We have a truly meaningful super-middleweight fight on Saturday as the popular George Groves takes on the self-anointed arch-villain Chris Eubank Jnr in the World Boxing Super Series Semi Final. ITV PPV broadcast this 12 rounder and for a change, it probably will be worth shelling out your hard earned cash on this one.
Eubank Jnr is fashionable; it is ‘fashionable’ to pick him to win; the pundits, I suspect, will look at the name, the record and pick the ‘fashionable’ guy. Handsome, with an unshakeable self-belief (much like his father), despite not having proven himself at the highest level yet, Eubank Jnr is utterly convinced that he is on an unstoppable path to boxing immortality. GGG, never mind Groves, are doomed to fall before him; never mind that he has already fallen short at the hands of Billy Joe Saunders – it is as if that fight never happened.
Camera shy – the Eubanks can never be accused of turning down a media opportunity
Yet in truth it is very hard to split these two; Groves the experienced and high quality performer who is always there or thereabouts, versus Eubank who people can see is talented and presume will improve, but still has questions to answer.
Groves 27-3 (20) has answered all the questions that have been asked of him in a long amateur and pro career, and we know what he is about. Rarely in an easy fight, Groves has done things the hard way. Possessed of fine boxing skills and power that were enough to edge future 168lb king James DeGale in 2011, he came up short twice against Carl Froch despite holding his own for long periods in both fights.
The 2015 split decision loss to Badou Jack looks pretty good in hindsight given what Jack did with DeGale and, while I thought he did lose the fight, he showed he belongs at that level and can take big shots. Murray and Gutknecht were below that level – I found it interesting that Murray feels that Groves hits harder than GGG; then came the challenge to Chudinov. I thought Grove was in danger of getting tired out but he found a way to win.
The semi-final of this WBSS tournament pitched him against blown up light middle Jamie Cox; Groves had some moments of difficulty with the speedy left hander Cox, but generally dealt well (he is fast himself for a 168lber) before reminding us of his one punch power in the 4th round. Stylistically of course, Cox is somewhat different from Eubank, being a left hander. Cox looked to set a fast pace to expose suspicions of Groves’ stamina and that is what many try to do, but Eubank doesn’t apply pressure in the same way.
Groves has come a long way since his 2011 win over arch-rival James DeGale
The change to Shane McGuigan seems to have done the 29 year old some good, and while he isn’t improving in the way we might expect of Eubank, the form is in the book – his vast experience of all shapes and sizes will make him very hard to beat. And he has that one punch power as well.
Eubank, 26-1 (20), is as enigmatic as his dad was, and as well matched too. There is an obvious gap in the quality of opponent that Eubank has faced as opposed to Groves en route to this point in their careers, and the same was said of his father. They are taking the path of least resistance. That’s not to say that Eubank Jr can’t step up, and indeed it looks like he might, but we just don’t know yet.
Thus far, Eubank has only put the one foot wrong, by having his father direct the shambolic corner in his 2014 SD loss to Saunders, a result that in hindsight does not look too bad as he was dominant towards the end of the bout. However, Eubank was completely outboxed for the first 5 rounds at least, and left himself too much to do. The lack of experience was certainly a factor then, and it may continue to be now.
Since the Saunders loss, Eubank hasn’t looked back. Firstly seeing off tough domestic challenges at 160 – perhaps the best being Spike O’Sullivan – followed by a couple of facile wins over overmatched Reynold Quinlan and a past it Arthur Abraham. Quinlan had beaten a beyond shot Daniel Geale, while everyone knew the tactics to beat the ageing Abraham. In the semi-final, Eubank overpowered an unknown in Avni Yildrim. All of which leaves him with plenty to prove – which we assume he can – in order to match the obvious potential. The lack of variety we see in Eubank may be problematic; yes, great uppercuts inside but not much else when he’s there. The ‘old pro’ stuff has yet to be learnt.
On the plus side, Eubank Jnr has had it hard, much like his dad, going to the tough gyms of New York, sparring hardened pros (including Groves) and getting the experience that he didn’t have in the amateurs. We have seen him wobbled only once (against O’Sullivan) whereas Groves has been down a couple of times (and knocked out once). There could well be a lot more to come from Eubank, whereas we know Groves has reached his level, high though it is.
Style wise I think this may be less explosive than some think. Groves likes to box carefully behind a long jab to set up his power shots; Eubank likes to move around on the back foot throwing sharp bursts. These two styles may cancel each other out somewhat and make it a hard to score fight. But it is a compelling matchup, and one that will divide supporters in a way that Eubank Jnrs’ father used to in his epic battles with Watson and Benn. We will know if Jnr has the same DNA as his father when the bell rings on Saturday.