Big Interview: George Groves has got some fight
Good things come to those who persevere.
That much, George Groves does not need telling, after a lifetime of being written off and proving others wrong.
Yet now, entering his fourth decade, he is ready to step firmly out of the shadows and dominate the super middleweight division.
“The things I have been through in my career, most fighters would have jacked it in or never recovered,” he says.
“I have managed to recover. The setbacks have made me stronger, a better fighter, a better human.
“Right now, I feel like I am unstoppable.”
If Groves sounds confident, it is with good reason. Nothing has come easy for the Londoner during a career which began with a long and impressive spell in the amateur ranks.
As a pro, he has been in countless big and memorable fights. Yet only now have the rewards begun to arrive.
Last May saw Groves claim a world title at the fourth time of asking, beating Fedor Chudinov inside six rounds to take the WBA crown.
That was followed by victory over Jamie Cox before, in February, Groves recorded an emphatic points victory over Chris Eubank Jr to set up a mouthwatering clash with Callum Smith in the final of the World Boxing Super Series.
A possible showdown with IBF champion James DeGale, a long-time rival he has beaten in both the amateur and professional ranks, could also be on the cards later in the year.
No question, a career which has suffered its fair share of lows – including three defeats in world title fights, two of those high-profile encounters with Carl Froch – feels firmly back on an upward trajectory.
Slowly, the recognition which has perhaps eluded Groves and instead been bestowed on flashier fighters, could be heading his way.
Or perhaps not.
“Maybe I will just be the guy who always has question marks over him?” muses Groves. “If I am being honest, I don’t really care anymore.”
There is a slight pause and a smile, before he continues: “For instance, it was bizarre Eubank Jr was favourite going into that fight.
“I understood Carl Froch being favourite, I understood De Gale being favourite.
“But Eubank? That was mind-boggling. But that is the power of social media, the power of so-called experts out there.
“People who are supposed to know boxing but don’t. I am boxing well and getting credit for that, so I’m happy.
“I have a couple of losses on my record, which perhaps tarnished me a bit. I do prove people wrong when they back against me. I wouldn’t go backing against me anytime soon.”
Boxing is a brutal sport but outside the ring its protagonists are often among sport’s most erudite.
Even by those standards, Groves is a particularly engaging interviewee. Calm and composed, he speaks with a natural intelligence and is almost instantly likeable.
Such a reserved personality has perhaps done him few favours in a sport where a big character can take you a long way.
Yet Groves’ ability means there can be no ignoring him anymore. Victory over Eubank Jr saw him installed as Ring Magazine’s No.1 super middleweight in the world, something he describes as a ‘tremendous honour’.
Having recently turned 30, he gives the impression of a fighter both at peace with his record and aware of the opportunity now ahead of him.
“I believe I am the best in the world,” says Groves.
“Turning 30 didn’t bother me. It had all been downhill from 21 anyway!
“In all seriousness, I am probably one of the oldest world champions. I notice when hitting the gym now how I am the old guy. But I’m enjoying that.
“Obviously, I am picking up injuries now. I got a dislocated shoulder in the fight against Eubank Jr, which is a bit random. There is no reason for that. I had a broken jaw last year.
“Maybe those injuries are a sign of age. At the same time I feel like I am getting stronger.
“As long as I am there and performing on fight night, that’s good enough for me. I feel like there are still a good few big fights in me. I am enjoying it more than ever.”
The dislocated shoulder is almost certainly going to delay Groves’ meeting with Smith in the Super Series final, though an official date for the bout – which was originally scheduled for June 2 – is yet to be announced.
“We have said we could be out by the first week of July, but nothing has been confirmed yet,” said Groves.
The Super Series started with eight of the world’s best super middleweights, with Groves and Smith the only two men now left standing.
“The series has been great,” he said. “It has really built momentum for each fight. Each fight has been exciting. Callum’s (against Nicky Holzkien) was low key because it was away from home and a late replacement. Now everyone has seen Callum, he has been billed as the next big thing for years and years.
“There is no avoiding each other, we are going to fight now, in the final. It hopefully makes for a mouth-watering match-up.
“I can’t wait. I’m very confident. I have had my eye on him for quite a while.
“I am sure after I lost to Froch his management saw me as a stepping stone. Since then the tables have turned. I am world champion, in great form and the man to beat.”
Should Groves beat Smith, then attentions would immediately turn to a possible rematch with DeGale, more than six years on from when they met for the British title in arguably the most high-profile domestic fight of the past decade. Yet theirs is a rivalry which goes back a lot further than that first clash in the pro ranks, in careers which have run almost parallel from their days together at London’s Dale Youth Club as two of the country’s brightest young amateur talents.
It was Groves who won their first fight, in 2006. But it was DeGale who went on to become a world amateur champion and was then selected for the 2008 Olympics, winning gold and everything which comes with it. Despite similar records as professionals, Groves entered their 2011 clash as the underdog.
His narrow points victory, however, saw the tables turn. Since then, it is Groves who has enjoyed the bigger fights and the bigger pay days.
Even though DeGale recently won back his IBF crown, following last year’s shocking loss to Caleb Truax, it is his old foe who currently holds most of the cards amid talk of a rematch.
“It is a potential down the road, though he has to bring something to the table as well,” said Groves.
“If he does, it would be a great fight for me at the end of the year. Obviously, I can’t look past Smith.
“But there are a lot of good fighters out there. It’s wide open in terms of the belt holders. It’s always been a competitive division.
“Over here we have always had good fighters. Around the world now there are good fighters coming through.”