George Groves: The Greatest Hits
Popular British super middleweight George Groves was heading toward the unflattering distinction of nearly-man before winning a world title at the fourth time of asking in an emotional rollercoaster career.
Groves was born and brought up in West London. Representing England as an amateur, he was extremely talented and twice defeated James DeGale before exiting the amateur ranks with a record of 65-10.
Turning professional at the age of 20, Groves won the Commonwealth 168-pound title in just his ninth fight after stopping Charles Adamu in six.
Despite having to get off the floor to beat Scotsman Kenny Anderson, Groves continued to improve and, against the odds, edged old amateur nemesis DeGale in an authentic grudge match. A follow-up victory over veteran Glen Johnson positioned the young contender for a world title bout.
That opportunity arrived when he was offered a shot at countryman Carl Froch for the IBF and WBA 168-pound titles. Groves dropped and dominated the champion early but was stopped in controversial fashion when referee Howard Foster intervened prematurely in Round 9.
On May 31, 2014 the pair met in a rematch before 80,000 fans at Wembley Stadium in London.
“I’ve been walking around for six months thinking I’m a world champion without a belt around my waist,” Groves told The Ring. “It’s just a matter of time, and this is going to be my coming out party. This fight is so big, it doesn’t matter what happened the first time, this will eclipse it.”
It wasn’t to be as Groves suffered a shuddering one-punch knockout loss in Round 8.
Realigning himself with Sauerland Events, the ‘”Saint” got back to winning ways by outpointing Christopher Rebrasse.
“We’re eating humble pie; it’s not 80,000, it’s 8,000 next door and we struggled to sell out,” Groves recalled. “Strange, sad, but necessary.”
Still fiercely determined, Groves worked his way into the WBC mandatory position and met Badou Jack on the undercard of Floyd Mayweather-Andre Berto in Las Vegas. The Londoner was floored early, and although he fought back hard, the judges ruled against him on a split decision.
To his immense credit, Groves dusted himself off again, took on Shane McGuigan as trainer and won four fights, including one against the ill-fated Eddy Gutknecht.
“He collapsed in the dressing room after the fight and fell into a coma. He has never really fully recovered, and that was heart-breaking,” Groves said. “My son was born a couple of months before that fight and becoming a dad changed me. I lost a bit of killer instinct, and then hurting Eddy Gutknecht, who had three kids, in a keep-busy fight, changed his life forever.”
With great difficulty, Groves was able to suppress difficult and now tragic times to fulfil a life’s work. On May 27, 2017, at Bramall Lane soccer stadium in Sheffield, England, Groves dramatically stopped Fedor Chudinov in six rounds to claim the WBA super middleweight title.
The likable Londoner then entered the World Boxing Series and easily stopped Jamie Cox to set up a mouthwatering domestic clash with Chris Eubank Jr. An excellent 12-round unanimous decision win came at a cost when the gutsy Englishman sustained a badly dislocated shoulder in the final round.
“The rehab was tough,” said Groves, before explaining some trepidation he had about continuing with his career and facing Callum Smith. “I was stubborn. I wanted to go out on a high, I wanted to win The Ring Magazine belt, the Muhammad Ali Trophy. The risk was worth the gamble.
“I still believe at the time I was good enough to beat Smith, [but I had] nowhere near enough quality sparring. I had to crash the weight, my rehab sessions were replacing my conditioning sessions.
“It was surreal [in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia], there was no fight buzz about at all. We got out there and it was deadly silent, they don’t know about boxing. We just wanted to get in and out. It was almost like a business thing and I regret it. It’s a shame I dislocated my shoulder against Eubank because I wouldn’t have had all those problems to get through.”
Ultimately, Groves was knocked out in seven rounds and decided to hang up his gloves with a record of 28-4 (20 knockouts).
Now 32, he lives just outside West London and is enjoying retirement.
“I’ve got two small kids, I love spending time with them and they take up a lot of time,” said the former titleholder. “I stay involved in boxing at arm’s length. Every now and then I get invited to shows, I commentate and do punditry work, which is fun.
“I go down Dale Youth (boxing club) on a Sunday, when we’re not on lockdown, and take the kids on pads, give them a bit of experience, t’s just a bit of fun. I like taking a slower pace of life now.”
