George Groves is now a world champion. The 29 year old boxer from London won the vacant WBA “Super”* super-middleweight strap last night, defeating Fedor Chudinov via 6th round TKO in an exciting and very watchable fight. Fighting at Bramall Lane in Sheffield as the chief support bout to Kell Brook vs. Errol Spence the Englishman had to overcome a rough start before launching a fine fightback to finally get his hands on a world title belt.
Groves had suffered disappointment and heartbreak in his previous world title attempts. In 2013 he was acquitting himself well against Carl Froch, leading on all three scorecards, but he was caught in the 9th round by a series of punches from his domestic rival and despite remaining upright the fight was waved off by the referee. The debate as to whether or not that stoppage was premature still runs to this day. Fast forward to May of 2014 and his rematch with Froch. Again Groves was performing well enough until being lured in and knocked out in the 8th round. No debate about the ending of this one. His third attempt at glory came up short when he lost via split decision to Badou Jack in Las Vegas in September 2015.
As last night's fight got underway Groves fans could have been forgiven for thinking they were entering familiar territory with their man. Chudinov started the fight like a train, barrelling forward, trapping Groves on the ropes and landing at will. It looked like being a tough night for Groves. Chudinov was effective at cutting off the ring and denying Groves the distance he required to land his optimum punches. During this opening quarter of the fight I had the man from Russia building a handy lead and was thinking there was a real possibility that Groves could get stopped.
Despite this the opening quarter of the fight did offer some small straws of hope for Groves followers to clutch at. He did look to have the speed advantage and was capable of landing some handy counters, especially to the body, when he wasn't being crowded by Chudinov. These moments were few and far between though. The stocky, solid Russian looked to have had Groves buzzed off a right hand in the opening round and perhaps it was this shot which led to George, demonstrating his increasing maturity as a fighter, being careful rather than careless when exchanging with Chudinov during the following two sessions.
The careful and calculated approach while under pressure paid massive dividends. Signs that Groves had weathered the storm were evident in the fourth frame as he was able to put a stop to Chudinov's relentless forward march. Groves, perhaps aided by the few counters to Chudinov's body that he had landed during the difficult opening quarter, seemed to be timing his counter shots better. This stopped the one way traffic and got him back into the fight. As we went into the fifth Groves again was having more success. Making use of his superior speed he tagged Chudinov consistently in what was his best round of the fight so far and a hint at what was to follow.
Round six was where Groves fulfilled his dream. Landing at will with accurate shots Groves had reduced Chudinov to immobile slugger status by this point. Chudinov proved what a tough man he is by remaining on his feet as Groves unloaded somewhere in the region of thirty punches before the referee stepped in to save the Russian. Groves turned the tide of the fight spectacularly and celebrated becoming a world champion with his team in the ring.
After the defeat to Badou Jack the prospect of Groves ever capturing a world crown seemed remote. The boxer made some changes and decided to hire Shane McGuigan as his trainer. Starting in January 2016 with a win over Andrea Di Luisa Groves and McGuigan have worked steadily behind the scenes, taking four fights last year to get Groves back on track, and last night in their fifth and most important outing together glory was achieved.
Groves was understandably delighted when he spoke in the ring following his victory: “It's a lifetime's work achieved. I'm over the moon. I want to thank everyone who made this happen, Shane McGuigan has resurrected my career. Who wants to fight me? I'm sick and tired of chasing people. I'm going to savour my win and spend quality time with my family and celebrate with my wonderful team.”
Indeed now that Groves is in possession of a world belt he may find it easier to attract the other belt holders within the division. Perhaps even a matchup with the WBA “Regular”* (more on this ridiculous scenario in another pice) belt holder Tyron Zeuge might materialise. For now though we offer congratulations to Groves and his team. He has a serious foothold within the 168lb division and it will be interesting to see just how much Groves goes on to achieve under the tutelage of Shane McGuigan.