By George, I Think He's Got It! George Groves interview
Ahead of his World Boxing Super Series clash with Jamie Cox tonight, super middleweight George Groves spoke to Shaun Brown about his past, present and future now that he is a world title holder...
George Groves still has his chores to do about the house.
His wife treats him no different or no worse.
But being WBA super middleweight champion has changed enough for his life inside the boxing world to put him into a more commanding position in his career.
140 days ago Groves removed a weight off his shoulders, a monkey off his back, when he punched his way through Fedor Chudinov to become world champion at the fourth time of asking. It was a night of relief, a night of happiness and one that now sees him introduced as a champion and known as a champion - rather than the man who fought valiantly and lost to Carl Froch and Badou Jack.
"It makes the business side of things a lot easier because you're no longer a potential world champion, you are the world champion, you've got the belt which everyone else is gunning for," Groves told Boxing Monthly.
"That's what everyone structures their business moves and careers around. It puts you in the driver's seat."
That seat also helped him find his ... seat ... in the World Boxing Super Series tournament, which has been marketed as a pugilistic Champions League - the best of the best at 168lbs and at cruiserweight.
The super middleweight event may be missing Messrs DeGale, Benavidez and Ramirez but throw in Groves, Eubank Jr and Callum Smith and you have a recipe of experience, guile, power, explosiveness and enough tricks to put many a backside on seats.
Groves officially enters the tournament tonight against fellow Brit Jamie Cox. The pair were pitted together thanks to the tournament format allowing the top seeds to pick their foes from the bottom four seeds.
"I'm treating him as one," said Groves when BM asked him if he sees Cox - whose best win could arguably be against Lewis Taylor - as a legitimate threat.
"Looking at his record, looking at the run-in he's had to this tournament, his position in the tournament, his style... there are lots of things I feel like I've got the advantage over him.
"The reason you take him seriously is because he's British. There's always that added spice, that added pressure on both of us because of that. He's recently signed to Matchroom and featuring on Sky so people are more aware of him than they were months ago, and therefore more people are saying he's a dark horse. He's this, he's that, he's a force to be reckoned with which means I need to stay alert, stay on my game.
"And because my last fight was a big fight I wanted another big fight, or as big as it could be. I feel Jamie Cox is the right opponent for me. The reasons he might be avoided is: he's a southpaw. I'm very comfortable fighting southpaws. He can be a bit rough and ready. He likes to fight on the inside but that's the fighting style that will struggle most against me I think.
"I like range and room to throw my shots but he'll have to come through a wave of shots each time he wants to get close to me and then he's going to have to find a home for his shots when he's on the inside. I've got a lot of strength, a lot of natural size and strength advantages over him.
"The last time I knew Jamie he was a light welterweight... we were both training in Crystal Palace in the England squad. He hasn't got that much taller. That would've been 2005... maybe. I think he went to the Commonwealth Games in 2006 and then turned over. He's older me, been pro longer than me, he's had a real stop-start career. He's had hand issues, he's had issues outside the ring. There are so many things he's got to contend with.
"At the press conference his trainer and a couple of friends brought up the Carl Froch fights and how I come unstuck, and how I haven't always succeeded on the big stage. But when I think about what I had going into that Froch fight compared to what he's got going into this fight: I'd already headlined a pay-per-view event with James DeGale, boxed and sold out the O2 Arena. I'd boxed on each and every pay-per-view card in the years prior to that as David Haye's chief support.
"I'd struggled a bit with Kenny Anderson but that was my ninth fight and on paper an unbeaten pro with a Commonwealth Games gold medal, not that dissimilar to Cox except he did it at the weight above other than 2-3 weight classes below. Everything's on my side. I've just got to go out there and do the job.
"I always concentrate on myself, I don't worry too much about who I'm fighting. As long as I'm on form I believe I can beat anyone. I think he's got to find comfort in something, whether that be looking at my losses before, talking about his size and strength, who he's sparred, who he looked good against but as long as I'm fit and healthy and perform it should be a comfortable win. That I'm sure of."
A win against Cox sets up a mouth-watering clash against IBO belt holder Chris Eubank Jr. A win against Cox also proves that the night against Chudinov was no mere one-off. Now, Chudinov may be better than Cox, but Groves has a lot to protect after that memorable night at Bramall Lane. His title, his reputation and, perhaps. a new-found love from the boxing public.
We all remember the villain that walked into the Manchester Arena only to walk out the hero after Groves' titanic struggle with Froch in their first fight. Groves may not be complete pantomime villain material, although he has admitted it's something he doesn't mind playing up to, but he has had an up-and-down relationship with the public.
You were either 'Team DeGale' or 'Team Groves' before the pair met - what feels like a lifetime ago - in 2011. Meanwhile, during the build-up to the first Froch fight Groves was seen as cocky and given little chance despite his admirable and ultimately correct predictions about those two right hands he would land at the start of the fight.