Here’s what he had to say about eight of his most memorable nights in the ring:
Date/ Venue: November 13, 2010/ M.E.N Arena, Manchester, England
Titles: Commonwealth super middleweight
“I was definitely the favorite going into the fight, no one paid much attention to Kenny Anderson, who had a real good amateur pedigree. The fight was put together with literally a couple of weeks to go because I was supposed to be headlining my first televised show on Sky against James Obede Toney and he failed the medical. They couldn’t put a fight together in such a short space of time, so (then-promoter) David Haye said, ‘We’ll put you on my undercard in Manchester,’ which was two weeks off.
“I didn’t feel right for the fight. I probably had the excitement of headlining a show and then it gets squashed. We were low-key at the time, selling tickets by word of mouth. I remember sitting in my kitchen, counting out all the money I had to hand back to people and was stressed out with it not adding up. I’d sparred with Kenny Anderson and it was all comfortable work. I was up for the fight, but I remember feeling really flat, struggling to make weight because I had a spike after the first fight fell through. Maybe I’d over-trained because I was ready to peak two weeks before, had a break and then tried to pick it back up and taper off.
“It was the first time I got dropped, I’m losing the fight and I have to pull it out the bag and get the stoppage win. It was a bit heart in your mouth. I showed a lot of guts, and I showed a lot of people what I’m about. I definitely didn’t get it right, but I got off the floor, dug deep and got the win. It’s definitely a fight I learned a lot from, in terms of preparation.”
Result: Groves TKO 6
Date/ Venue: May 21, 2011/ O2 Arena, London, England
Titles: British and Commonwealth super middleweight
“It was a real high-profile fight. I was fighting the Olympic champion who, at the time, was being built as the next big thing from the U.K. He was someone I had beat as an amateur, someone I knew really well from the same amateur club. It ended up headlining a pay-per-view show and sold an awful lot of tickets. It seemed everyone wanted me to win, but no one quite believed I could. I was a 4-1 outsider for that fight. I think it was Ring Magazine who did a poll of experts to see who was going to win that fight and 28 of 30 picked DeGale. I think the only two who picked me disliked DeGale (laughs).
“I remember the ring walk and there was such a huge amount of support for me, which was wonderful. We had a strict game plan to bamboozle him, not give him a static target, and take the fight away from him. I got to show a different side of myself, that I can stick to a game plan, deal with the pressure, keep my composure and, from a technical point of view, that I could box off the backfoot.
“We definitely dislike each other and probably still do now. As time goes on, things fade, but I feel like the rivalry between me and him could easily get reignited over one line. The only other person I had a genuine rivalry with was Carl Froch, but spending time with him now, it’s not there anymore. I think with me and DeGale, it’ll always be there because we knew each other as kids.
“I beat him and I’m happy to have won.”
Result: Groves MD 12
Date/Venue: December 15, 2012/ ExCel Arena, London, England
Titles: Commonwealth super middleweight
“This was my first fight against a former world champion and a great fighter. Certainly well past his best, quite a few loses on his record at that point, but it was a real learning fight. At that time, without being disrespectful to Glen Johnson, we saw him as a gatekeeper to world class, elite-level. When I boxed him, he was into his 40s but looked in phenomenal shape. He came down from light heavy to super middleweight.
“Johnson came over to win and was up it, so I wanted to prove a point in that fight. I wanted to stop this hard, granite, durable guy. I almost emptied the tank in the first round, thinking I had the man hurt when I didn’t. I hurt him a few times, but he was never in any serious danger. I think he was weathering the storm and waiting for me to punch myself out. It was 12 comfortable rounds on paper, but it was real tough and a great learning fight for me. It gave me confidence that I could compete at the highest level. It was a great win to have on my record.”
Result: Groves UD 12
Date/Venue: November 23, 2013/ Manchester Arena
Titles: IBF /WBA super middleweight
“The fight itself captured the public’s imagination and, just like with DeGale, it was a real intense rivalry. I felt I was being overlooked, again, like I was with DeGale.
“I caught Froch flush [for a first-round knockdown). You never know exactly, but it looks like he’s unconscious on his way down, hits the floor and wakes up. He’s extremely strong, displayed a tremendous chin throughout his entire career, and he’s definitely a fantastic endurance athlete. It was his powers of recovery that get him through that first round. He got up and the bell goes before I can jump on him. My thought is, I’ve hurt him in the first round, I’m going to hurt him again. After that, I’m just going to keep feeding him the right hand. I probably punched him numb. I hurt him in the sixth round, but there’s no real variety in the punches, it’s just right hands over the top landing on the button. I can’t miss, so it’s hard to walk away from a shot like that, which is my best punch. But really, there should have been some bodyshots thrown in there, some left hooks, something to have kept him guessing ’cause he knows the right hand’s coming. He can’t get out the way of it, he’s just absorbing it.
