GEORGE GROVES: ALL HEART
It was a crushing body shot that put him down, but it was the shake of the head that hurt the most. It started as a shake of disbelief, a “no, this can’t be happening” type of thing. Then it became a shake of defiance, a refusal to allow this to be the end. And then, as the ref shoved his fingers in George Groves’ face and shouted his count into George’s ear, it became that of despair and defeat. WBA Super Middle Weight Champion George Groves would not beat the count, and would be champ for two seconds longer and then no more. And it’s that pain that will take the longest to fade.
Callum Smith put on one hell of a performance and deserves all the accolades he receives, but currently my thoughts are with Groves. Because his journey was filled with the types of falls that stop most men. Not “Saint George” though. George always got back up, and fought his way back. But this time I’m not so sure he should. George took the hard road to the top, and there becomes a point when battle proven becomes battle worn. George has overcome his fair share of adversity, be it injuries or losses, but at this stage of his career I don’t know if he’s got the time to work his way back into contention. He has the will. He’s proven that time and again. But wars take their toll. And eventually the body fails us, will be damned.
He’s already stated he won’t retire. But I just don’t see what’s left for him. One last hurrah in a stadium filled with adoring fans cheering his name would be nice. But Groves has always wanted to fight the best to prove he’s the best. And a rematch with James DeGale (the most likely fight to be made, despite him currently being linked to fight Eubank jr) just doesn’t do that. No. George’s time at the top is over. And it’s heartbreaking because he probably won’t ever be recognised for how good he truly was.
George probably won’t ever get his due. He won’t make the Hall of Fame. He won’t be discussed in the same breath as the great British champions of old. To most he will always be the fighter Carl Froch knocked out in front of 80,000 fans at Wembley Stadium. He will be remembered for a loss.
Which is fitting in a way, because his legacy, what defined him as a fighter, is how he dealt with those losses. How he always fought through hardship.
Back in 2013, when Carl Froch was the hero to Britain’s Boxing fanbase, George Groves found himself thrust into the role of the villain. Groves had joined Mikkel Kessler’s camp as a sparring partner when Mikkel was preparing for his rematch with Froch. Froch, and most of the country, saw this as a betrayal. Groves simply saw it as an opportunity to gain some invaluable experience.
So when the first Froch versus Groves fight came around, Froch was the golden boy and Groves was the traitor. His first title fight, in his own country, and yet Groves was hated. He was fighting in enemy territory. Did this deter him in anyway? No. George came storming out the gate at the opening bell and hit Froch with everything he had. At the end of the first round George rocked Froch and dropped him, only the second time Froch had been down in his career. The fight was an all action back and forth classic, but ended in controversy when the referee stopped the fight after Froch hit Groves with a flurry of punches. Many saw it as a premature stoppage, including the originally pro Froch crowd who booed the result and cheered Groves. He had won them over. At the time of the stoppage, Groves was up on the scorecards of all three judges.
The rematch was booked almost immediately, and this time the crowd’s allegiance was split close to 50-50. Many thought Froch had his time and this was to be the passing of the torch to a new local hero. Instead, Groves didn’t perform to his previous standard, and was knocked out with one of the most vicious punches you’ll ever see. Fans decided Groves just wasn’t at the world level and interest waned.
After such a public, embarrassing defeat, most fighters would hang up the gloves, or look for easier fights with the biggest possible purse. It’s the kind of loss that extinguishes the fire a fighter needs to compete.
George wasn’t most fighters. And his fire wasn’t extinguished. It was blazing. That same year he fought two more times, winning both definitively, and earned himself another title shot the following year against Badou Jack in Vegas.
Third time lucky, right? Well, this isn’t a fairy tale, it’s boxing. Groves got dropped in the first round, and despite forcing himself back into the fight and doing just enough to win in the eyes of many, two of the three judges gave the nod to Jack. Three shots at the title. Three failures. Very few get a fourth.
Groves did what he always does. He picked himself up and carried on going. He rebuilt himself, bringing in new coaches and training partners, and adopted a more mature mentality in regards to the fight game. He carried himself in a different way. Gone was the cocky kid who refused to shake Froch’s hand, replaced by a well traveled veteran who had tasted both highs and lows and knew all too well how quickly the former can become the latter.
Groves rattled off four more wins, and found himself fighting for a title again against the always tough Fedor Chudinov. But this time George wasn’t the villain. He wasn’t fighting in enemy territory. He was fighting in his home country before a crowd of fans who had seen this man fight tooth and nail for close to a decade. These are the same fans who had once questioned if he was really good enough. Well on that night, George was better than good enough. He wouldn’t be denied. In the third round Chudinov cracked Groves and broke his jaw. But in typical Groves fashion, heart trumps pain, and he fought through it. In the sixth round Groves let loose with a ferocious barrage of punches, exorcising every moment of frustration and disappointment in a career filled with both. Punch after punch landed unanswered and the ref had no choice but to stop the fight. George Groves, the fighter who had come close and fallen short so many times before, was now the champion of the world.
Carl Froch, on commentary for the event, stood and applauded his former rival. For those who had followed George from the beginning, tears were shed.
George then entered the World Boxing Super Series and defended his title twice, beating Jamie Cox with a thunderous body shot, and Chris Eubank Jr by decision despite suffering a shoulder injury. He totally outclassed both men. Once he recovered from the injury, it was time for the final of the tournament against the huge Callum Smith. They were fighting for Groves WBA title, the Muhammad Ali trophy, and the Ring Magazine title. A win here and Groves would have something over the only two men to beat him. Badou Jack failed to win the Ring magazine title when he drew with James DeGale, and Carl Froch failed to win the WBSS tournament when he lost to Andre Ward.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. The body shot dropped him, and the shake of the head admitted to the ref, the fans, and most painful of all, himself, that it was over.
But George has nothing to shake his head about. He was a world class talent, with as much heart as any fighter I’ve ever seen. He had an unorthodox style that was difficult for any fighter to deal with, a phenomenal jab, and a high ring I.Q. He was graceful in defeat and humble in victory, because he had experienced both enough times to know how to handle them. He carried himself with class.
George Groves was a champion, but more than that he was a fighter. And a damn good one at that. No one can shake their head at that. All we can do is nod in respect.