Groves distinguishes himself, and boxing, from the vanity of hype

Twenty out of thirty fight figures in Boxing Monthly thought Eubank would beat George Groves on Saturday night, of the dozen regular writers at Boxing News half drew a similar conclusion and Buncey went for Eubank too. I’ve leaned heavily on those opinions this morning as I wrestled with how close I came to joining them. At the last possible moment, as I watched Gabriel and Michelle interview the two protagonists, my instinct flipped from the hipster pick, Eubank being too quick, too fit and the growing irresistibility of his ‘from the shadow of his father’ narrative to the more obvious, that Groves was simply too big, too clever and hit too hard not to win. And back again.

In the end, at the death as it were, I opted for Groves, just. His presumed method of victory; stay outside, control distance and the pace of the fight with his jab, was hard to be confident in such was the appeal of Eubank’s fast hands, knowing glare and Brook Benton baritone. Adam Abramowitz, an American writer I respect, had inserted a doubt worm too, suggesting that Groves’ boxing ability was being overstated and he had a habit of finding failure when success was abundantly available.The fight taught viewers much, the new fans, tempted by Anthony Joshua and the excuse boxing offers for a good old ‘knees up’, and those of us who can survive the initiation of spotting a left hook in an angling emporium. Most pointedly, it taught me to remember boxing is not a reality show, that you cannot create a masterpiece with a painting by numbers art set. There are, after all, geniuses who can perform tricks with a football few highly paid professionals could match, but non of the ‘freestyle’ wizards are ever asked to play left back at Stoke or centre midfield at Bayern Munich.

There was a sense of that as early as the opening round, when Eubank missed with a jab by approximately the length of Sonny Liston’s reach. It was the jab of a novice. The feet stayed behind, no follow up punch followed. At the highest level, the greatest fighters judge distances in fractions of inches. Groves’ margin for error was frequently measurable in yards. It was astonishing and most chilling for those vesting their credibility, to some small degree, in a Eubank pick.

Eubank’s face in that opening round, or visage and stanza as the wonderful Ronald McIntosh must have referred to it, foretold the story of the entire fight and perhaps the whole story of Eubank’s fighting career, in microcosm. The smugness, the hooded self-assurance, the brooding pose all evaporated, dissolving like a shaken Etch-a-Sketch where once there was an image of a fighter, drawn by the magnetism of his father’s career but without the hardiness of Senior’s journey there, now just a blank featureless canvas remained.

It is the nature of sport, news, perhaps life in general in this negative age of social media and the solitude of a me, me, me society that much of the analysis of the fight, in the immediate aftermath, and now, with sleep and breakfast taken that the shock of Eubank’s failure resounds louder than Groves’ success. It overlooks how accomplished, if not perfect, Groves has become. A boy who dared the streets of London to get to the gym at the foot of the Grenfell Tower, the kid with the ginger hair and the pale skin has become a complete fighter and, belatedly, a very good champion. He boxed his way through the education of the Amateur system, outfoxing the Olympic golden boy, flooring the unfloorable Froch and filling Wembley. He has done much of this as an outsider, taking brave decisions and accepting ownership of them when they’ve gone wrong. In many ways, he is the fighter and businessman Eubank believes himself to be. Except Groves didn’t have a brand name to build it all from.

Groves, as Steve Bunce and Mike Costello reminded us, always spars badly, always has a black eye and was forced to rebuild from the rubble of defeat at home and abroad. Throughout his career, he’s refused to be bullied, wouldn’t be denied, wouldn’t be told no. How could we doubt him against a fighter without those building blocks, without those experiences? Eubank has been told about them, by those who bore witness to Eubank Senior’s career, and revisited them on VHS and its successors of course, to the point he felt exceeding them was his only escape.

Whilst Groves was sparring top class Amateurs, Chris Eubank was running around car parks trying to invent a persona, to prove he didn’t have a silver spoon and did have the hardness of his father.  When George Groves was putting his career on the line away from home in a narrow loss to Badou Jack, a fighter who may yet become the king at Light-heavyweight, Eubank was hitting overly complicated punch bags, wearing David Blane tribute gloves and knocking out static opponents.

Thankfully, respect grew in the fight, as it invariably does, and was shared and divulged by Eubank Senior and Junior with humility, on the whole, and with a degree of self-awareness too. Groves will need to recuperate from the shoulder injury he accrued pivoting from the wildest of Eubank’s late round swings and the seriousness of that injury may defer the final of this sensational World Boxing Super Series to the Autumn. One suspects lucrative bouts including that final, a DeGale rematch and potentially at least, one further unification match awaits Groves on his recovery. If he opts to continue that long, a thinking fighter and one who has seen at first hand the risks inherent in the sport, it wouldn’t surprise this observer if he left at the top sooner, rather than later.

For now, the once l’enfant terrible of British Boxing can relax in the triumph of his footwork, tactics, boxing fundamentals and no small amount of determination.

Eubank meanwhile, will head back to the mean streets of Brighton, and Middleweight too I’d advise, and hopefully consider the benefits of listening to someone other than his mirror. If a someone willing to try and navigate the claustrophobic space between the egos of father and son can be found.

They’ve made few friends thus far.

In closing, it would be unkind if I didn’t at least recognise the heart Eubank the younger demonstrated in staying in there until the bitter end. Because it didn’t look much fun.

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