By J.B. Smithers
Such is the nature of the sport of boxing these days that one has to remember to write George Groves’ name first in any discussion or announcement regarding his World Boxing Super Series Semi-Final clash with Chris Eubank Jr. The tournament has been a huge success in terms of the entertainment provided and threatens to restructure much of what we understand the accepted hierarchy of boxing, it’s matchmaking and promotion, to be too.
The momentum behind Eubank Jr., despite a curiously innocuous period prior to his last two fights, one the quarter-final with Yildirim, is growing. Growing to the point, his name frequently appears to the fore, to the left to use boxing parlance, of releases and public rumination about the bout with Groves, who is, for the casuals who have forgotten, the WBA Super-Middleweight champion. This seemingly trivial faux pas speaks loudly about the potential for Chris Eubank Jr. to transcend, standing on the shoulders of his father and the great names he tangled with, to reach a much loftier and lucrative plateau than the one Groves could reach.
In and of itself, when one considers the enormity of Groves’ rematch with Carl Froch, to believe that is even possible is remarkable.Kalle Sauerland, the lead promoter on the Series, recently announced the mouth-watering clash will take place on February 17th at the Manchester Arena. Widely anticipated as the likely semi-final when the quarter-final selections were made, the respective ability of each fighter and the difficulty in choosing a victor led to Callum Smith, a fine fighter in his own right, being installed as pre-tournament favourite due to the less lustrous competition he would face in his half of the draw.
Eubank Jr.’s knockout victory, followed swiftly by Groves’ triumph in the quarter finals, caught the eye and the two are now the consensus favourites to win the competition with boxing fans torn between the two. Ultimate victory in the inaugural World Boxing Super Series remains a prospect neither fighter can afford to distract themselves with ahead of what is likely to prove the bout of the tournament. You suspect, both pugilists will find it hard not to contemplate the ultimate goal of unifying the division by facing IBF world champion James DeGale in their quieter moments.
The World Boxing Super Series is a bold attempt to determine who the best in the division is and reportedly very lucrative for the protagonists. In the absence of an upset in the tournament thus far, in either the Super-Middleweight and Cruiserweight weight classes, it would be easy to assume seeding will continue to prove indicative in predicting the outcome of the remaining bouts. Despite the form so far, that appears a shallow premise on which to predict the semi-finals.
Groves, who has grown from l’enfant terrible to a seasoned and hardened world champion in the past five years, reminded those who doubted him that he possesses fight finishing punch power and tremendous shot selection in defeating Jamie Cox. Eubank Jr. meanwhile, proved even more eye catching with a pristine, highlight reel knockout of Avni Yildirim, a fighter credited with being an outside bet when the line up was revealed. The merits of those victories, and the skill demonstrated in both has narrowed the betting market considerably. If you plan to speculate, go with your instinct, I’d recommend it.
Both fighters have previously matured in defeat, Groves perhaps most significantly in the most recent loss to Badou Jack, a defeat which appeared to draw a line beneath his world title pretensions. The Swede’s performances since he beat Groves in a narrow, if not contentious, split decision point loss offered new context with which to view Groves’ performance; Jack has gone on to beat veteran Lucian Bute, draw with James DeGale in a punishing contest and knockout Nathan Cleverly at Light-Heavyweight.
Groves’ style has evolved, paradoxically returning to the boxing skills which saw him overcome James DeGale in their fight as unbeaten prospects, and he has escaped the stylistic trap of relying on his punching power. A temptation which enveloped him once he’d put the granite chinned Carl Froch on the floor in their first encounter. The belief he lacks the engine for championship rounds remains an accusation he hasn’t quite shaken but it is a brave fighter that bases his tactics on the Londoner fading late.
After a contentious split decision loss to Billy Joe Saunders in the middleweight division, Eubank Jr. continued to seek big fights, doing a lot of talking but never really enough in the ring to warrant a shot at a major belt. Just as his career began to drift toward inconsequence he secured a crossroads encounter with Arthur Abraham, one he dominated, and secured passage into this World Boxing Super Series in the process. Whilst the International Boxing Organisation (IBO) belt doesn’t substantiate the bout with Groves as a unification, it adds a little more decoration to their encounter.
The final of this tournament; whatever the combination of Groves, Eubank Jr., Smith or Braehmer – and you dismiss the 39 year old German at your peril – will be contested in early Summer. By which time, DeGale will represent the ultimate prize.
James DeGale last fought in January 2017, holding onto his IBF world title thanks to a Majority Draw with Badou Jack in Brooklyn, a fight which saw both men dropped and the 31 year old Londoner require surgery to restore his smile. His next title defence will be on December 19th, when he’ll face Caleb Truax at the Olympic Park in his first fight with Frank Warren on BoxNation.
Source: World Boxing News, via Twitter
The James DeGale v George Groves rematch is a fight that always seemed necessary but increasingly looked unlikely as defeat, injury and promotional politics intervened but with both fighters nearing the end than the beginning of their respective careers, it could represent the most lucrative bout available. As a unification, it is big enough to merit a Stadium platform, for that to come to pass, Groves has to win this tournament. Groves was disappointed his rival didn’t enter the tournament due to injury; “He is always saying he has fought with injuries, because his body obviously can’t cope with the fights or training,” per the Express.
With the benefits of the brand Eubank, and a good degree of Senior’s persona and confidence inherited, Chris Eubank Jr. has been placing his name alongside World Champions long before he had the resume to merit such claims. Speaking before the tournament emerged he spoke of his desire to face both champions. “Me against DeGale and Groves has to happen – who else can they fight? The public wants me to fight them,” per ESPN.
Now Eubank Jr will get to face George Groves on February 17th, which could result in the WBA world title passing hands and the 27-year-old going on to win the World Series of Boxing. After that, a world title unification bout with James DeGale looks to be on the cards. Or if Groves defeats Eubank Jr, he will be expected to win the tournament, and then possibly go on to fight DeGale to unify the IBF and WBA straps.
As with all things, it is a lot of ifs. Gratefully, there is entertainment in every one.