Another great all-British feud came to a boil at the MEN Arena in Manchester as George Groves and Chris Eubank Jr met in the semi-final of the World Boxing Super Series.
Britain is no stranger to super-middleweight success, having produced an array of world-classs fighters since the division’s conception.
Domestic showdowns have cemented themselves in the history of the 168lbs weight class. The name Eubank is synonymous with middleweight and super-middleweight action, with Chris Eubank Sr having had memorable clashes with Michael Watson, Nigel Benn and Steve Collins in the 1990s.
So, it was only right that his son, Chris Eubank Jr, shared the ring with a quality British opponent with world titles on the line to maintain tradition.
But with George Groves providing Jr’s first meaningful opponent since stepping up a weight, and arguably only the second real challenge of his career, many wondered if he had the mettle to hang with the bigger man.
Groves, 29, has proved himself to be a staple of the current world super-middleweight scene, taking on a who’s who of the division and having earned a WBA championship belt in the process.
The intensity was evident from the ring walks. Eubank, 28, entered first, and sported a straight face with a determined gaze set firmly ahead of him. Groves’ entrance ramped up the anticipation, as the WBA champ rushed to the ring with a vicious scowl.
The first three rounds played out the way that many expected, with Groves’ technical savvy on display, as he controlled a stiff and somewhat bewildered Eubank.
The Londoner dictated the course of the action with his famed jab and hard counter-punches, while his smaller opponent attempted to close the range.
However, Groves’ growing confidence created openings for Eubank, who landed a hard left hook in the latter stages of the third, which motivated him to open up.
Eubank also picked up a cut above his left eye due to an accidental clash of heads.
The fourth through to the seventh round saw a significant increase in the tempo of the fight. Eubank had been spurred on by his success in the third and proceeded to take it to Groves.
Against the ropes
Eubank’s fitness and strength was evident as he bullied Groves against the ropes, forcing wrestling-like tactics but landing little in the way of clean punches.
Despite Eubank’s lack of real success, his physicality prevented Groves from setting himself and implementing his will. This led me to score the fourth through to the seventh for Eubank, but by the culmination of the seventh, he was clearly tiring.
Eubank’s strength and fitness had given him much success against smaller boxers at middleweight, but it would not see him through against the bigger men at 168lbs. He was waning rapidly from the seventh onwards.
‘Groves’ use of the jab had Eubank looking utterly amateur at times’
Despite the many tough fights under his belt, Groves proved to be much the fresher man,
His precision punching coupled with his economic use of the jab had Eubank looking utterly amateur at times, flailing wildly, desperate to tag his opponent.
Eubank was spent, and unable to mount any telling assault for the rest of the fight. However, what should have been smooth sailing for his opponent was made hard work at times.
He allowed himself to be pushed to the ropes by Eubank, where he would spend significant portions of the round.
At the arrival of the championship rounds I had the fight scored even, but was confident that Groves’ greater ring savvy would see him capture the final six minutes, which seemed to be the case through the 11th.
However, Groves output was near non-existent through the 12th, and it soon became evident that he’d injured his left arm, as he would regularly shake and jerk it.
An exhausted Eubank chased the handicapped yet elusive Groves around the ring, landing several hard punches on his one-armed foe, earning him the round.
Groves was given a wide unanimous decision victory, with scores of 117-112, 116-112, and 115-113. I personally had the bout scored even at 114-114.
This win sets Groves up to meet the winner of British fighter Callum Smith versus German Jürgen Brähmer, in the final of the World Boxing Super Series.
Top dog Groves
The outcome of this fight has granted fans some clarity as to who is the top dog at 168lbs.
‘Eubank Jr may need to rethink his career strategy, and ask himself whether his father’s strong influence on it is necessarily a good thing’
Super-middleweight has opened up over the past few months, with championships changing hands and the weight’s best fighters vacating their belts in order to chase glory in the heavier classes, creating a question mark as to who really is the current top dog.
Groves can at long last assume that mantle, and for the time being can relish the achievement that has evaded him for so long.
