The most eagerly anticipated all- British showdown in recent memory is finally upon us. Key questions remain regarding who will prevail and earn bragging rights and a trip to the final.
Battle-Tested or Battle-Worn?
Four years ago George Groves entered the Manchester Arena in what was the biggest fight of his career. That particular November evening saw Groves rise to the occasion displaying skill, power, and valiance while gaining infamy from the most controversial stoppage in British boxing history against former unified super middleweight champion, Carl Froch. Defeat would send a young man’s career into a complete whirlwind, unique even for boxing’s standards.
Ultimately, if one fast-forwarded from that night in 2013 to the midsummer of 2017 with Groves proudly lifting a world title above his head at Bramall Lane, the sight of the 29-year-old sporting championship gold would have come as no shock. However, there were many points along the way where boxing’s summits looked unreachable for Groves. Routine fights turned into unconvincing drawn out affairs, tendencies drifted from movement and discipline to recklessness and unnecessary bravado, and questions of his chin and stamina levels were routinely asked.
At his lowest, retirement called to Groves. He would be knocked out by Carl Froch in their mega event rematch at Wembley Stadium, lose a tough fight with Badou Jack in Las Vegas, and participate in a life-altering fight with Eduard Gutknecht which saw the German suffer career-ending injuries. Groves’s eventual world title victory over Fedor Chudinov seemed like overcoming the impossible when it should have been a formality. Nonetheless, it was the type of victory which served to revitalize the new champion.
In Eubank, Groves is squaring off against a man only one year his junior, but a man who’s experiences in the fight game pale in near insignificance compared to Groves. There is much scope for optimism and confidence for Groves and his fanbase here. Eubank will not be Groves’s most formidable foe to date, nor does he pose the type of technical ability which surpasses Groves’s own. However, Eubank is a fighter with rare physical gifts and the type of aggressive volume-punching style which is a potential nightmare for Groves.
Amidst the roller-coaster ride his career has been on, Groves has lost the sharpness of fist and tongue which made many Brit a fan of his on the road to the world stage. But he still remains highly dangerous — a big well-schooled man for the division with legitimate knockout power which ensured that he was able to ride out the early storm Jamie Cox put him under in their quarter final encounter with a crippling counter right hand to the body.
The question is whether Groves can use his advantages in size and intelligence to navigate what appears to be a potentially stern test on paper, or whether the body and the mind will betray him as he falters on another big stage?
Momentum or Mirage?
As Chris Eubank Jr posed stoically with his father over the limp body of Avni Yildrim in Stuttgart this past October, having vanquished the previously undefeated Turk inside four rounds in front of visible hostility and antagonism from the local crowd. As is often the case with devastating knockouts, it was difficult for one not to become a believer in the young man.
But, of course, we’ve been here before with the sport’s most infamous Father-Son double act.
A run of destructive and dominant displays over very limited opposition swayed public opinion in a more than favourable way, until they run into a legitimate contender. In 2014, that man was Billy Joe Saunders, the type of intelligent boxer who proved to be too witty and crafty for a young Eubank — and as he prepares for a pivotal and defining moment in his career, there is great expectation among sceptics and doubters that Groves, Eubank’s superior in skill and experience just like Saunders was, is the man to put a lasting dent in one of the sport’s most colorful and prolonged mirages.
However, it could all be a matter of timing. Beneath the level of opposition, the plastic title belts they glorify, and their stoic arrogance which typifies the “warrior code” both father and son operate by, there are indications of Eubank maturing into a potentially promising fighter, adding a level of craft to the unquestionable physical gifts and work ethic.
Eubank’s combination punching is as swift and flashy as it was when he first made his way in the pro game, the shot selection is more varied (albeit demonstrated against mostly stationary targets), and there is more defensive responsibility being employed. Head movement in tight punch exchanges is a must against a sharp counter-puncher like Groves, and what differentiates Eubank’s foe on this occasion from a Billy Joe Saunders, is the recklessness shown in these close quarters, a prospect that Jr relishes capitalising on.
So, when you add this to the evidence of Groves being battle worn and in regression, there is a growing case for the timing of the fight being to Eubank’s favor. It is a claim more based on hypothesis rather than substantial proof, but everything which has followed prior points towards these close scenarios working towards the benefit of the younger, fresher man.
Since stepping up to a division which exceeds his natural weight, many have questioned when Eubank will be posed the type of questions which can affirm his legitimacy. In Groves, we have a man who can do exactly such and by the end of this February evening, we’ll be fully aware of the summit of the self proclaimed Next Generation’s ability.
Who Has More To Lose?
It is not the publicized animosity and mind-games between the two fighters which makes this fight a potential classic, nor is it necessarily the convergence of the fighting styles of both men. In fact, it’s actually how much is at stake here, which means that this fight is can’t miss. Such are the strengths and flaws of each protagonist, that a definitive and conclusive victory for either men cannot be ruled out and such an outcome carries a whole body of implications for both men as well as the landscape they currently inhibit.
Groves has the demeanor of a man for which the world is not enough and he has alluded to the fact that tournament victory is a necessity as he looks to take his place atop the division and cement his legacy. With this in mind, victory against Eubank is a must, which ever way it comes as defying the betting odds and majority opinion here once again will be enough of a statement in the eyes of the public to affirm his status as a world class fighter. Another “L” on the column sends him back down the insurmountable mountain he strived to overcome during recent years.
In the opposite corner, whilst many will feel like a defeat, especially a conclusive one will see Chris Eubank Jr ridiculed and rubbished off as another hype-job, it has never been the case that public opinion has stopped both Father and Son from pursuing their desires and ambitions. There will still be opportunities to fight for title belts (at middleweight or super middleweight), there will still be TV networks and promoters who will shell out big bucks for their services and there will still be flocks of impressionable fans who will excuse another setback and believe in the talent and craft of this particular prizefighter.
What Eubank is facing at this stage of his career is an identity crisis. He is keen to break free from the shadow of his father and make a name for himself and to do such, a legitimate scalp on his ledger and a legitimate title belt on his mantelpiece is a must. Saturday represents arguably his best possible opportunity to kill two birds with one stone — a highly regarded champion who’s there for the taking on a stage where many will have to stand up and take notice. Getting their hand raised on Saturday would mean a great deal for both men, but for wholly different reasons.
WBSS — George Groves and Chris Eubank Jr Must Answer The Big Questions was originally published in sundaypuncher on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.