The return of the Saint
The Saint has risen. Career obituaries were being drafted by the usual suspects when George Groves was dropped and outpointed by WBC 168lbs champion Badou Jack in Las Vegas last September, but that split decision defeat prompted the West Londoner to revaluate and partner with trainer-of-the-moment Shane McGuigan. And, in their first bout together, Groves appeared a fighter reborn demonstrating renewed composure, variety and stellar body work in a five round dismissal of capable Italian Andrea Di Luisa, suggesting that the three-time world title challenger is far from finished.
“I feel good at the moment. Shane and his team relieve a lot of the pressures that come with boxing,” Groves, 28, told Boxing Monthly recently in his PR team’s swish office complex in Soho, central London. “I feel confidence in Shane and his dad [Barry], his conditioning coaches, the way he structures the sessions. I felt that after the Badou Jack fight something wasn’t right. There was a lot of stuff that needed to be changed. I’m back feeling more comfortable with the way I’m training, the way I’m fighting and the performance against Di Luisa was good. He’s been in there with good champions and has a decent record, but I shut him down, real clinical, added some new things, like more body shots.” [In his second fight with McGuigan in April, Groves dismantled unbeaten David Brophy in four rounds behind an immaculate jab].
Many observers strongly favoured Groves to topple underrated WBC champion Jack on the Floyd Mayweather-Andre Berto undercard last September – instead the Londoner was floored in the first and suffered an agonising defeat on the scorecards that motivated him to sever ties with previous trainer Paddy Fitzpatrick.
“I watched the fight back straight afterwards - I thought I won. Badou Jack is a good fighter. It was disappointing. But people who are writing me off are people with an agenda,” said Groves (23-3, 18 KOs) who meets Martin Murray next on 25 June at the O2 Arena. “Joe Gallagher, for example. He is a trainer [of rival Callum Smith] who is extremely opinionated. He’s got plenty to say about everyone. He speaks without being spoken to. Verbally he has attacked me for years and years. He said I needed to get to the back of the queue. Boxing doesn’t work like that – you lose a split decision [to the champion] – why should I go to the back of the queue? I’m ranked No.2 with the WBC. I’d love to get a rematch with Badou Jack, if possible. If not, I am willing to fight any of the other champions out there. I watched [WBA Super champion] Felix Sturm beat Fedor Chudinov and definitely feel I am capable of beating those guys. The IBF champion is James DeGale and I’ve already beaten him.
“Love to fight James DeGale again. We’ve had Ambrose [Mendy] on the phone - he’s one of his many advisers – and very excited about the fight. He wants to make it happen this year, I believe. Ambrose is waiting for that conference call from Al Haymon. If he tracks Al Haymon down for me, we’ll do the fight. James has done really well. He won a split decision against Andre Dirrell in the US, he went to Canada and beat Lucian Bute. I wish him well for now. But he doesn’t really want to fight me now, does he? Because I come with a lot of baggage. I’d love to fight James DeGale. It’s a bit different. If you’re fighting the ‘Average Joes’ you just get up and go to the gym and go about your business. But that’s something to get your teeth stuck into. It breaks the day up a bit.”
Groves, ranked No.2 by the WBC, recently asked for clarification from the Mexico-based sanctioning body when Callum Smith was matched with Frenchman and WBC No.6 Hadillah Mohoumadi in a final eliminator [Smith triumphed in the first round]. Team Groves was not asking for a straight shot at champion Jack, but curious as to why they had been overlooked.
“I think again Joe Gallagher comes to the forefront because he is batting for Callum Smith, moaning again, thinking I can jump the queue. I never said that,” Groves told BM. “We wrote to the WBC saying don’t forget about us because Callum Smith is fighting the No.6. Usually, when that happens, it is because No.2, 3, 4 and 5 [contenders] are unavailable but that’s not the case here. I’m No.2 and totally available. The WBC wrote back and said, ‘we were told you’re fighting at light-heavyweight now’. So whether that was [Smith’s promoter] Eddie Hearn or Joe Gallagher or someone else writing to them….it’s good business sense for Callum Smith. It’s an easy fight, Mohoumadi got beat by DeGale four years ago and I don’t know what he has done since.