“I start to get fatigued – we both do. You get to halfway through the fight and your explosiveness is starting to come away a bit. I have a posture when I’m fighting that looks more tired than it is. I have a slump stance, the low hands. I also had my nose broken in 2011, so I haven’t been able to breathe through my nose since and I have my mouth would open in fights. I’ve got white pasty skin that goes red when I start getting hot and take a few shots. I don’t want to give Carl anything to grasp some hope and belief from [and kept fighting], but what I didn’t account for was what the referee might be thinking. I said it at the time, and I stand by it now, that it was a premature stoppage. I wasn’t in any sort of trouble and, that moment, Froch doesn’t land anything. The split-second that they show on the stoppage isn’t particularly flattering because Froch is letting go a combination and I’m punching back, but neither of us is landing. Suddenly, Howard Foster jumps in and is leaning on me, and that’s that.
“It was a life-learning fight, and it definitely had some major effects on who I am as a human being. Who knows what would have happened had I won that fight.”
Result: Froch TKO 9
Carl Froch 2
Date/Venue: May 31, 2014/ Wembley Stadium, London, England
Titles: IBF/ WBA super middleweight
“Going into the rematch I haven’t had time to grieve the first loss of my career. I felt it was a massive injustice in the first fight, where I’ve been robbed, and I felt the whole world was against me. I had to negotiate the rematch all by myself, I didn’t have anybody that I trusted to help me. I had to try to get myself the best money available, promote the fight as best I could, stay relevant and try to build on the popularity I had from the first fight.
“Ultimately, where I went wrong here was tactics. After staying true to all my convictions the last time, we just needed to make slight adjustments, but I believed what people were saying, that I gassed out, and that was the reason I lost. The premise of the second fight would have been to start a bit slower, build into the fight and put my foot on the accelerator in the second half, but – for me – that’s not who I am. I didn’t really execute that game plan properly.
“The first half of the rematch was just tiptoeing around and trying to ease into it. From the sixth round on, when I tried to put my foot on the gas, Froch had been let off of that fear factor of the first fight where I told him I was going to jump on him, hurt him and put him in a world of pain. I didn’t do that [this time]. I learned a valuable lesson at the highest level. You switch off for a split-second and it can be over. It’s not about how much you want it, you’ve been hit on the chin and that is it, you haven’t got up in time.
“Who knows if I am even over it now. This is probably the period of my career where I was the most lost, after that Froch fight. I’m now rushing to become a world champion, not knowing where or when it’s going to happen, and maybe if it’s going to happen.”
Result: Froch TKO 8
Date/Venue: September 12, 2015/ MGM Grand, Las Vegas
Titles: WBC super middleweight
“In my hotel room on the day of the fight, I remember being so flat. I think at that point I was just desperate for it all to be over. I was so tired of the effort it required to be a world champion.
“I got in the ring, the first bell goes, and I get dropped by Badou Jack. ‘Oh my God, it’s not going to work out again.’ I got off the floor and tried to grit my teeth and battle through. It doesn’t matter if it’s points, it doesn’t matter if it looks good or not, just go from here, win this belt, have a defense and walk away from boxing. Make a few quid and get lost.
“(Trainer) Paddy (Fitzpatrick) was telling me I’m winning rounds and I believed him because he was saying the things I wanted to hear. The final bell goes and I think, ‘Finally, thank God, that is it!’ But I looked at the guys at ringside; my wife, my agent, my manager, promoter, Kalle and Nisse Sauerland, and I could tell by their faces this isn’t the way I think it is – this is close. They read it out, split decision, and I think, maybe it’s going to go with me this time. After the third card’s been read out, there’s five rounds between us and I think to myself, ‘I’m fighting the champion, a Floyd Mayweather fighter on a Mayweather card, away from home in America’ and it’s Jack – he retains his title. I just want the ground to swallow me up, I’ve got nothing else to say or do. My life’s work has gone done the pan, I’m ready to throw in the towel.
“I jump out of the ring and go back to the changing room. I need some time to process. Fifteen months earlier at Wembley Stadium I was knocked out in front of the world by a guy many people thought I’d beat. I was thinking this is rock bottom, it can’t get any worse than this. Now, 15 months later, away from home, no hype around the fight, no one is going to see it – this is another level, this is horrific.
