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.