George Groves: ‘I’ll hit Callum Smith with big shots. I’ll get rid of him’
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – From ringside I remember thinking it was one of the most ferocious attacks I’d seen live in a British prize ring.
It was May 27, 2017, at Bramall Lane soccer stadium in Sheffield, England, and punch after punch nailed Fedor Chudinov flush. George Groves, in his fourth world title attempt, seemed determined to strike his opponent in every legal area with every shot in the book. The assault went on for over a minute and when it was over Groves was the new WBA super middleweight champion of the world.
Groves had summoned up all the devastation from three previous failures, twice to Carl Froch and once to Badou Jack, and taken that hurt out on someone else. There was no way he could lose again. His desire was too deep and the pain from another world title setback would have been too much to bear. The London-born boxer-puncher had finally achieved his dreams, but there was more to do.
Less than a month after claiming his cherished world title, Groves joined the World Boxing Super Series elimination tournament. The good form continued in strong title defenses against Jamie Cox; who was stopped in four with a body shot, and Chris Eubank Jr.; who Groves outclassed over 12 rounds. The quarter-finals and the semi-finals were history and a final with countryman Callum Smith beckoned.
It was London versus Liverpool and the fight was a natural for the Manchester Arena. That particular venue would provide neutral territory and 20,000 fans could scream their lungs out as two Brits – two of the finest super middleweights in the world – went at it. However, it turns out that the WBSS, determined to conquer globally, had a more exotic locale in mind. Groves-Smith will be contested at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday.
“It is surreal in many ways,” said Groves in an interview with The Ring. “We didn’t know a lot about Saudi Arabia, and you hear how it’s a very strict country with a lot of laws and things we’re not used to. But we got out here and got through customs fine. There were no problems with the belt, no problems with the training kit and our hotel’s great.
“Actually, it’s a lot like Vegas in that there’s just desert everywhere. And the other day we pulled up at a mall and there was a Victoria’s Secret inside and I’m like, ‘Ok, maybe we are in Vegas!’ Everything’s been great and this could be a really good place to box.
“I had a concern that it might be quiet and subdued in the arena on Friday, although I don’t think that would really bother me. But obviously it’s nice if there’s a bit of noise. If I catch Callum Smith with a nice right hand over the top and the crowd go ‘Wooooo’, then I might follow up quicker than I would if they’re just waiting for the end of the round to applaud.”
The defending champion will be looking to land plenty of power shots and create as much energy and excitement as possible for a new audience. However, Groves will also exercise caution. Smith is 6-foot-3-inches tall, he has power in both hands and he has never lost as a professional.
“From looking at Smith’s previous fights, he’s dangerous early and I would imagine there’s a big target to hit,” said Groves. “The people who get put away by him early are the ones who let their hands go early. They land something, think he’s gonna go and they see so much target that they open up. That’s when he walks them on to big shots.
“But if Smith doesn’t get you early, he goes into a shell. He switches off and goes into a lull in the middle rounds. I’ll fight at my pace, make him miss and hit him with big shots. I think I hit harder than anyone he’s fought before. He’s a big puncher, but I’ve been in with big punchers. But I don’t want to give any free shots away, and this isn’t a three-round fight. We’re ready and prepared to go 12 if necessary, but I do think I’ll get rid of him.”
Last May, Groves finally got the monkey off his back. The relief of winning a world title was overwhelming and it was an experience he will never forget. Sixteen months on and he now has the chance to put some historical icing on his cake. The vacant Ring Magazine title will be awarded to the winner and Groves, who instantly approached the belt when it was on display at Wednesday’s press conference, didn’t hesitate when asked if this would be his greatest triumph.
“It would be now and in years to come it could be even bigger,” said Groves. “When I first signed up for the ‘Ali Trophy’ I hoped there would be other world champions in there and, if I’m being truly honest, I was a little disappointed when there wasn’t.
“To now have the Ring Magazine belt added, it’s like taking part in a unification fight. With that title, I come out of this as a two-time world champion. And only two other people have won the Ring belt in this weight division (Joe Calzaghe and Andre Ward). Also, I’ll have the Ali trophy. If the Ali trophy is still going 10 years from now, the reaction might be ‘Wow, he was the first one to win that’. It would be lovely to be part of history.”
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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