Maybe because of the British public's ability to be sympathetic to those seen as 'out on their luck', or irritated by those who rise to the top, the fans inside Bramall Lane took Groves' to their heart on that May night not long after the terror attack in Manchester. The cheers he was met with as he did his traditional power walk to the ring, to the roars during the fight, to the applause and respect paid to him afterwards. It is perhaps a new relationship.
"Boxing's a fickle sport," Groves reminded BM. "Sometimes you get fickle followers and you get some who are fickle that work in boxing. Whether they be fighters, trainers, TV pundits... anyone. But that week I remember thinking any sort of praise that comes my way I'm happily going to accept it with open arms. I'm going to take all the good vibes that [are] bandied about. Anyone that's got some positivity to share, I'll accept it.
"Coming out for the fight, the ring walk... literally it felt like everyone was on my side. I genuinely didn't expect it. People can be indifferent. They're there for a Matchroom card, for Kell Brook [who headlined the show against Errol Spence Jr.] or local undercard fighters and that, but it was wonderful and lovely to see the buzz that was around it and to see everyone happy that I won it in the end. And since then as well, lots of people that I've seen in boxing saying that they're really happy for me.
"You don't really get what you deserve in boxing. I've learned not to expect anything, but to get it and people to say those things it's really nice. Now I've got this tournament I think it's the best thing for me. I'm not settled, I'm not content. I know there's more out there. Nice to have people back on my side."
As Groves tore through the defence of Chudinov, I formed the opinion - which I put to Groves during this interview - that he was getting something out of his system as those final shots were thrown en route to that elusive world title.
DeGale, Froch, those build-ups, the heartbreak in Vegas losing to Badou Jack, the split with long-time trainer Adam Booth, the knockout loss at Wembley... maybe I read too much into it but I had to ask 'The Saint' if he agreed with my observation.
"I don't know. Maybe!" he happily answered. "You might know more than me! It didn't feel now or never in terms of the fight, in terms of a career you win now or it's never going to happen for you. I remember landing good shots, them having an effect.
"These guys are usually smart, they can nullify you, tie you up, kill the clock and I've been there before in the past where I don't want to burn out, where I don't want to empty the tank. You land a big shot and you think 'I've done that once, I can do it again' and next time he might not get up that sort of thing.
"He wasn't able to protect himself so I had free range with the shots. It was sort of: I can punch now for as long as I want to punch without someone stopping me, because of that it was 'Right, let your hands go'.
"He was probably one of the toughest guys that I've ever been with and therefore I had to keep punching. I didn't think to myself later down the line [that] any shot is going to have a better effect and most probably going to have the same effect, temporarily stun him then unload on him and get rid of him. That was how it panned out and that's how I think it would have gone anyway."
After Steve Gray stopped the Groves onslaught to end the contest, the new champion could rest on the ropes. His head in his arms, his thoughts his own and the painful memories banished to the history books, no longer reminders as to what he had not achieved.
Raised aloft by his trainer Shane McGuigan the relief was clear to see.
"So, the fight gets stopped and you're like 'Yes, job done'. Arms in the air, let's celebrate," he recalled.
"I try to be conscious of what I look like after the fight because my wife says during fights I have a posture that I can look tired. I know that. I've got pale skin, I've got red hair so I go red and my nose don't work so well so I breathe out my mouth a bit more than I should. Then at the end of the fight I didn't want to be hanging over the ropes looking tired because I actually wasn't that tired.
"I've been far more tired in other fights but it was just that sort of feeling 'Phew let's just take a couple of seconds on the ropes!' and then I remember thinking: don't do this, up you get! It was like a momentary lapse in concentration because it went against my usual sort of code of end of fight conduct. That's when it was like I could take that breather and relax. That was the first time where I could relax."
Speaking to him before the Chudinov fight Groves told me there was a slight temptation to go out on a high. Say a few things on mic, a farewell and a drive off into the sun as a world champion. It would have been nice but then came the World Boxing Super Series. His position in the tournament had been negotiated pre-fight. Additional pressure for Groves going into his fourth world title shot.
Even if this dream event for boxing fans had not been conjured up it would have been hard to imagine Groves walking away after achieving something he had been dreaming of for two decades.
He has been taught to fight and that's what he loves. Emotions run high in sport, but deep down you do what you are good at.
"You've always fought. Don't waste no time. Get going again," he told himself in the aftermath of his world title win.
"I'd say this is the happiest I've been as a professional fighter. I'm enjoying my gym sessions. I'm enjoying everything out the ring. I've become a world champion and I have a plan for once, I have a fixture list. As I've got older, I've realised I do like, not just a say in what I'm doing, but a little bit of planning too. A bit of direction and I've got that as long as I stay focused.
"Might be a question [about saying farewell] to ask me again in May before I box in the final in the tournament. Then I might be able to give you a better answer but who knows. Might fight [Conor] McGregor (laughs) or they might do a light heavyweight version of the Super Series. I'm sure I'll think of something."