George Groves: From potential career-ending injury to Callum Smith showdown

At one stage it looked like it wasn’t going to happen.

The World Boxing Super Series super middleweight final. The best the tournament had to offer. It began with eight, it will end with two.

After dislocating his left shoulder in his victory over Chris Eubank Jr in February, George Groves’ place in the final was in jeopardy. That was February 17, one week later Callum Smith booked his spot by defeating late, late replacement (for Jurgen Braehmer) Nieky Holzken.

The weeks and months afterward were a mix of doubt and uncertainty as to who exactly was going to be in the final. Word around the campfire was Groves would be replaced, possibly by the man he beat in the semis. Cue a rightful backlash from boxing fans online against the organisers. A stressful time for the WBA 168lbs champion who WILL definitely now face Smith.

“The last few months have been very stressful. I was good as told I was replaced,” Groves told GiveMeSport.

“Even though they were desperate for June, they realised that they were going to have to bite the bullet. And if they want a final that everyone wants to see they’re going to have to have both finalists in there, both finalists fit and healthy and now I believe we’re going to end up with a September date. I’ll be fully fit and healthy by then.

“I was quietly confident that a date would be made. They would have to make allowance, even if it’s just for this year to get the final that everyone wants to see, even if it means they have to bend rules just a touch.

“Lots of these people are very good businessmen but they don’t have a lot of experience in boxing, so it’s very difficult to establish final dates until you know everyone’s fit and healthy and ready to go. If you’re going to have a tournament and call it The Ali Trophy, The Greatest, then you’ve got to have the best guys in to start with, and then whoever ends up in the final they’re the guys that have to fight.”

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Groves vs. Smith, even before the World Boxing Super Series, had been mooted for some time. Rewind four years and Groves’ career was not in the best condition after losing two marquee fights – back to back – against Carl Froch.

The rising star at the time was Smith, and his team – backed by promoter Eddie Hearn – smelled blood.

“Eddie Hearn and that were looking at me as a stepping stone fight for Callum Smith because he was racking up some good wins at the time,” Groves recalled.

Groves and Smith would go their separate ways. One rebuilding his career via Vegas, London and Sheffield en route to world title glory at the fourth attempt. The other continued to rack up the wins building a career that ha eventually led him to the World Boxing Super Series final.

The spectacular one round knockout of Rocky Fielding, for Smith, was sandwiched in between two wins over Christopher Rebrasse and Hadillah Mohoumadi.

Title wins and a healthy ranking established. Smith had momentum but Groves says he hasn’t seen a good performance from the Liverpudlian in a long time.

“This doesn’t mean he’s not capable of them,” he added.

“It just means for some reason he’s not putting them together. So whether there’s a change in the dynamic between him and (trainer) Joe Gallagher, or he’s just under motivated or he’s struggling with the weight… there’s something there. If he wasn’t knocking guys out in the first round, he was just going through the motions against guys he should be dominating.

The experience of everything Groves has gone through, from high profile losses to well-publicised changes to his camp, the champion is not only confident but sounds like a man who wears the ‘Been There Got The T-Shirt’ every day.

There isn’t anything he hasn’t seen in his career. It would be difficult to come up with anything that could faze him nowadays.

And while he and trainer Shane McGuigan will go through their meticulous approach one more time, for the final, Groves already knows what he is up against in Smith. The height, the reach, the body shots, the hooks… all mentally noted by Groves when he has watched him over the years and in the tournament.

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“I think I’ve got more than enough to nullify his arsenal, and I’d like to test his whiskers,” Groves said teasingly.

“No-one’s really hit him on the chin yet. But I will and he hasn’t boxed anyone as good as me. He hasn’t boxed anyone who hits as hard as I do, so once we get into those exchanges that’s when it’s really going to be interesting and heat up.”

After a ten-year professional career it would seem fitting for Groves to retire should he beat Smith. World champion and winner of The Ali Trophy after some big domestic wins in the process. Groves thought retirement was on the cards when his shoulder went pop against Eubank Jr.

“I was in the ambulance in a lot of pain, waiting straight after the fight, waiting to go to the hospital to get it popped back in. My wife sitting next to me and I said’ That’s it then, we’re out. Job done. Not a bad run. We’ll go out on that one. Why not, eh?'”

He rightly thought it was a career-ending injury. The immediate reaction was one of he, his family and the sunset, but now recovered the 30-year-old Londoner says his body feels good and he is thoroughly enjoying training with the rising stars in Shane McGuigan’s gym.

Two, possibly three big fights left post-World Boxing Super Series for ‘The Saint’. That, of course, brings in to play unifications against the other belt holders: (WBO champion) Gilberto Ramirez, (WBC champion) David Benavidez, and Groves’ old foe (IBF champion) James DeGale.

“He definitely needs me more than I need him,” the WBA champion says of the man who he beat in the amateurs and as a pro.

“It’d be an absolute gift if I fight him, but it would be so much fun! I’d love to do it. And that would be a lovely way to go out. That would be the one. It’s been spoken about forever and talked about to death over the last seven years, and part of me used to think it would always happen but part of me thinks it’s never going to happen.

“If it never happens I won’t be too fussed about it. I’ve beaten him every time I’ve boxed him. He’s the one who needs that fight. We’ll see whether he’s willing to take it or wants it or not. I’m not so sure.”

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