With British, Commonwealth and European titles on his ledger George Groves is clearly a very good fighter. But can he still become a great one?
The Hammersmith super-middle has already tumbled at the final hurdle in three world title fights, despite proving extremely competitive in all three. In the 2013-14 campaign he was stopped controversially, then comprehensively in a brace of WBA/IBF fights against Nottingham nemesis Carl Froch, then earlier this month he fluffed a WBC challenge against Sweden’s beatable Badou Jack in Las Vegas, a fight he was strongly favoured to win.
The latter defeat did little to alleviate longstanding criticisms that he lacks both the chin and engine to flourish at the very highest level.
Comprehensively stopped by Travis Dickenson in a national junior final, the west Londoner was heavily dumped by a succession of right hands over the top in a 2010 Commonwealth defence against Edinburgh hardman Kenny Anderson, then completely ironed out with the same shot in his rematch with ‘The Cobra’.
Again the vulnerability of his low lead hand was exposed in the final minute of the opening session with Jack – certainly no home run hitter – when he was stunned then felled by right hands. Thereafter, he was continually playing ‘catch up’.
A battering ram jab and several hard follow-up combinations enabled ‘Saint George’ to edge back in front on all cards by halfway. But the exertions took their toll and, as in both Froch fights, he wilted after the turn. His output dipped, his radar began to malfunction and he became increasingly wild ragged, devoid of ideas.
Though the three judges were split, even the patriotic British press corps unanimously conceded that Jack deserved to have his hand raised. Punchstats confirm George was out landed by 210 shots to 154.
Groves petulantly stormed from the ring, later declaring that he’d won ‘decisively’. One senses that the first step to redemption will be a reality check with regard to his shortcomings and what steps he can take to eliminate them in future.
He appears to have regressed both technically and tactically since his painful split from master strategist Adam Booth two years ago and his association with replacement Gavin ‘Paddy’ Fitzpatrick is now expected to terminate by mutual consent. In their five fights together Groves triumphed in just two. Enough said!
A former two-time ABA champion and globe-trotting England rep, Groves clearly has the talent, fan base and, still just 27, time to resurrect his world ambitions. He is a natural athlete, a well schooled ring mechanic who exudes speed and explosive power and brings a vicious mindset. Question is, does he have the temperament?
Post-Jack, Fitzpatrick alluded to emotional and psychological deficiencies and Groves certainly appears to have lost much of his mischief and devilment since Froch put him to sleep before 80,000 at Wembley Stadium, 16 months ago. Understandable.
Motivation is sure to be difficult. Having entertained (and earned accordingly) before a sell-out at the national stadium, stimulation for anything other than world level is sure to prove a chore.
By losing to Jack, he blew a potential money printing unification clash with perennial antagonist James DeGale, the current IBF boss at Wembley Stadium next summer. The fight still has value, given that he holds two wins over ‘Chunky’, but presently Groves’ bartering hand is a weak one.
He needs to return to the drawing board, re-build some momentum and earn any future opportunities by sizzling in the ring rather than at press conferences. Prior to his mandatory challenger to Jack, he was unranked by any other sanctioning body, a situation unlikely to have improved following his defeat.
But all is not doom. He remains a global name, having featured in the USA three times, Germany twice and has the capacity to shift a phenomenal number of tickets in London. Eliminator level spats with such as Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr or Lucien Bute could be highly lucrative but highly risky.
His German promoters, Sauerland brothers Kalle and Nisse, are not only among the most powerful operators in Europe but also pull the strings for current WBO boss Arthur Abraham; an easy fight to make if Groves can raise his stock.
Given that his next stumble might well be his last, a European title crack at eminently beatable 35 year old French champion Hadillah Mohoumadi might be a wise move to kickstart the resurrection.
The domestic 168lb division is presently awash with big name talent. In addition to Degale, Enfield banger Frank Buglioni gets a chance to commandeer the WBA title this weekend and victory could fashion the way to a stadium fight between the fellow Chelsea fans at Stamford Bridge next summer.
Civil wars with such as Jamie Cox, Martin Murray or whoever prevails in the Scouse showdown between Callum Smith and Rocky Fielding would provide the perfect foil to elevate Groves up the global rankings again. He’d still be favoured against all.
If he can rekindle his swagger, ‘The Saint’ could still be canonised at world level.