By Mark Whalley
- George Groves/Badou Jack fight occurs on Saturday night
- Groves will be challenging for Jack’s WBC belt
- Third attempt at a world title for Hammersmith’s Groves
Las Vegas, USA. It’s fair to say that the circumstances surrounding George Groves’ third world title challenge are markedly different from the last time he fought for championship glory.
That night, a year ago, Wembley stadium was packed to the rafters to witness him in the headline slot: very much the main event, in a fight that seemed eagerly anticipated by the whole British nation.
Of course, things did not end well for “The Saint”, emphatically knocked out by the most memorable right hand of Carl Froch’s illustrious career. One moment Groves was stood against the ropes – alert, coiled; a split second later he had melted from view – his leg bent back alarmingly, in such a state that referee Charlie Fitch barely began his 10 count before calling an end to the fight.
Since then, Groves has gradually rebuilt, with convincing wins against B-level fighters Christopher Rebrasse and Denis Douglin.
But now, when he enters the ring at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday night, he will do so in the knowledge that the paying punters are not there to see him. In Mayweather World, George Groves is a small island: a boxing Cyprus.
Whilst fighting on the undercard to Mayweather/Berto represents a bit of a comedown from last summer, it will arguably be a good thing for Groves. In his rematch with Froch he looked somewhat stifled by the sheer scale of it all – perhaps not overawed, but also not the whirlwind that had turned the Cobra’s world upside down for half an hour the previous November.
And aside from the reduction of pressure that relative anonymity brings, he will also be facing an opponent who few would consider to be elite.
Badou Jack was the underdog when he challenged Anthony Dirrell for the WBC World super middleweight title back in April, and with good reason. Jack, like Groves, had also had a 2014 to forget, suffering a 1st round knockout loss to Derek Edwards, in a fight he was expected to win comfortably.
But in dethroning Dirrell, Jack showed a number of qualities that could trouble Groves. He was strong, often backing Dirrell into a corner, and proved willing to trade in close. Perhaps of more significance, though, was that he came on strong down the stretch – whether fact or fiction, Groves is regarded as a fighter that struggles to maintain a strong pace for the full 12 rounds.
Jack will also enjoy “home town” support – as a member of Mayweather’s “Money Team”, the causal Floyd fan will be rooting for his stablemate.
For his part, George Groves brings speed, an educated jab, and a right hand that carries enough pop to scramble the minds of sturdy-chinned fighters like Froch, Paul Smith and Glen Johnson.
What excites most about this fight is that it is full of unknowns. For example, Groves starts a betting favourite. But whether this is through sound judgement, or on the basis of “that” straight right that knocked Froch to the canvas two years ago, it’s hard to say. And whilst Jack has the more humiliating loss on his record, he has also proven he can cross the finishing line in a title challenge; “The Saint” has yet to do that.
It’s hard to work out where Groves figures in the sporting consciousness of UK fans. He was temporarily a hero in defeat in Manchester, but inspired mixed reactions in Wembley Stadium. And now that Carl Froch’s retirement has effectively ended their entertaining rivalry, do British fans really care where Groves’ journey moves next? The danger for Groves is he will be inextricably tied to a man who will never fight again.
The question of Groves’ enduring relevance remains to be answered, but it’s fair to say that a lot rests on Saturday. He should have enough smarts and power to take the title from Jack, but the low-key buildup suggests it will be a bigger challenge to truly capture the hearts of the British public.