How Smith became the premier super-middleweight on the planet
waited. This world title shot had been years in the making. The long journey to this final fight brought him to the unlikely locale of the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah. Even now, as he took the centre of the ring he waited, patient, as he boxed formidable WBA super-middleweight champion George
Groves. “Mundo” stood tall, tucked up behind a tight guard, letting Groves’ feints and probing jabs fall short or hit his arms. His patience paid off richly.
Smith did not rush. When he did jab, it told. He worked his lead well from range and he picked his moments to lash his right over. He kept his form, he kept his discipline and as the rounds progressed he fought Groves on equal terms.
The champion himself had taken a gruelling road to reach this World Boxing Super Series final. After winning his world title last year, the Londoner had beaten Jamie Cox with a stunning body blow and outclassed Chris Eubank Jnr in one of the biggest fights of 2018. But battling to recover from a dislocated shoulder saw Groves race against time to be fit for this September 28 clash. He looked in shape, as he adopted a familiar crouched stance, his legs wide and left arm flicking out jabs. Groves is an intelligent fighter. He likes to scope out an opponent, look for openings as he tests them in the early stages of a bout before he goes to work. But Smith was giving nothing away. Groves edged round to his right, trying to solve the puzzle Callum presented. Smith parried his lead but the champion still found a path for his jab to land to the body. His shoulder did not appear to be inhibiting his movement. He doubled his
‘CALLUM WAS THE BETTER MAN. THAT’S TOUGH FOR ME TO SAY’
jab before he hacked a right up into the body. But Smith’s own jab greeted Groves as he stepped forward. Just before the bell, Callum opened up, firing in a hard combination of punches.
Groves is a noted power puncher. But on this occasion if anything Smith was stronger. He clipped George with crisp, clean punches. Groves searched out his body with a hard right cross. Smith’s back hand arched over the top. He worked from range, selecting his shots with careful method.
As early as the third round Smith caught Groves heavily. His right chopped down, shaking the champion. As the Londoner backed off, Callum went on the offensive. He unleashed hooks, punishing shots. But even as he drove Groves into the ropes, the champion remained dangerous. He slugged punches back at Smith, fighting him off. The challenger had to relent, wary of being caught himself. He knew full well how dangerous Groves is. As long ago as 2011 he’d seen Groves knock out his eldest brother Paul inside two rounds.
Going into the fourth round Groves knew he had to swing the momentum his way. He targeted Smith’s body, raising the intensity of his work. It did not rattle the Liverpudlian. Callum maintained his textbook jabbing.
In the fifth round Groves launched his cross at Callum’s stomach. He hooked his right round Smith’s guard, a warning shot. The Liverpudlian stepped to him, his right uppercut glancing off Groves’ arms. He stepped back smartly from a one-two.
The champion countered him with a good right chopping up into Smith’s body.
Their legs tangled and Callum’s foot was swept from beneath him. He hit the deck, unsettled for a rare moment. In the sixth round Smith seemed to be edging ahead, hunting for Groves with his right cross. Pushing the champion to the ropes, his jab hit through as Groves leant back into the rigging.
The Londoner still steered an excellent right hook over. But Callum’s left hook tilted Groves away, pushing him back towards those ropes.
In the seventh round Smith measured him out with long, straight shots. But it was his left hook that did the damage. The shot wobbled Groves badly. This time Smith went in for the finish.
‘DOUBTS CREEP IN BUT I’M A BIG BELIEVER IN MY OWN ABILITY’
His hooks flew across, hammering the champion into a corner. A brutal right slammed into George’s side. He shuddered beneath the impact, folding over. Smith battered the Londoner to his knees. There Groves stayed, counted out by referee Luis Pabon at 2-04 of the seventh round.
George recovered himself and soon spoke to the crowd with remarkable selfpossession. “It was not to be. Full, full credit to Callum,” he said. “I’ve never been hurt with a body shot in my life so I can’t believe it.”
“The shoulder worked,” Groves insisted. “Callum to his credit was the better man on the night. For someone like me that’s tough to say.”
