When the final bell sounds, as it always does, on a fighter’s career, it’s worth reflecting on their impact on the sport. Their footprint. Their ‘legacy’ was in danger of being blown away like loose receipts, forgotten, whilst careers of certain boxers glisten, even as the dust gathers on their boots.
Some men talk louder than others. Some spend their money on lavish jewellery and cars with irregular, vertically opening doors.
Boxers measure themselves in different ways, which is evident when looking at former super-middleweight world champion, George Groves (28-4, 20KOs). After deciding to hang up his gloves, it seemed possible that the Hammersmith man’s career could be undervalued.
Often, we’re drip-fed the narrative that the ‘jab can take you round the world’. One of the finest, rapier-sharp jabs witnessed on British shores had taken Groves to Jeddah, Las Vegas, San Jose and Madgeburg – piercing the defence of countless opponents. A thing of beauty, it remained a constant throughout his career.
Quiet, patient and considerate, he knows boxing from its manipulative head to its toes. He fought everyone. He lost some of his highest-profile contests, selling out Wembley before scrambling to his feet before eighty-thousand fans – defeated painfully, twice on the spin.
Groves travelled to the MGM Grand in an attempt to wrestle the crown from Badou Jack, again falling short. Many men would have given up years ago, yet the product of the renowned Dale Youth ABC didn’t quite marry that logic. ‘Saint George’ had dedicated his life to the sport, a phrase often banded around, somewhat clichéd. It’s perhaps a more stunning achievement then, that an emotionally depleted Groves was able to rally towards his fourth world title shot.
As concussive punches went marching in, bombarding Fedor Chudinov to capture the WBA world title he’d craved, there was no sense of entitlement. George never grabbed the microphone to rattle off an ‘I told you so’ monologue, born of frustration he’d surely buried deep within during his preparation.
He’s not that kind of fighter – or that kind of man.
He threw up four fingers in reference to finally fulfilling those ambitions, once only imagined as an amateur with his mentor, the legendary Mick Delaney. Eventually, he’d made it. Through hard work, a continuing desire to improve and a fearless approach to potential failure, Groves sported that black-and-gold belt with immeasurable pride.
The husband and father who exits the sport with his faculties intact differs from the younger version, who’d beaten his nemesis, James DeGale. His attempts to keep up with DeGale’s insults had drawn criticism for both. It was tasteless at times, the fiery build-up from the former gym mates, though his beautifully executed game plan had silenced many of his detractors.
That fight, eight years ago, was Groves’ introduction to both main events and domestic rivalries. Sad to think that now, we’ll never witness the rematch both men had discussed ever since. Now past their best, they’d have commanded a healthy fee for the grudge match. But money isn’t everything for Groves – that much has always been abundantly clear.
He’d given us the unforgettable series with Carl Froch, telling the champion from Nottingham exactly what he would hit him with, then flooring him in the process. Facing any other champion, he’d have scored a first-round knockout, however, he ended up on the wrong end of one of Britain’s most disputed stoppages.
Froch and Groves carried a genuine dislike for one-another, weighing heavy on the younger man. Their rematch, the first of our new wave of stadium fights, was streamed via my Dad’s projector on a wall in my flat. It was an enormous event. Many will argue that George wasn’t the same after that devastating punch. The confidence seemed to have drained from his work when he returned to face Christophe Rebrasse and Denis Douglin.
Maybe this was the end of a decent, relatively accomplished career?
In his formative years, Groves was guided by Adam Booth, with the pair forging a solid bond before severing ties just weeks before his first world title shot. In stepped Paddy Fitzpatrick, simply papering the cracks after Booth’s departure. However, it was a far younger face in the corner that would lead Groves to his finest hour, as he forged a kinship with heralded trainer Shane McGuigan.
Many thought the pairing was unusual, given Groves’ achievements and McGuigan’s busy stable down in Battersea. In short, it became the best move of the Londoner’s career. To watch them work, or even converse during fight-week, was to witness friends understanding one another. They came to agreements, spoke with honesty and seemed completely in alignment. Shane’s reaction when George stopped Chudinov will tell you more than words could labour to explain. Synergy. Relief.
The impact that Groves has had on the younger fighters in-and-around the McGuigan gym is hard to quantify. Speaking to promising cruiserweight Chris Billam-Smith, his eyes lit up as he spoke of the admiration he held for the elder statesman. Still quiet and in ways, almost introverted, he shared wisdom with the boys who were approaching ‘pressure-cooker’ fights of their own.
It will be intriguing to see whether he remains involved in boxing, either working in a gym or behind a microphone. He seems content with his achievements, despite handing the baton to Callum Smith in the World Boxing Super Series final, losing by stoppage on their unusual Arabian night. His family were of highest priority, with his wife and children no doubt looking forward to having those days and weeks repaid.
Whatever happens, whether he decides to return for a final ‘hurrah’ after experiencing boxing’s pinching hold over its former fighters, we couldn’t deny him. He’d captured British, European and World titles, picked himself up and thrown himself into battle again – for our entertainment as much as his own pride.
Although Groves won’t be remembered for press conference brawls or spells of incarceration between camps, he’d be remembered for his professionalism, often overlooked in the sport. His legacy is clean-cut. Those massive nights can’t be erased and his stunning performances at the highest level, win, lose or draw, have been a massive part of British boxing.
Thank you, George. For your perseverance and your determination. For the pressure you placed upon yourself to become great. Hopefully it was all worthwhile.
Article by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209