British boxing fans were incredulous when – after much speculation – Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was finally announced as the location for the WBSS super-middleweight final between ‘Saint’ George Groves and Callum ‘Mundo’ Smith for September 28.
The notion of two popular English fighters facing off in an oil-rich burgeoning Middle Eastern metropolis, off the coast of the Red Sea, seemingly represents a scenario that could very well have been conjured up by the wildest imaginations of a prime Don King.
For the two combatants however, it is clear the location of the final matters not, and the number of fans that will be able to accompany them to the reclusive kingdom is to them largely immaterial, when taking into consideration what is at stake: namely, super-middleweight supremacy – in the form of Groves’ WBA championship and the inaugural, yet equally prestigious Muhammad Ali trophy.
In assuming the role as undefeated challenger, Liverpudlian Callum Smith is in exactly the same position Londoner George Groves was, roughly half a decade ago, against Nottingham’s Carl Froch.
On that occasion – November 23rd, 2013 – Groves came off second-best in an instant classic, succumbing to a well-documented, controversial ninth-round stoppage that was derided by many as premature.
After being halted (in decidedly more clinical fashion) six months later at Wembley in a highly-anticipated rematch, Groves once again fell short in another world title attempt for the WBC belt the following year, this time via split-decision against Badou Jack in Las Vegas.
Following a brief, but painful period of disillusionment following three unsuccessful world title attempts, Groves has effectively reinvented himself into a composed, disciplined outside fighter under the guidance of Shane McGuigan – a young innovator credited with making Carl Frampton a two-weight World champion.
Less than eighteen months ago, Groves’ fourth crack at a World title proved fruitful, when he pummelled the durable Fedor Chudinov into submission after six rounds at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane.
A win over Callum Smith will enable Groves to virtually make it a clean sweep of his most prominent domestic rivals – when taking into account prior victories over the likes of James DeGale, Martin Murray, Jamie Cox and Eubank Jr – and according to some, consolidates his position as the world’s number one at twelve stone.
Likewise, a win for Callum Smith enables the Scouser to exact revenge, firstly for his trainer – whose charge Scott Quigg lost a high-profile super-bantamweight unification fight to McGuigan’s Carl Frampton in 2016 – and secondaly for himself, following Grove’s two round demolition job of older brother Paul Smith for the British super-middleweight title in 2011.
Nevertheless, the build up to this fight has largely been characterised by a healthy degree of mutual respect, as opposed to the antagonistic pre-fight verbal exchanges between Groves and prior opponents such as Froch and Eubank, respectively.
It is safe to say, though, that the relative lack of spite presently evident between the two will probably not be a reflection of what occurs after the first bell rings inside the King Abdullah Sports City Arena, in a few days’ time.
Although Groves has been designated the marginal favourite, he is keenly aware that Callum Smith, as the visibly bigger, stronger, and younger man, may very well transpire to be one of his toughest opponents to date.
Both fighters are stubborn competitors with an intense desire to win; not to mention formidable punchers. It is generally accepted that Groves possesses the quicker, more accurate hands – but Smith’s raw power and explosive qualities are not be underestimated, as exemplified by his first round annihilation of Rocky Fielding in 2015.
Despite producing a somewhat uninspiring performance in the tournament semi-final against substitute opponent Nicky Hoelzken, Smith’s destructive punching power coupled with his rangy dimensions, robust physical strength and penchant for banging the body at close range, are all aspects of his style that could potentially pose problems for Groves – someone who supposedly harbours shortcomings in the chin and stamina departments.
In order for Groves to win, he has to follow a strategy impeccably, minimising any defensive lapses in the process. Incidentally, such a strategy is something that Shane McGuigan has no problem devising, and something that Groves has no problem executing. In February’s semi-final, Groves enjoyed a relatively comfortable unanimous decision win over betting favourite Eubank Jr, barring a dramatic scare in the final round when the champion dislocated his shoulder.
Groves consistently nailed Eubank coming in with sharp counter punches, and wasn’t afraid to capitalise on his physicality when Eubank intensified the pressure, but the debilitating nature of the shoulder injury he sustained in the twelfth, coupled with its potential long-term ramifications, certainly does not bode well for the Hammersmith man going forward.
Although the general consensus seems to be that Groves’ experience and skills will enable him to outclass Smith, the question remains as to whether he will actually be able to sustain a sufficient work rate to overcome a relentless, physically imposing adversary over the twelve round distance in the excruciating Middle Eastern heat. Incidentally, Smith elected to travel out to Jeddah a couple days earlier than his counterpart, in order to most effectively acclimatise to conditions in Jeddah.
Most people are expecting Groves to capitalise on his speed advantage in this fight, softening Smith up with his trademark left lead, escaping danger with evasive movement, and then stinging Smith with powerful straight rights.
However, Groves’ unimpeded use of his left shoulder may prove to be crucial in a fight where early rounds could be potentially dictated by jab exchanges. In looking to secure an early lead, Smith may adopt an assertive approach by timing Groves’ trademark left lead with rangy punches of his own, forcing Groves onto the defensive.
Therefore, expect Groves – at some point in this fight – to eventually succumb to the power and the pressure applied by Callum Smith, who will secure the Muhammad Ali trophy with a win inside the distance.
Article by: Navi Singh
Follow Navi on Twitter at: @hombre__obscuro