He was not making any decisions on his immediate future, other than a long rest. “I’m not retiring,” he said, though he added, “I don’t know what next.”
This will not be Groves’ defining moment. He has already featured in major events at Wembley stadium and in Las Vegas, starred in all-british rivalries with James Degale, Carl Froch and even Chris Eubank Jnr. He won the world title he craved and could well be back. Until the savage ending, this contest in Jeddah had been high calibre and well matched.
As Groves rose to his feet, realising his defeat, Smith had fallen to his knees, delight etched across his face as his family rushed through the ropes to join him in celebration. In contrast to George this
was the Liverpudlian’s defining moment. He had beaten the number one in the division, won the inaugural supermiddleweight World Boxing Super Series and has the world title he has spent his career working for.
“It means everything. I’m not a man who shows a lot of emotion. I think you’ve seen tonight how much this means to me. It’s like a lifetime of work all rolled into one,” Smith said.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he added. “Doubts creep in but I’ve said for a long time I’m a big believer in my own ability. I felt I was ahead at the time of the stoppage,” he said. “It was a bit of chess match and I got my big shots off first.”
For Smith this was a star-making performance. World title unifications will be appealing, and the WBC Diamond strap he already holds should leave him well placed with that organisation. But first of all he wants to fight in front of his hometown fans. “I’d love to defend my world title in Liverpool,” he declared.
On the undercard Chris Eubank Jnr made his first appearance since losing
to Groves in February. He began calmly against JJ Mcdonagh, moving back from the Mullingar southpaw to give himself room to work. This was not the brawler whom Groves had outboxed so handily in Manchester. Eubank wanted to present himself as a more refined fighter here.
It began well enough. Timing his left hook in the first round Eubank caught Mcdonagh high on the head with the shot. It stiffened the Irishman’s legs beneath him and he plummeted to the canvas.
“I wanted the rounds so I let him recover,” Eubank shrugged later. “I wanted to display some of my boxing skills.”
But in the second round Mcdonagh continued to march forward aggressively, seemingly undeterred. At this early stage he looked like he was going to give the Brighton star a fight. Intriguingly Chris Eubank Senior, who was a central part of Junior’s preparation for and handling of the Groves fight, was not in his son’s corner (Ronnie Davies was). Chris Jnr was hardly perturbed. In the third round he thumped in stunning punches. A left hook hit Mcdonagh’s head and the right blasted straight through.
But just as the fight was getting going, it was over. Mcdonagh did not emerge from his corner for the fourth round. A shoulder injury, he explained, stopped him from continuing. “I had bad shoulder injury,” he claimed. “If I was able to fight on, I would fight on.
“I hurt my shoulder in the second round and I couldn’t use it anymore.”
Eubank jnr was distinctly unimpressed with the excuse. “It was a good fight while it lasted but the going was too tough for him so he quit,” Eubank said gruffly. “It’s not the first time it’s happened. It’s a win…”
That was enough to send Mcdonagh into rage. He rounded on Eubank in front of the TV cameras, showing more belligerence than he had in the actual contest, threatening to restart the fight with the gloves off, before security ushered him away.
It was a surreal end to the spectacle but Eubank now moves on. He is gunning for a showdown with British rival James Degale, before 2018 is out. “Degale, that’s definitely a fight I’m looking forward to trying to make happen before the end of the year,” he said.
THE VERDICT In a high quality contest, Smith seizes his chance to become world champion.
‘THE GOING WAS TOO TOUGH FOR MCDONAGH SO HE QUIT’
TURNING THE SCREW: Smith scores with his long right
KING OF THE WORLD: Smith celebrates after his brilliant showing while Groves [below] is left to ponder what went wrong
HARD TO BEAT: The size and skills of Smith make it one of the toughest nights of Groves’ career
SPINNING AROUND: Smith heads to a neutral corner after a hellacious body shot sends Groves to the canvas
WINNING AGAIN: Eubank’s left hook smashes into Mcdonagh