But he can’t forget the fire rising beneath him, with a guaranteed challenge ahead in June’s final – if he is fit to compete – and rising contenders eager to snatch his crown, such as lightning-fast American phenomenon David Benavidez.
The future of one of boxing’s more neglected weight divisions seems bright, particularly within the UK, where homegrown talent made for a series of epic fights in the 1990s super-middleweight golden era.
But for the time being, Groves sits atop the pile, a worthy ambassador of British boxing excellence.
Eubank Jr, meanwhile, may need to rethink his career strategy, and ask himself whether his father’s strong influence on it is necessarily a good thing.
George Groves has accused Chris Eubank Jr of letting his ego get in the way of his career, saying his next opponent is “a performer first, fighter second”.
The British rivals will meet in the semi-finals of the World Boxing Super Series, which pits six super-middleweight title holders and contenders against each other in a knockout format.
Groves, 29, set up his clash with Eubank Jr by stopping Jamie Cox in four pulsating rounds at the SSE Wembley Arena, and immediately went on the offensive.
“Eubank to his credit is a performer first, fighter second. He is always aware of how he’s being perceived. He was desperate to fight me because he knows fighting me makes it a big fight. He craves fame, I’m here to fight.”
Eubank Jr beat Turkey’s Avni Yildirim in three rounds in Stuttgart earlier this month to reach the final four.
Londoner Groves ended Cox’s 24-fight unbeaten record and took his own tally to 27 victories – with 20 coming by knockout – and three losses.
Cox, 31, began well, tagging Groves with multiple jabs to the body. Groves fired back with body shots of his own and eventually connected with good straights to the head. Both fighters started unleashing power shots towards the end of the opening round.
The Swindon boxer continued to target Groves’ body with jabs, pressuring him into the ropes where the pair traded blows in a fierce exchange.
‘The Saint’ clipped Cox with accurate punches towards the end, but the challenger had made his intentions clear.
The same blueprint was used in the third. Cox started with the body jabs and Groves countered with a strong uppercut and a brief brawl ensued after. Cox showed a little frustration in the third after a few slips but the bout stayed even as both fighters landed shots.
Cox kept his pressure up in the fourth but then out of nowhere Groves landed a perfectly-placed right hook to the body. The challenger went down and did not get up.
Cox was a man of very few words in the post-fight press conference.
“It was a great fight. It’s great to be part of this World Boxing Super Series. George Groves is great world champion, and I relish the opportunities forthcoming.”
As for future plans, Cox didn’t have much to say.
“A couple weeks of a break, then I’m back in the gym. I’m going to sit down and speak with Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing and go from there.”
Groves, the former British, European and Commonwealth super-middleweight champion, gave credit to his quarter-final opponent and said he had been ready for Cox’s early onslaught.
“We expected him to be aggressive and fast early on. We planned for that, so we weren’t surprised. Logically, it would have made sense that Jamie would try to force the pace early.
“But I’m a strong guy, I’m a clever fighter as well. I knew it was only a matter of time because I was able to land good shots.”
Groves now switches his focus to Eubank Jr, and their eagerly-anticipated bout is set to happen in January or February, according to promoter Kalle Sauerland.
The winner will then fight for the Muhammad Ali Trophy in the final bout of the World Boxing Super Series in May.
In the other semi-final, Britain’s Callum Smith will face either Germany’s Juergen Braehmer or American Rob Brant, who fight in Germany October 27.
It was five weeks later than scheduled, but finally on November 26th in Cardiff, Tommy Langford’s arm was raised as the new British middleweight champion.
A spilt decision victory over southpaw Sam Sheedy the reward for an uncertain and tiresome few months in the Langford camp.
The North Devon fighter’s original British title tilt had been scheduled for October 22nd against the then-champion Chris Eubank Jr.
When Eubank pulled out of the fight in mid-September, it was Sheedy who stepped up to challenge for the vacated belt. However due to injuries sustained by fighters elsewhere on the card, the fight was further delayed, resulting in an extended training regime for Langford and the risk of burn-out prior to the big night.
