exchanged words at the glitzy gala on the French Riviera.
Cox said: “Do you think he believes that I’m the weakest? I don’t. Maybe he wants a good fight, a tough fight and picked a dangerous fighter first. I will come out victorious.”
Groves will be the heavy favourite going into the last-eight clash with his eyes on the inaugural Muhammad Ali trophy on offer as well as the largest chunk of the £20m prize pot.
But it will also mean he is the best super-middleweight on the planet in his mind even though rival and IBF champion James DeGale and WBO title holder Gilberto Ramirez have not entered.
Groves beat DeGale – who is currently recovering from shoulder surgery - in 2011 in the pros and also holds a victory over his fellow Londoner in the amateurs.
“I’m the only current world champion in it and I want to be the only current world champion in it at the end,” Groves said.
“I think this is the perfect chance for me to show I’m the best super-middleweight. You haven’t got all the top guys in there but you got a lot. The ones that are fit to fight right now are in it.
“DeGale has a substantial amount of time out and he is going to fight his mandatory.
“Hopefully he comes through that because if he doesn’t have a belt then the fight won’t be able to get made. That does add to it.
“I have two wins against James DeGale but the reason I would fight him would be I’d enjoy the build-up, I’d enjoy the pay day and I’d enjoy punching him in the face.”
Groves is not the only one with something to prove with Eubank Jnr an exciting addition to the competition.
As he and Abraham are going through their final preparations for their clash at Wembley Arena on Saturday, his father was in Monte Carlo to take part in the unique draw.
Eubank Snr provided his own glamour as he looked to steal the show and raised a few eyebrows with his selection of Yildirim.
But the former two-weight world champion explained afterwards that his son is entering – should he beat Abraham next week – to prove to people he is not afraid to take on challenges.
Eubank Jnr was criticised for turning down a lucrative rematch with Billy Joe Saunders, the only man to beat him, and a £4m pay day against middleweight star Gennady Golovkin last year.
“There are particular people who have been trying to stop us from proving that we are the best,” said Eubank Snr. They disseminate these stories that we are not real, that we talk but then sidestep.
“But the Super Series is a fantastic medium and conduit because not only will it make Junior a rich man, it also allows him to capture and unify belts. He has the ability to come out of these with three belts and the Muhammad Ali trophy.
“The current boxing aficionados, what they are saying is that perhaps we are not real. But the World Boxing Super Series gives any fighter the platform to prove what they truly are.
“There is no escape and the best fight the best.”
Eubank Snr indicated that his son will fight in the middleweight division of the competition in 2019 if he wins this competition, which ends in May 2018.
But first he needs to focus on next Saturday while Liverpool’s Smith will start preparations for a quarter-final clash with unbeaten Skoglund at the Echo Arena on September 16.
That fight will be for the ‘Diamond’ version of the WBC title rather than the original belt.
Smith opted to turn his back on a clash for the vacant WBC crown against Anthony Dirrell after the American tried to move the date and venue of the fight for a third time.
The Scouse scrapper had signed for a September 9 date in Los Angeles but Dirrell wanted to push it back to October and switch the venue to his hometown of Flint, Michigan.
Smith decided to enter the mega-money tournament instead and is currently joint favourite with Groves to win it outright.
“I believe I’m the best out of the eight fighters in there and now I’ve got a chance to prove it,” said Smith. "I want to get fighting again and now I have three fights potentially lined up.
“I felt like I was just going further and further away from a world title shot with Dirrell as the date kept getting put back. It was a tough decision but I believe it was the right decision.”
German Jurgen Braehmer will move down from light-heavyweight to compete in the super-middleweight division for the competition and was the fourth seed so was left with unbeaten Brant.
The tournament will also be contested in the cruiserweight division with some of the finest fighters at that weight competing including WBO champion and Olympic gold medallist Oleksandr Usyk.
The Ukrainian will kick-off the tournament, which is being backed financially by Swiss registered company Comosa AG, against Marco Huck on September 9 in Kiev.
The quarter-finals will then take place continuously over the following seven weeks and those involved in the competition are not concerned with clashing with other major fights, such as Gennady Golovkin against Saul Alvarez on September 16.
The undercard fighters for each show will be sourced in the country that is hosting the bout.
The semi-finals will then take place early next year with the finals of each weight in May.
The 16 fighters involved have signed contracts that stipulate they must continue in the competition if they win their fights.
Any fighter who withdraws through injury or otherwise will be unable to compete until the tournament ends.
Influential promoters Richard Schaefer and Kalle Sauerland are involved and will continue to speak to fighters outside of the tournament to ensure they can swiftly draft in replacements if there are withdrawals.
The indication was that DeGale and Ramirez could be even welcomed into the competition as replacements at super-middleweight even though German Vincent Feigenbutz is the first substitute.
The UK TV rights have still not been signed with broadcasters reluctant to commit until the final line-up and draw was confirmed but that should now be sorted in the next few weeks.
The event, which is being distributed by the same company that produces the Champions League TV package in football, will be sold as a total event so a broadcaster will have to commit to showing all 14 fight nights.