George Groves’s journey from l’infant terrible to veteran former champion, as he now is, has taken almost a decade and just a baker’s dozen or two of Saturday nights and no little heartache. As he was bludgeoned to the canvas by Callum Smith last Friday night in the seventh round of their Super Middleweight world title fight, it was impossible not conclude that his career was at an end.
An articulate, thoughtful man who has earned lucratively from his ability to box and promote, it was hard to fathom from whom or where any redemption or source of motivation could be summoned. This jars with the loathing we all have for those who write off fighters as a spent force, or spoiled goods, when they encounter defeat I concede, but more experienced viewers also develop a sense for when a fighter’s appetite for battle has gone.
There will be opportunities to return, to earn once more, with contemporaries James DeGale and Chris Eubank just two matches against whom a crowd would be drawn. Of most intrigue would be the tired, but doubtless hotly contested, rematch between Groves and DeGale. However, the prospect of that contest looks a long way away. As Groves stoically tried to fire back after being caught by a counter left hook, his eyes glazed and staring off into the middle distance it was hard to suppress the suspicion we were witnessing the end.
His punches had lacked fluency, he appeared wary of Smith’s power and despite good head movement and an inherent caution in Smith’s work, Groves was jolted and stiffened a couple of times before the flurry that ended the fight.
It brought a different prism through which to view his pre-fight comments; in which Groves spoke of this bout representing the zenith of his career and marvelled at how seasoned he had now become. The observations were reflective and seemed designed to confirm his own status and experience to himself, as if placating an otherwise disguised self-doubt.
He has achieved so much, overcoming DeGale in a fight he was favoured to lose, creating sufficient interest to land a Carl Froch bout Carl was singularly unimpressed by, until he found himself on the seat of his pants looking up and persevering in the face of narrow defeats to eventually win that world title. Groves snatched the threads of controversy from the first Froch defeat and wove a sufficiently large banner from them that the rematch needed Wembley stadium to satisfy the thirst for tickets. It has been quite a ride.
As always hindsight is a wonderful thing, and Groves is intelligent enough to reflect dispassionately about whether his performance on Saturday was reflective of what he has left to give at the age of 30 or merely a result of his injury layoff or the awkwardness of a 6ft 3 opponent. Perhaps all three are true. They’re not mutually exclusive.
Whatever George Groves elects to do, the self-styled Gingerbread Man, with the permanent black eye and thudding fists, has been a much greater servant to British boxing than his recognition suggests.
Perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight, the fans will begin to realise that too.
And if not, he’s already had his ‘open top bus’ moment.