Yet the 27-year-old, signed to Frank Warren, is made of sterner stuff and took his professional record to 18-0 by beating Sheedy. Already holder of the Commonwealth and WBO intercontinental belts, the British title proved to be worth the wait for Langford.
“I don’t really think I’ve realised what I’ve accomplished yet. I don’t think it will set in until I finish boxing,” said the Birmingham-based fighter.
“As a fighter you always look to the next thing, but it is phenomenal. I’m very very proud, I know what I’ve done is quite special and I’ve done it in the right way. I’ve not called anybody out, I’ve just gone about my business.
“It’s just really nice to be recognised as the British champion and to have done what I always believed I was capable of.
“I’ve done very well in winning the British and Commonwealth titles and I’m very pleased at how I’ve finished the year 18-0. But I think what I’m more proud of is that I’ve done that with a year of hiccups really.
“My first fight for the Commonwealth was supposed to be in February; it got put back a month. I had an extended training camp and then got cut in training and had three or four weeks prior to that fight with no sparring.
“But I still managed to get across the line and become the Commonwealth champion.
“And then obviously having to deal with the whole Eubank scenario, them pulling out, a new fighter coming in and then the date being pushed back and still becoming British champion.
“To be honest, if you put it all together that in itself says more about the year than the wins. I think the fashion in how I’ve gone about my business despite having all those setbacks and still managed to churn out the results, I think says a lot for me.”
Whilst Langford has shown his resilience by churning out results, the ‘Baggies Bomber’ felt as though he out-boxed Sheedy at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena and puts that down to his team’s tactical approach to the fight.
“I felt in complete control really. I was quite surprised at how comfortable the first six rounds were; I thought I’d find it more awkward to catch him.
“We always had the plan to be very patient and not over-chase or over-throw, because his tactic was to frustrate me and make me jump in so he could counter-punch.
“That was his sole tactic and that’s why he did all the antics of showboating and his corner talking to me throughout the fight trying to wind me up. I just knew I had to stick to my guns.”
Despite being unbeaten in his professional career, Langford still knows the importance of analysing each performance in order to continue to improve – including his British title success.
“The first six rounds I stuck to what I was doing and I put them in the bag comfortably. And when you’re six rounds up going into the second half of the fight, you’re one round off winning it.
“The second half, watching it back, didn’t go how it should have. I did switch off a little bit because I’ve not been in that position before where I’ve been so far ahead.
“I didn’t feel at any point threatened that he was going to win the fight.
“The way I’ve fought in the past I throw a lot of punches, I’m busy and always on the front foot taking the initiative, which is great and it makes for a lot of excitement. But in that fight I didn’t need that style because I was at risk of being caught and counter-punched.
“And when you’re up against those slippery southpaws who just pick and run off, if they catch you with one they’ll settle for 1-0. So I had to be clever.”
For all of boxing’s history and status within British sport, a contemporary criticism is that the often staged drama and controversy that preludes a big fight have begun to take a sport in a direction that lacks class and social awareness.
There seems to be a general acceptance that Dereck Chisora-type outbursts are as much a part of the sport as the punches thrown inside the ring.
So is it important to Langford that he stays away from these practices as his career continues to take an upward curve?
“Not really,he says thoughtfully. “If I get to the stage in my career where I need big fights and the only way of getting them is to call people out, then that’s what you have to do.
“I’m fortunate enough that my boxing has carried me through, my performances and wins have spoken for themselves and I’ve not had to do it in that way.
“I mean, it is important to me in the person that I am, I’m not that sort of a person.
“It is a sport and a business and that’s the way it should be conducted, you don’t need to be doing that sort of thing. If you fight you fight to win, and you win and then you move on.
“There’s no need to do the dramas in and around it, in my eyes it’s all about the fight; do the fight, win the fight and carry on. And that’s the way I feel sport and business should be conducted.”
