Sunday, September 23, 2018

George Groves skilfully walked Jamie Cox through a few rounds of top level boxing before ending it cleanly with a short right to the solar plexus in the fourth at Wembley in the old Empire Hall on Saturday night.

Cox was taken from the ring, aching and wondering what had happened and Chris Eubank Jr entered from another corner and stood eyeing Groves from a safe distance of six feet as they confirmed their intention to fight each other in early 2018.

“He did what he had to do,” said Eubank Jr, for once not standing next to his preening and wonderful father. Groves accepted the gentle compliment and nodded at the prospect of fighting Eubank Jr in January, which would be a totally unexpected pleasure in a boxing business that is thriving but delivers very few surprises.

In the ring, Groves, who was defending his WBA super-middleweight title, had fought like a master, a seasoned, hardened, battle-scarred veteran against the green but keen Cox and had connected with the final shot several times in preparation for the moment in round four when he threw it one last time, turned it a bit more and put just a fraction of extra intent behind it to leave Cox out for ten. Only the very best can do that against fighters of Cox’s calibre and Eubank, the dad, would have absorbed the finish with a secret pleasure. 

Last week in Stuttgart Eubank Jr was exceptional, knocking out his Turkish opponent with a disdain previously missing from his repertoire and that created the extra interest in the fight at Wembley. Cox was unbeaten in 24 fights, Groves toughened by three defeats in a career threatening to fall short, and the winner of the quarter-final would get Eubank Jr in the semi-final of the World Boxing Super Series. Groves beautifully put in place the dream fight and now a few veterans of the fight game must make it happen and that, my friends, is the real art of the boxing business, the secret black politics at the core of a sport dominated by hidden deals.

The concept of the WBSS is similar to the Super Six from seven or so years ago and that glorious event, which was finally won by Andre Ward after 27 months of fights, far too many replacements and nights that just never worked. Carl Froch won three, lost two and was at the very core of the Super Six, which went on for far too long; the WBSS is scheduled to conclude in May, which would be three consecutive fights in just seven months for the two finalists. Groves and Eubank Jr insist they will stick to the plan but that could mean moving outdoors because of demand and Craven Cottage in January for a nice chilly evening of boxing is a serious option – yep, midnight by the Thames in icy January.  

There is, it has to be said, something tremendously old-fashioned about the tournament so far and if it goes the full length, finishes on time and is replicated at other weights, it would lead to a massive transformation in the way modern boxing grinds forward from its mad event-driven apex at the moment. There is, incidentally, a cruiserweight version without any British boxers running at the same time and it is, trust me, even better than the super-middleweight version but the boxers lack the sexy narrative connected with Groves and Eubank Jr. It’s hard to sell surly Cuban exiles, brutal Russians, hard Serbians and nasty Ukrainians when so few can deliver soundbites in English. However, the WBSS could change the future of the sport if it stays on track and fighters do not get injured, withdraw or wander off for a better offer elsewhere in boxing’s murky ocean. 

On Saturday night Eubank Jr and Groves eyed each other calmly, both finding it hard not to run their eyes up and down, searching for something that only fighters can find. Groves insists Eubank Jr is simply too small and Eubank Jr insists that Groves is finished; the meeting in the ring after the fight was stylishly staged, went off without any pantomime lunges and it might just stay at the smouldering level because it is a fight that certainly does not need a gimmick. It would be a fight worthy of any decade, any era and certainly as good as anything Eubank, the dad, fought in during his splendid years of dominance, a period rightly celebrated as a golden age. This fight is good, really good.