By Tom Gray
Turning out a pre-fight feature can be formulaic. In many ways, it’s like interviewing two cowboys in the Old West before a gunfight. Neither participant is going to tell you that they plan on losing. If you want to avoid the standard narrative then it is incumbent upon you to obtain good material.
The reigning WBA super middleweight titleholder George Groves is a man of many layers. He’s too polite to tell you that you’ve asked a stupid question. But, at the same time, he’s too intelligent to answer one. You need to be on top of your game and sometimes it’s best to let Groves take the lead. The 29-year-old boxer-puncher is as analytic a fighter as you’ll ever encounter.
On Saturday, Groves, who is rated No. 3 by THE RING at 168 pounds, defends his title for the first time against Jamie Cox in the third quarter-final of the World Boxing Super Series at the Wembley Arena in London. It’s a hometown fight against a fellow Englishman and he’s a 7-2 favorite to retain his belt and advance in the tournament.
We dutifully discussed Groves’ advantages against Cox. In capsule form: he’s too big, he’s too strong, he’s too skilled, he’s too powerful and he’s too experienced. This is not to denigrate his opponent’s chances on Saturday night. Cox is an unbeaten southpaw with plenty of talent. The goal here is to free up space for the rest of the conversation which was fascinating.
In May, Groves halted Russian pressure fighter Fedor Chudinov with one of the most sustained and brutal assaults I’ve ever witnessed live from ringside. It wasn’t a case of Chudinov not throwing back. He simply couldn’t throw back. On a cold night at Bramall Lane soccer stadium in Sheffield, England, Groves claimed the vacant WBA title via sixth-round stoppage, a moment he called “a nice long dream and ambition fulfilled”. It was his fourth attempt at a world title in three-and-a-half years and his emotions were visceral.
So, what do you do for an encore?
“The (WBSS) tournament has given me exactly what I needed,” said Groves in an interview with RingTV.com. “After winning a world title, I could have drifted into a low-key first defense and I wouldn’t have been happy. I didn’t make a lot of money for fighting Chudinov because it was on the Kell Brook-Errol Spence undercard, so I’ve not had the rewards that go with winning a world title yet.
“Now, Jamie Cox, as a standalone fight, isn’t the biggest fight out there for me, but it’s the first round of this tournament and the winner goes on to fight Chris Eubank Jr. That has given me the drive, the motivation and the excitement to get through these gym sessions. Things have all come along at the right time for me and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
Groves (left) and Cox. Photo by Mark Hermenau/ World Boxing Super Series
Groves (26-3, 19 knockouts) has redefined himself throughout his career. Prior to his first fight with then-IBF super middleweight titleholder Carl Froch, in November 2013, he boldly predicted that he would land two clean right hands in the opening round. It was mental warfare to let Froch know that he could do whatever he wanted. On fight night, Groves decked Froch in the first round with a huge right and hurt him moments later with another one. Groves lost the fight via controversial ninth-round stoppage, but he came within a hair’s breadth of being anointed a fistic fortune teller.
Gazing into boxing’s crystal ball backfired worse in the May 2014 rematch. This time, Groves predicted that Froch would be knocked out by a single left hook. Before 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, Groves tried that shot over and over again. And when he tried it one time too many, “The Cobra” pounced and devoured him. As Groves told me afterwards, he had made the mistake of opening his shoulder to the left of the centerline, which allowed Froch to deliver the most devastating right hand of his career in the eighth round. It was THE RING’s Knockout of the Year.
The answer? No more tricks. No more gimmicks.
“I’ve learned a lot over the years,” said Groves, who turned professional in 2008. “I’ve lost and I’ve been a bit unlucky, but I’ve learned from every setback. I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work. I’ve learned that sometimes you have no control. Sometimes it just is what it is. To have that understanding has made me a stronger person and a better fighter.
“I realize what’s at stake now. Winning this tournament will be life changing, but if I lose to Jamie Cox it won’t be a case of saying, ‘I’ll try again next year’. That’s why I’m leaving nothing to chance. Sometimes you can do your best and you hope it’s going to be enough. You hope for that perfect sparring partner. You hope the diet kicks in and the weight adjusts itself. Fortunately for me, all the variables, all the things that you don’t always have control over, I’ve got right this time. That’s down to the momentum I’ve had with (trainer) Shane (McGuigan), the fights I’ve taken and the hard work I’ve had to put in.”
