The World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) is back this weekend. After delivering two memorable cruiserweight semi-finals, the first super-middleweight semi will take place on February 17. Without wanting to raise expectations too much, Saturday's matchup between George Groves and Chris Eubank Jr at the Manchester Arena has the potential to get close to the level of the cruiserweight classics we enjoyed in late January and early February.
There is history between the domestic rivals which has added some extra spice to the buildup. Long ago sparring sessions have been referenced by both as fight night approaches. Even without this background noise I am confident Groves vs. Eubank Jr would have the boxing world talking. As it is the event has captured the imagination of the UK boxing public – the 20,000 tickets on offer were sold out in 38 minutes – and pundits and fans around the globe are writing about and discussing this fight. Good contests will always draw interest and a crowd.
George Groves (27-3-0, 20KOs) currently holds the WBA “Super” 168lb world title. The London boxer won his belt in May of last year, prevailing in a slugfest against Fedor Chudinov. After suffering a broken jaw in the early stages that night Groves handed out some punishment of his own, winning by TKO in the sixth.
Groves' first title defence was his WBSS quarter-final scrap with fellow English boxer Jamie Cox. Cox held a perfect 24-0 record and took the fight to Groves. The entertaining exchange of fists was ended when Groves landed a right hand on the body of Cox in round four. As soon as that brawl was waved off Groves knew who was waiting for him.
One week prior to Groves' KO of Cox, Chris Eubank Jr (26-1-0, 20KOs) travelled to Germany to take on Avni Yildirim of Turkey. The Turkish fighter entered with a 16-0 ledger but was swiftly dealt with by Eubank Jr. Yildirim was on the canvas in the opening frame and was down and out in the third round after a fast barrage of punches from Eubank Jr hit the target.
Prior to this challenge Eubank Jr had won the lightly regarded IBO world title with a victory over Ronald Quinlan in February last year. He then bested Arthur Abraham by UD in July in a fight that doubled up as a title defence and entry playoff to the WBSS tournament.
In terms of Saturday's matchup there is a case to be made for both men winning. Groves is the natural 168lb fighter and will be the bigger man in the ring. He can call on genuine super-middleweight power if he can engineer an opening to land his right. Groves also has experience of fighting far better opponents and his cultured jab just may be the difference maker against Eubank Jr.
Eubank Jr seems to have other worldly stamina and may fight in a swarming style at a fast pace in order to seriously test Groves' fuel tank. Jr, who holds the speed advantage, will throw more punches per round and hope to wear his bigger opponent down.
It seems like whoever can control the range will be able to get a strong foothold in the fight. Both boxers are very close in height and reach so it will require dominance in the battle of footwork and timing for one man to take over the contest. Will Groves be able to land his hard jab consistently enough to discourage his foe? Or will Eubank Jr be able to work his way inside to land his flurries and boss the action?
Before offering a prediction for a contest I expect to be very close, it is worth mentioning the WBSS procedure if a draw is the final outcome. The fight is scored in the traditional way by three judges but if their combined cards result in there being no winner the scorecard of a fourth judge is consulted. While the official outcome of the bout would be a draw the fourth judge's tally would decide which boxer advances to the final.
The draw is certainly a possibility so we may see this system being put to use but, using his size and experience advantage, I think Groves will be the man having his hand raised at the end of a terrific contest. If you want an idea of how sure I am on this I will say in a 50/50 matchup I like Groves by 51 to 49.
With both boxers coming from England, the domestic rivalry angle and how familiar the fighters are with each other was always going to play a part in the pre-fight story lines. Groves and Eubank Jr spoke about the aforementioned sparring they have done with one another. Steve Bunce's excellent preview article for The Independent quotes both men: “This is my time, he knows what I can do,” was Groves' remark while Eubank Jr countered with: “I was a kid dealing with him and I beat him up and down the ring. I know his weaknesses and he knows I know.”
The talking continued at Wednesday's final press conference which was broadcast live on the tournament website. I got the impression that Groves wanted to keep the talk to a minimum: “He's going to fall short in a lot of categories. It makes me excited to have this fight.” Eubank Jr was more talkative: “I will find a way to stop George Groves. There's no chance in hell that he's going to take this away from me. I'm a man of my word and George you will not see the twelfth round.”
Fans in the UK will need to shell out £16.95 to watch Groves vs. Eubank Jr on ITV Box Office. In this case I have no problem with the pay-per-view tariff. Viewers elsewhere can watch via their usual WBSS broadcaster and for countries without a TV deal the action will stream on the WBSS Youtube channel. The main event fighters will be walking to the ring just after 10pm local time on Saturday.
Once again, thanks to the WBSS concept we are getting to see a quality fight that most probably wouldn't have taken place. The tournament format should be the way forward for the sport. The main players on Saturday have travelled different roads to their meeting point and while there is certainly respect there seems to be a rivalry simmering nicely just below the surface. Expect things to erupt once the formalities are done with and the opening bell has sounded. On Saturdaywe will find out which English boxer will advance to the final of the super-middleweight tournament. You don't want to miss this fight – the arena will be rocking and we may just get another WBSS spectacular to savour.