By Billy Ellis
It seems ridiculous on paper to call George Groves underrated.
The current WBA super-middleweight champion, you’d be hard pressed to find a fan who didn’t rate him as the best in his division, and he’s ranked as such by BoxRec and The Ring. But it still seems a fitting label in many ways.
Now a world champion and finalist in the super-middleweight World Boxing Super Series, he’s long since moved past the most publicized moment of his career: being knocked out by Carl Froch at Wembley in their second fight. Yet going into his bout against Chris Eubank Jr earlier this year, in which he out-boxed his much hyped opponent to a unanimous decision, Groves was once again seen by many as the underdog.
You have to wonder when he’ll get the widespread recognition he deserves as a genuine, top level fighter.
For Groves fans, his suffering through a broken jaw to stop Fedor Chudinov and claim the WBA title was an especially triumphant moment because of the years leading up to it.
His first fight against Froch ended in highly controversial circumstances; he was leading on all three scorecards when an early stoppage in the ninth round prompted outrage and immediate demand for a rematch.
His third world title challenge, this time against Badou Jack in late 2015, was a close fight. Jack’s victory via split decision wasn’t highly contested, but it was still a very tough fight to score, with Groves recovering from an early knockdown to deliver what Jack himself called the toughest fight of his career.
These losses were unfortunate but they set up the next stage of his career nicely. Groves was a man who’d repeatedly found himself within reach of a world title but never quite getting there.
His first attempt ended unfairly, the second was a valiant loss against an all time great after giving fans a highly dramatic fight, and the third could arguably have been scored either way were it not for the shadow cast by the aforementioned unfortunate knockdown.
This made his subsequent retooling of his career with new trainer Shane McGuigan and the victories this yielded all the more satisfying. When he won the WBA title there was an air of finality about it. His hard work had finally paid off with the culmination of a long and exhausting journey to achieving his childhood dream.
The super series followed. His victory over the unseeded Jamie Cox was expected, but his dismantling of odds on favorite Chris Eubank Jr came as a surprise to some.
Now, after a tense race against a deadline to recover from an injured shoulder, he’s set to face the undefeated Callum Smith in the final. It shouldn’t be too difficult a fight for Groves, providing his injury doesn’t cause him any more grief. Yet the bookies only have him down as a slight favorite, demonstrating again how underestimated and underrated Groves continues to be.
Groves is a fighter who’s earlier performances on the world stage were unfortunately overshadowed by the results and highlights.
Much is made of his stamina issues and while he isn’t the most conditioned fighter, his apparent sluggishness is greatly exaggerated: for example, many pointed to how ‘exhausted’ he looked by the end of the Jack fight while seemingly forgetting how he came back and took the final two rounds. Claims that he’s shot and past it also seem more and more laughable as he continues to beat everyone put in front of him since regrouping after the Jack loss. The reality is that Groves is a consistently entertaining fighter who even in defeat has frequently fared well and gone the distance against tough, top level opponents.
He’s a powerful puncher, isn’t afraid to go to war and has conviction and heart in abundance, but he’s also demonstrated his adaptability in more tactical performances. He’s just as deserving of credit as any of the current Matchroom promoted household names, and for those who have followed him, the long road to where he is now has been a tremendously satisfying one.
Hopefully, once a date and venue has finally been set and the build up really begins, we’ll see more mass support for Groves. If anyone deserves that trophy, he does.