Groves dropped a split decision to then-WBC titleholder Badou Jack in September 2015 and has been unbeaten since. He has won five fights, three by knockout, and there have been some tidy performances. His goal now is to fulfill his potential, win the WBSS tournament and be involved in the biggest fights available in the super middleweight division.
“Boxing has moved on a lot since I fought Carl Froch,” said Groves. “The heavyweight division is alive and kicking. The rest of us are jostling for position to be the next best thing but, in some ways, this World Boxing Super Series is the best thing. If you’re lucky enough to be involved, then everything that you could ever want from the sport is there for the taking.
“I’m fully confident that, more than anything, I’m the best super middleweight in the world. I have that self-confidence, really, that I’ve always had but without that habit of feeling sorry for myself. A couple of years ago I would have said, ‘I’m better than this. Why isn’t it happening for me?’ Now, I know I’m performing and I know I’m on top.”
Groves flanked by trainer Shane McGuigan (left) and promoter Kalle Sauerland. Photo: Sauerland Promotions/ Paul Currie
The fun thing about the World Boxing Super Series is looking ahead to potential matchups. One of the most intriguing, should Groves defeat Cox, is a semi-final showdown with Eubank Jr. On Saturday, in Stuttgart, Germany, Eubank destroyed the previously unbeaten Avni Yildirim in three rounds to fulfill his part of the draw.
Groves, his mind fully focused on Cox, didn’t watch the fight but he was aware of the result.
“There were stories that Yildirim was a big, strong, tough lad,” said Groves with a touch of contempt. “That’s probably when he’s (20 pounds) over fighting weight with a head guard on, which means he’s able to walk through big shots.
“I’ve heard reports that Eubank drops him in the first round with an uppercut (laughs). I’d seen clips of Yildirim training and they’re actually explaining to him not to get hit by uppercuts. An uppercut is a muggy shot to get hit with, especially in the first round. You’ve got to have some nuts on you to throw an uppercut in round one. But Eubank doesn’t know any better and obviously Yildirim couldn’t do anything about it.”
Such was the decisiveness of Eubank’s victory that the pendulum, for some experts, has swung in his direction as the smart pick to win the tournament. Groves is unconvinced and his passion to mix it with his countryman was obvious, even though he has business to take care of first.
“I know quite a bit about Eubank,” said Groves ruefully. “I’ve sparred with him and spent some time around him. I know how he operates. I’ve had half a dozen chats with his dad, who always gives you advice. About 10 or 15 percent of that advice is good, but most of it is missed. In that sense, they give away a lot about their mindset, their tactics and their philosophy on boxing.
“For now, I’m just concentrating on Jamie Cox. I’m happy that I know who I’m fighting next but I’m preparing mentally for my next fight. I need to be in the right frame of mind.”
Groves talked candidly about his old amateur days with team mates Luke Campbell and Anthony Ogogo. He recalled how he would get jealous because they were already through to the next stage of a tournament, whereas he still had to compete. Groves now admits to being jealous that Callum Smith, who outpointed Erik Skoglund on September 16, and Eubank are already through to the next round of the WBSS. Amateur tournaments were once like ‘life and death’ to Groves and even though the stakes are much higher now, the feelings inside are much the same.
As the clock counts down towards Groves-Cox, the super middleweight tournament’s only world titleholder made his intentions clear.
“I want to make a statement,” said Groves as though stating the obvious. “If it comes early – great. If I have to break Cox down and get rid of him – great. If he can hang in there for 12 rounds – that’s no problem either. Winning is the most important thing. Self-preservation is important too but unlike amateur tournaments, we don’t need to go out and fight the next day.
“The statement I want to make, I only want to make to Chris Eubank Jr. and Chris Eubank Sr. I’m not fussed about what fight fans or people on social media say. The only person that matters is your opponent and they need to see what I’m all about.”
Tom Gray is a UK Correspondent/ Editor for RingTV.com and a member of THE RING ratings panel. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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Source:: The Ring – Boxing