A fight that I played my part in building into a 50/50 battle turned into anything but last night. Before a hyped up capacity crowd in the Manchester Arena, George Groves displayed his boxing expertise as he maneuvered his way past the challenge of Chris Eubank Jr.
In the process Groves defended his WBA “Super” 168lb world title and claimed his spot in the final of the World Boxing Super Series super-middleweight tournament.
Eubank Jr was the betting favourite before the first bell rang but Groves made a mockery of the oddsmakers and those who sided with them by boxing, yes boxing, his way to a convincing victory. The main issues for Groves on the night turned out to be an unfortunate final round shoulder dislocation and some strange scoring from the ringside judges.
The London boxer was cooler than a Valley Girl throughout the contest, handing out a very public lesson to his countryman and reducing him to desperate slugger status as the bout approached its final stages.
The buildup to this contest had been very much focused on the question of whether Eubank Jr could out-work and wear down his more experienced opponent. The answer was an emphatic no. As it transpires, fighting against opponents who are incapable of moving and adequately defending themselves, is no way to prepare for a genuinely world class foe. Groves did what we knew he was capable of but also had some tactical tricks in his back pocket which helped him out at times against the predictable strategy of Jr.
After the high quality WBSS introductions had been completed the opening bell led us into a cagey first round. It seemed like Eubank Jr wanted to taste the Groves jab while having a look at what was in front of him. He exited the round intimidated, not liking what was on the menu, therefore allowing Groves to box his way into a very handy lead (Eubank Jr didn't win a round for me until the ninth) while sustaining a cut above his right eye in round three.
All the fundamentals were being demonstrated by Groves. Jab, yes. Eubank Jr couldn't catch, avoid or shoot against it. Effective aggression – yes. All the action was going the way of the more experienced fighter in the opening 25 minutes of the contest. Distance control was not a problem for Groves either and, in case you were wondering, his defence was bang on, avoiding sporadic attacks and luring Eubank Jr into traps and countering masterfully when the chances presented themselves.
As an attacking force Groves was on a different level to his opponent. He controlled the pace with his jab over the opening three quarters of the fight. Whenever the action got close Groves had plan A and plan B.
“A” seemed to be wrap up and manhandle Eubank Jr. This worked well. Plan B was step in even closer and make his foe swing and miss. This led to some horrible looking punches from Eubank Jr.
The step in even closer aspect had coach Shane McGuigan (son of Barry) written all over it. Tip of the hat to Groves' trainer for this detail served up with a side of irony – it was the son of a legendary UK boxer who wasn't in the ring that ended up having more of an influence over the proceedings rather than the son of the one who was.
As the fight rampaged towards a judges’ decision Eubank Jr was getting increasingly desperate. Wild lunges and untidy foot co-ordination even when in range continuously made him look amateurish.
The crowd in attendance must have wondered what was going on in round ten when Eubank Jr, dipping and diving, took a right hand and touched down. The referee ruled no knockdown, a mistake in my opinion.
Jr was all out of ideas. He was into Juan Manuel Marquez lead uppercut territory long before the final frame started but he was offered a glimmer of hope in the final three minutes when Groves suffered a dislocation of his left shoulder early in that session. The dice did not bounce in his favour though as Groves lost the round but held on to win the fight convincingly. A share of the fifth and a tick in the ninth and final rounds for Eubank Jr saw my card read 118-111 in favour of the underdog Groves.
The judges gave us the correct winner by UD but their scoring seemed a little off. 117-112 was OK but 116-112 and 115-113 indicated a closer fight than it was. Importantly though the correct man won and advances to the super-middleweight final. We will know more in the coming days but Groves may be in a race against time to come back from his shoulder problem and make the June 2 date in London for that encounter.
The UK PPV broadcast was handled by ITV Box Office. They employed the excellent multi-sport reporter Gabriel Clarke to ask the questions after the fight. Groves spoke first: “Well done to Chris Eubank, he didn't lie when he said he was going to grit it out tonight. He didn't bring the pressure that he promised but I think that was because I was hurting him from the get go. I dropped him once but it didn't count, a bit dubious there, he was strong inside but I'm very happy with my performance. I haven't diagnosed it yet but the shoulder feels pretty sore. I wasn't going to let anything beat me tonight though.” Eubank Jr: “I thought it was close, I thought I did enough in the later rounds to win the fight. All credit to George, this is all part of boxing, you win some you lose some. Hopefully we can get a rematch, I thought it was enough of a good fight to get another one.”
While the theme of the preview was of a spectacular Manchester fight tied in with the title of one of famous indie band Oasis' better songs the neck and neck race to the finish post didn't really transpire. This was because George Groves proved what he had said all along. He is a level above Chris Eubank Jr – Jr had no idea what to do when he couldn't get to work inside. There seemed to be no plan B from his corner.
Again borrowing from Oasis, Groves proved to be a Wonderwall for Eubank Jr. That term doesn't fully do justice to a fight that was one sided but still held interest for the viewer. If Groves simply had been a “wall” Jr may have had some joy. As it was, it was a boxing match, not an athletic or six-pack demonstration. Groves was better than his opponent in all elements of the sweet science and enhanced his reputation while advancing to the final of the tournament.
Groves now faces a race against time to be fit for the final at London's O2 Arena against Callum Smith or Juergen Braehmer. Assuming he is functioning at full power, expect George Groves to cement his legacy by lifting the Muhammad Ali trophy in his home town on June 2. Not even a comeback gig by Oasis would sell more tickets in Old London Town that night.