By John J. Raspanti
George Groves and Chris Eubank Jr. will swap hands on Feb.17 at the Manchester Arena in London, England. The bout, which sold out in seven minutes, is one of most anticipated fights of the new year.
Groves, the WBA super middleweight champion, will enter the ring with advantages in size and experience. Eubank Jr. will have an edge in quickness and athletic ability.
Both are supremely confident.
"I think that lately I am unstoppable,” Groves told ESPN scribe Nick Parkinson a few days ago. “My distance control is fantastic, my reach is spot on, my jab is a lot faster than his. These are all things that will cause Junior nightmares and because of that, I believe it will be a comfortable fight.”
“This is the fight for fight fans not to be missed,” said Eubank Jr. at a press conference last November. “I’ve had many big fights but this is the biggest in terms of profile and the tournament and the hype. But at the end of the day I always rise to the occasion. I’m a man of my word and I can promise George will not see the end of the twelfth round."
Groves, 29, has been victorious in 27 of his 30 professional fights, with 20 knockouts. He’s experienced some highs during the course of his career, winning the WBA super middleweight title last year by stopping Fedor Churdinov, and lows, getting knocked out twice (once controversially) by Carl Froch in 2015. Groves also lost a split decision to Badou Jack, but since teaming up with trainer Sean McGuigan, “The Saint” has won his last six fights, including his last, a fourth-round stoppage of Jamie Cox. A bad sign was being wobbled by a Cox left in the opening round as he languished on the ropes—rarely a good thing in boxing. It worked for Muhammad Ali over 33 years ago against George Foreman, but remember, we’re talking about “The Greatest.”
Ali might have had a pretty face, but inside his chest beat the heart of a courageous warrior. Plus his chin was laced with cement. Foreman went off on Ali, connecting with a number of hellacious shots. Ali took them and fought back—eventually stopping the heavily-favored Foreman in eight rounds.
Groves doesn’t have the skill of Ali, or the chin. If anything, his whiskers are suspect. Groves did get the win with a shot to the solar plexus, but his uneven performance must have sent quivers up the backs of his supporters.
“He got a bit ragged early on,” admitted trainer Mcguigan after the fight.
Eubank, 28, has only one loss on his resume, a split decision against WBO middleweight king Billy Joe Saunders in 2014. Hardly a disgrace, since Saunders can really box and recently made David Lemieux look like an amateur. Since that loss, Eubank has steadily improved, starching seven of his last eight opponents and winning a wide decision over over-the-hill former champion Arthur Abraham. Last October he steamrolled overwhelmed Avni Yildirim at the Wembley Arena in England.
Groves wasn’t impressed.
“Eubank’s camp are totally deluded,” Groves said. “He is fighting in a division he doesn’t belong in. He is a middleweight who punches from his hips with his chin up in the air. He’s terrific for a soundbite. It’s made him Instafamous but this is different.
“Eubanks is a performer first, and a fighter second,” Groves added.
Eubank doesn’t believe that Groves will be able to handle his intensity and power.
“He doesn’t have the speed, his defense is poor and his stamina is average at best. The fact that he’s lacking in those things means he won’t be able to compete with me. I’m not a stepping stone. I’m Mount Everest and you’re not going to climb me.”
“I’m a man of my word and I can promise George will not see the end of the twelfth round,” added Eubank.
Ok, enough of the hyperbole. Who’s going to win?
A lot depends on what Groves does or doesn’t do. If he keeps Eubank on the end of his jab, and boxes, he can win. If he rumbles too early, and gets tired, his chin and stamina will be called into question.
Nobody questions the dedication of Eubank, who likely sleeps in his gym. He’s determined to get out of the shadow of his father, former WBO middleweight and super middleweight titleholder Chris Eubank Sr. This is his chance. He can be relentless and will likely outwork Groves during some rounds.
If Groves is in tip top shape, he should be able to outbox Eubank.If he fades late, as he’s prone to do, the fresher Eubank will stop him.