Business, as well as sport, has also taken off for Langford in recent times, something he cites Warren as having a major effect on.
“It gives you a lot of confidence when you’ve got somebody like Frank Warren backing you and putting you in for fights that he believes you can win”
“He’s been massively beneficial,” Langford enthused. “I’ve been with Frank for three years now and it’s been massive for me. It has given me the exposure that I needed in terms of being on Box Nation and being out there so people can see me on TV.
“I started off on the smaller circuit and it was very hard. I was an England international and won national titles at amateur.
“So you turn professional with the opinion, whether it be right or not, that you’re entitled to a certain amount of limelight and you feel that you deserve better than what you’re getting.
“The exposure’s not there, you’re not known and you’re doing your job in the ring but you’re not being talked about, promoted or thrust into the public eye.
“We spoke to Frank before I first turned professional and his then match-maker, Dean Powell, who sadly passed away a few years ago. They were very interested at the start but we were in the pit of the recession at that time, the money in any business, not just boxing, wasn’t really there and it was taking a long time.
“So I said to myself ‘I’m just going to turn pro, get myself started and we’ll approach it again when the time’s right’. I got to 6-0 I think, or 5-0 and then it was the right time.
“It’s been a big change in my career and it gives you a lot of confidence when you’ve got somebody like Frank Warren backing you and putting you in for fights that he believes you can win. It gives you a lot of confidence in yourself and it’s nice to know somebody is putting weight behind you.”
Warren is not the only major backer in Langford’s corner. A life-long West Bromwich Albion fan, the Commonwealth title-holder has established a solid link between himself, the club and his fellow Albion supporters.
With regular home crowds of over 20,000 the exposure provided by West Brom has enabled Langford to further enhance his reputation and support, something for which he is especially grateful.
“Since I’ve managed to get a link with West Brom it has done me masses of good. It’s very important in boxing to have a good fan base and have people travel to support you.
“Ticket sales ultimately pay your purse so it’s a sport that can’t go on without fans. It’s been huge to have them behind me and it has put me into a different realm of fighter in the sense that, regardless of what I’m fighting for, I bring huge amounts of fans to the venues. I can top bills and fill venues with my fans.
“The fact that West Brom promote me and support me through social media, on their website or by getting me on the pitch or in the fan zone, it makes the connection even tighter.
“If you look at some of the best-supported fighters in recent history, they’ve all had football teams behind them. It’s a great thing really and I’m really happy that it has taken off the way it has done.”
“I was there for the [Manchester] United game, I was on the pitch as the fans’ champion which was brilliant. It was a packed house and I just thought walking out onto there, imagine if I was walking out fighting for a world title. It would be unbelievable.
“I think it can happen, West Brom are talking like they’d be happy to do it, it’s just a case of getting the right fight that sells it. Frank’s done shows at West Ham before, he likes a football stadium show. But if you get the right show there, yea, definitely I’d be well happy to do it.
“There are a few venues that are open to me and it is simply down to how well I’m supported. [The fans] all jump on board and they love it and I love it as well.
“Everything I win it isn’t just mine. People can say they’ve been there and watched it and supported me all the way through so this title is for the fans as well.”
Perhaps more important than where Langford will next fight; the question is who he will next fight?
With an 18-0 record and three belts to his name, there will be plenty of fighters out there that want to avoid him.
But after finishing a troubled, yet highly successful 2016 with November’s victory in the Welsh capital, Langford has his sights set on challenges on a grander scale in 2017.
“I’m confident I can mix it with the best at world level, so if those opportunities are offered then I’m taking them”
Outlining his plans he said: “Obviously, being the British champion if I want to own the Lonsdale belt I have to defend it three times.
“[However] I’ve always been of the opinion that if bigger and better opportunities come along, i.e. European or world shots, then I’m going to take them.
“I don’t know what’s next as in the immediate next fight but in terms of the future then, yeah, in 2017 I am looking at putting myself in a position for a world title shot. Whether that be the WBO against Billy-Joe [Saunders], or if other things come along so be it.