“For the first time in my career I’ve had enough now. The biggest lesson was to take responsibility and own up to the mistakes. I’d lost my edge, so I had to make changes, cut out all things I’d done wrong, not paper over the cracks.”
Result: Jack SD 12
Date/Venue: May 27, 2017/ Bramall Lane, Sheffield, England
Titles: WBA super middleweight
“The fourth attempt at a world title, and I was definitely being painted into the category of nearly man. The possibility of it not happening was huge pressure and something I knew would be very difficult to come back from, whether I wanted to or not.
“I had signed a lucrative deal with the World Boxing Super Series, prior to the fight with Chudinov, and there was basically two contracts. One was to go in as No. 1 seed as world champion, and one was going in off a defeat as an unseeded fighter, and the difference in those contracts was eye-watering. You’re going in as a world champion and getting a career-high purse guaranteed, if you include a signing bonus, and I’m going to get to hand-pick my opponent.
“I tried to treat this like a normal fight. Chudinov could easily have been that opponent who was picked for a final eliminator, and I’d be confident of beating him. Just the fact there was a world title on the line didn’t mean this fight needed to be any harder than it was. Just give everything I possibly could in camp.
“The fight starts and it’s much harder than I realized it would be. The first round wasn’t the feel out that I usually have. He was so strong and I knew this was going to be a tough fight, but at this point in my career, I was like, ‘That’s fine.’ End of the third, he catches me with an overhand right, I hear a loud crack. I know what it is because 10 years previous, I was out in Poland boxing for England and I broke my jaw. I was like, ‘OK, jaw’s broke,’ I won’t tell anyone in the corner. I’d rather Shane give the instructions he would give, I don’t want him thinking about changing anything or make allowances for an injury. I’ve got experience of a broken jaw; it’s not ideal, it hurts, you’ve got to put the pain to one side and concentrate on the tactics. Fourth round I get a cut above the eye, which I’m no stranger to, I’ve had lots of cuts. The blood is pouring into the eye and at that point I’m thinking, ‘Maybe it’s just not meant to be!’ I’ve got to dig deep, make the sacrifices, and by the end of the fifth I was in control of the fight. I felt like I’m starting to find my range better. At the end of the fifth, Shane said, ‘Bring the right hand into play a bit more.’ I momentarily stun Chudinov early on in the sixth, I punched away. I’d gone right hand happy in the first Froch fight, but this time I’m mixing it, head to body, putting in left hooks, uppercuts, I’m going through the whole arsenal and Steve Gray jumped in.
“The weight of the world has come off my shoulders, it’s not even joy, it’s shear relief. Finally, I can leave this sport as a world champion.”
Result: Groves TKO 6
Chris Eubank Jr.
Date/Venue: February 17, 2018/ Manchester Arena, Manchester, England
Titles: WBA super middleweight
“It was the semi-final of the World Boxing Series and Eubank Jr. was riding a steady wave of popularity. He had a good win over former world champion Arthur Abraham just before going into the tournament, and he stopped Avni Yildrim and looked good doing it. Good handspeed, hard and fast combinations. Very reckless, but very entertaining.
“I boxed Cox and stopped him a week later. We’re face to face in the ring and it’s captured the public’s imagination. I’m back in the situation of underdog, which I found bizarre because he’d never beaten anyone. His biggest win was against Abraham, who was well past his best, so I felt like I had to go out and prove a point.
“It was a big fight in the U.K. that did great numbers on ITV Box Office. Being in a tournament situation, you always think of the fight ahead, you know what the money is, and you have an idea of who the opponent will be, so you kind of box with a slight air of caution.
“We knew he had a good engine, so I didn’t want to give him a chance in the second half of the fight because I’d expended too much energy in the first half. I got behind my boxing early; simple stuff, adjusting my feet because he doesn’t have good footwork. I had height and range on him, so he couldn’t get into range and was jumping into shots. There was a couple of times where I think I had him buzzed.
“Come the last round the shoulder is twinging a bit. I throw a jab, it totally dislocates and it doesn’t go back in. It’s the last round, he’s up and knows it’s now or never. Even then it’s one of my better rounds. I catch him with some big shots because he’s got to that reckless point. I got a lot of credit that night for dominating someone who everyone thought was going to win. It was nice, it was my last hurrah on U.K soil.”
Result: Groves UD 12