“I don’t think I should jump ahead of a final eliminator but if it needs to take place why not have the No.1 against the No.2? Again, Joe Gallagher said that wasn’t the case for me last year when the shoe was on the other foot, but it was a totally different situation. I had already boxed into a mandatory position, beating the No.3 [Christopher Rebrasse] who was higher ranked than Callum Smith at the time. I was not going to take another mandatory. It was totally different.
“It got confusing for people on the street, people who haven’t paid too close attention. Unless you are involved in it, you won’t know. I’d love to fight for the WBC title again against Badou Jack. I don’t like the fact that someone is writing to them saying I am no longer a super-middleweight. I’d happily fight my way back into contention – that’s what I’m doing right now. I want to be busy. I haven’t said I am not boxing until I get a world title fight. I’ll take on all-comers.”
Groves was catapulted into the consciousness of casual boxing fans when he was controversially stopped in the ninth round by then WBA Regular and IBF champion Carl Froch in November 2013 after flooring the ‘Cobra’ heavily in the opening round and appearing to have built a handy points lead. The pre-fight psychological warfare, instigated by Groves, captured the imagination of a nation before their rivalry transcended the sport with that astonishing May 2014 rematch at Wembley Stadium in front of 80,000 fans.
Again, the Londoner appeared ahead on the cards before being KOed in the eighth by a sudden Cobra strike. In the weeks before his first encounter with Froch, Groves split from long-time trainer Adam Booth and many have since speculated that the Londoner might have bested Froch with the respected coach in his corner.
“I think Adam Booth is an exceptional coach. As time went on, we grew apart,” Groves told BM. “He changed a lot as a person during the period of time I was with him. I became an adult, really. I went from being a pretty naïve 20-year-old to growing up and experiencing a lot. What Adam’s talents are – he is a very good coach – he’ll prepare you for a fight and in the corner he’s very good. He’ll give you clear and concise instructions. It certainly could have and would have benefited me to have Adam in my corner if I had the relationship that I had with him years before. At that point, I don’t know.
“I do feel I could have done a lot better [in my world title fights]. There are things in hindsight that you look back at and think that wasn’t right. But in the moment you don’t know - that’s the luxury of looking back.
“I was disappointed with the Jack fight because I was clearly getting the wrong instructions. Clearly, clearly, clearly,” said Groves with a shake of his head. “And it cost me the fight when you look at it as a split decision. You can look at the second Froch fight - were the tactics right? Who knows? Were the tactics right in the first fight with Froch? Who knows? Were there little bits throughout the fights I could have done better? You can say that about any coach and fighter in any fight. You can always do better.
“Before the first Froch fight I made a conscious decision to get under his skin and, hopefully, that would be an advantage for me on fight night,” the Londoner recalled. “I knew I would become the pantomime bad guy. I could pretend to be something I’m not and say things that aren’t true and talk about how great Carl Froch was at the time. But I thought that is going to be far more difficult than just getting booed – I’ll just tell the truth. My performance showed that I least belong at that level, if not more. My boxing stock went up. I’ve always been in and around the big fights, the big shows. I want to get back to headlining them. The first chance of being back there is a world title fight.
“I think I am a lot wiser. I know lot more about myself,” continued Groves. “I’ve made more mistakes since then. Mistakes are when you can improve as a person because the things you are doing wrong are highlighted to you. I feel I had to get through a lot of stuff to where I am and, at this moment in time, I am in a good place, really. I’m working with a good team and there are some exciting opportunities ahead. I’m looking forward to it and quietly confident that I am going to get where I need to be with a few more big nights before I hang up my gloves.”