By Michael Rosenthal
George Groves: Groves was too talented and too young to write off in 2015 but things didn’t look good.
The Londoner had lost each of his three world titles fights, two to Carl Froch (both by knockout) and one to Badou Jack (by decision). At that point, he seemed destined to be that poor, frustrated fighter who would come up just short of winning the big one no matter how hard he tried.
Then he showed what he was made of.
He won seven straight fights, finally captured a major belt (the WBA 168-pound version) and reached the final of the World Boxing Super Series by handily outpointing Chris Eubank Jr. on Saturday night in Manchester, England, the biggest single victory of his career given the pre-fight hype.
If Groves can beat the winner of this coming Saturday’s Callum Smith-Juergen Braehmer fight and capture the tournament championship, he will have finally realized the potential he demonstrated early in his career.
Of course, that’s not a given.
One, Groves dislocated his shoulder in the final round of the Eubank fight and there is no guarantee that he’ll be ready to go for the tournament final in June.
There is talk that Eubank could replace Groves in the final, which I feel would be a mistake given Groves’ victory on Saturday.
And, two, Smith (who I believe will beat Braehmer) would pose a bigger challenge than Eubank did. He is a very good fighter.
The difference now, compared to the aftermath of the Jack loss, is that Groves (28-3, 20 knockouts) is back in a winning mode, as confident as he was pre-Froch, experienced after almost a decade as a pro and still hungry to prove he is a special fighter.
Indeed, the best of George Groves might lie ahead.
Eubank (26-2, 20 KOs) must be hurting right now, more emotionally than physically. The son of a more-accomplished father failed a pivotal test against Groves, one that could’ve vaulted him to the elite status he expects to attain. Instead, if he doesn’t replace Groves in the WBSS final, he’ll have to begin the rebuilding process. That won’t be easy given his disappointment and the pressure that comes with being the son of Chris Eubank Sr. Now we’ll find out what Junior is made of. Is he more talk than substance? Or was this a learning experience on which he can build? Of course, if he slips into the WBSS final, he’ll have a golden opportunity to turn disappointment into glory. Stay tuned. … I hope Eubank doesn’t replace Groves in the WBSS final if Groves isn’t ready in June. A semifinal loser in the final just wouldn’t sit right. I would wait until Groves can fight at 100 percent if at all possible. … You gotta be happy for Ray Beltran, who has had to overcome a great deal to finally become a world titleholder. He survived abject poverty in his native Mexico before making it to the U.S. He first made his name as Manny Pacquiao’s sparring partner, a learning experience that has served him in his own career. He settled for a draw with Ricky Burns in 2013 in his first title fight, which most observers believe he won. He lost badly to Terence Crawford in his second title shot; no shame there. He lost his chance to fight for a vacant title when he missed weight and then was busted for doping after beating Takahiro Ao in 2015, for which he can only blame himself. And finally, on Friday in Reno, Nevada, the 36-year-old outpointed 39-year-old Paulus Moses (40-4, 25 KOs) to win the vacant WBO lightweight belt. Just as important to him and his family, he hopes his success will help him win legal status in the United States. In other words, Beltran (35-7-1, 21 KOs) had a very big night on Saturday.
Brandon Rios (34-4-1, 25 KOs) gave Danny Garcia (34-1, 20 KOs) a more difficult time than I expected him to Saturday in Las Vegas, which I was happy to see. No one should question Rios’ toughness. That said, he was well behind on the cards when he suffered a particularly violent demise. Garcia ended the fight with a single perfect right, which dropped Rios on his behind and rendered him unable to continue in the ninth round. Garcia has more championship fights in his future. And Rios fought well enough to remain relevant. … Devon Alexander (27-4-1, 14 KOs) and Victor Ortiz (32-6-3, 25 KOs), both 31, also remained relevant after their controversial draw in what was seen as an elimination bout of sorts Saturday in El Paso, Texas. The winner was supposed position himself for another high-profile fight; the loser might’ve faded away. Alexander appeared to do enough to win a decision, which means we’ll see him again soon. And the draw probably gives Ortiz another shot at a high-profile fight. Rematch? … David Benavidez (20-0, 17 KOs) demonstrated how to perform in a rematch on the Garcia-Rios card. Benadvidez defeated Ronald Gavril (18-3, 14 KOs) by a split decision to win the vacant WBC super middleweight title in September. On Saturday, he nearly pitched a shutout against the durable Gavril, losing only one round on one card. And remember: Benavidez is only 21. He will continue to get better.