“I’m pretty open to anything really, whatever’s best for me career-wise then I’ll do it. If that means defending the British and there’s nothing else on offer, then I’ll defend the British and I’m very confident of beating anything domestically that’s offered up.
“I’m also confident I can mix it with the best at world level, so if those opportunities are offered then I’m taking them.”
New British middleweight champion Tommy Langford admits he was glad to see the back of Chris Eubank Jr in the build-up to the title fight that never was.
He had been due to compete for Eubank’s Lonsdale belt until the latter pulled out, relinquishing his title and leaving Langford with a battle to find suitable competition for the bout.
All was well that ended well for Langford, however, as he dispatched of Sam Sheedy, Eubank’s replacement, to claim the British crown for the first time.
Despite the sweetness of victory, dealing with the Eubanks – both Jr and his father Chris Sr – left a bad taste in the mouth for the 27 year-old.
“To be honest with you, I’m glad to be rid of them,” said the ‘Baggies Bomber’.
“They were really hard to deal with, they wouldn’t turn up to press conferences and didn’t conduct themselves right in my eyes in the build-up to the fight.
“So I just think I’m better off rid of them and I think that British boxing and the British public is better off not having anything to do with them.”
The Eubanks cited an elbow injury sustained in sparring as one reason for Chris Jr pulling out of the fight, however they went on to spark controversy by claiming the ‘vast chasm’ in quality between himself and other fighters would put contenders at risk of serious injury.
Many, due to the life-threatening injuries sustained by Nick Blackwell at the hands of Eubank Jr as the pair contested the British title in March, deemed this insensitive.
Blackwell has since had to retire from the sport after spending time in a coma, however Langford feels that the Eubank camp’s comments bear no relevance to his own ability to compete.
“Well, I think they’re just absolutely deluded, really,” he said.
“They know how the sparring went when I went down and sparred him, and they know I’m a very good fighter. They knew I was someone they needed to avoid.
“I’m not saying they were worried about fighting me, I know they’re hugely arrogant and believe they’ll beat everybody and every fighter needs to be confident and have a certain level of arrogance. So I’m not saying they were scared of fighting me.
“But what I do think is that I was a massive banana skin to them for their earning potential of fighting bigger fights.
“I could ruin the Eubank gravy train, if you know what I mean. I know that’s why they didn’t want the fight.
When I was signed to [promoter] Frank Warren, they said they’d fight anybody, but they didn’t want to fight me. There was a list of fighters they didn’t want to fight and I was top.
“So I know the ins and outs of it all and I know that’s the case and I just think they’re absolutely stupid.
“Eubank Sr’s comments about his son being so far above and beyond the British domestic scene is just laughable really, because now his son’s ended up moving up to super-middleweight and fighting for an IBO title against someone who has won 11 and lost 1.
“I was 17-0 when they were talking about fighting me and I’m still undefeated. And it was for a prestigious title. I’m number two in the WBO rankings so by rights that fight would have made one of us mandatory for the WBO world title.”
So after the saga of a potential fight with Eubank Jr this time around, has Langford washed his hands of his middleweight counterpart once and for all?
For the Birmingham-based British champion, big-name fights mean nothing without titles on the line.
“Names don’t matter – if you stack up the titles and stack up the wins then you’re the man”
“You never say ‘never’,” he admitted. “Ultimately, if he’s still about and he’s still doing the things he’s doing and there’s big money on the line, you don’t turn down big paydays, although they seem to have done that.
“But until that happens, no I’m not interested in them. I’m not lowering myself to fight him, I’m going after bigger and better things and I won’t bother with him.
“Ultimately now, what’s he got?” asked Devon-born Langford.
“He’s not got the British title, he’s not got the Commonwealth title, and he’s not got a European or world title.
“So he’s title-less and he’s forfeited his right to call himself a champion. I’ve got the Commonwealth, the British, number 2 in the WBO and I’m looking at European and World title shots.
“Names don’t matter – if you stack up the titles and stack up the wins then you’re the man.”