On September 29th, British Super-Middleweights George Groves and Callum Smith will finally meet to conclude the World Boxing Super Series that began in September 2017. The venue for their final will be unfamiliar to both fighters and for those of greater vintage too, even the circus that followed the sport’s greatest showman, Muhammad Ali, never pitched tent in Saudi Arabia after all.
Since its inception the World Boxing Series has refused to kneel to the cynics or the financial conventions of the past and has been an integral part of markets at top boxing betting sites. All of the contests have thus far delighted fans with their high quality production, the clarity of the format and the entertainment offered. Illustrating what can be achieved with investment and purpose.
Callum Smith, 24-0 (17ko), the latest sibling of the fighting Smiths to emerge into world title contention – following brothers Paul, Liam and Stephen – opened the tournament on September 16th last year, boxing the unheralded Erik Skoglund.
The fight proved more difficult than the Liverpudlian anticipated though he ultimately prevailed by a wide points margin embellished by a late knockdown. It would prove to be Skoglund’s final professional contest; he suffered a brain haemorrhage during preparation for a subsequent fight with Rocky Fielding. Thankfully, the gallant Swede is recovering well.
Seeded two in the eight-man tournament and favoured to reach the final once the draw unfolded more kindly for him than compatriots George Groves and Chris Eubank, Smith was then due to meet German veteran Jurgen Brahmer in the Semi-Final. A wily campaigner with noted victories at Super-Middleweight and Light Heavyweight, Brahmer represented a significant threat to Smith’s unbeaten record and his place in the competition.
Following a number of weeks of negotiation, in which the Smith camp fought to secure home advantage unsuccessfully, Brahmer succumbed to a virus and withdrew. The World Boxing Super Series turned to a contracted reserve, Nieky Holzken, as a stand in. Despite being patently under qualified for the test, the former kick-boxer fought aggressively throughout and provided some entertainment for boxing betting fans.
Smith opted for caution, working behind his jab and later confirmed to James Helder of IfL TV that despite not being pleased with his performance, he often felt too comfortable:
“I boxed safety first, he was a bit wild, a bit novicey, so I wasn’t going to go swinging with him. I was never in bother. I got a bit bored at times in there tonight, but I won’t get bored with Groves. It’s a ‘live’ fight; a big fight and I really like my chances in that fight.”
The stature of George Groves, 28-3 (20 ko), both as the WBA’s champion and as an attraction, ensured his ‘half’ of the draw, attracted greater interest. His first contest with Jamie Cox confirmed Groves’ fight ending power but also illustrated punch precision and superior shot selection too. A right hand uppercut cum hook landed perfectly to the body and electrified the brave Swindon man’s nervous system sufficiently to end the contest in the fourth.
Slow motion replays captured the spite, timing and quality the shot was necessarily embroidered with and it was a conspicuous counter balance to the drama of Chris Eubank Junior’s stoppage of Avni Yildirim in three rounds the preceding weekend.
With Groves and Eubank now set as the semi-final, in a bout some observers, perhaps hypnotised by the latter’s aesthetic frame and that destruction of Yildirim, felt amounted to the ‘real’ final. A conclusion drawn in haste and one that has proven to overrate Eubank’s gifts and could yet significantly underestimate Callum Smith’s too. The Groves v Eubank bout was an electrifying occasion however. A generation of supporters were transported back to the peak of Eubank Senior’s career and all that it meant to British Boxing.
Groves proved immoveable, durable and technically a league or two above Eubank, despite the younger man’s natural speed, aggressive style and THAT surname. Only an injury in the final round, with Groves on the cusp of a wide points victory, ever threatened to disrupt this natural order.
That injury is the principle reason for the delay in the final taking place, it was originally scheduled for June; Groves dislocated his right shoulder in an awkward exchange and required surgery to repair the damage. And it is within that recuperation, and the sense of the unproven it creates, that introduces doubt to any conclusions one may draw about September’s final.
In a sport criticised for the infrequency of its 50-50 bouts, in which money or circumstance too often protects the most commercially viable from undue risk, the Groves v Smith fight and the tournament that created their meeting is a refreshing breakthrough.
Groves remains the marginal favourite, 4/6 with 888sport, in a bout likely to be cautious, tactical and slow to begin with. The tall, rangy Smith, 5/4 to win with Ladbrokes, has craved a contest like this, against an established fighter, for a very long time. A victim of the complexities of a sport that can marginalise those not connected to the right party – boxing insiders have long mooted that Callum is the best of the fighting clan that formed him – Smith will bring a long, accurate jab, height and reach advantages and a good deal of freshness to the bout.
In the opposite corner, Groves provides power, both on the front foot behind a good double jab and on the counter when forced to retreat. The 30-year-old champion has the edge in knockout power but all conclusions about his chances in the fight are with the asterisk of his injury.
For the bold, adding the possibility of a recurrence of Groves’ injury to the range of outcomes covered could prove shrewd. Ladbrokes offer 3-1 on Smith to succeed via a points or technical decision, the latter would include an accidental injury which forces one party to retire, providing four rounds have been completed. At that point judges scorecards are reviewed to determine a winner.
3/1 is entirely more attractive than the 5/4 or 11/10 widely available for backing a head-to-head victory for Smith. If Smith were to win, he would do so behind his long jab and a higher work rate than Groves over the 12 round distance.
A knockout of Groves, despite his two stoppage losses to Carl Froch, appears unlikely and, therefore, in a match-up so difficult to predict, the 3/1 on a Smith decision victory offers interest, though I would recommend only a modest investment.
It would reward those who believe Callum Smith is a world-class fighter who simply needs a world-class opponent against whom he can demonstrate it.