How Smith be­came the pre­mier super-mid­dleweight on the planet

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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


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.


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.



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

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