George Groves made Chris Eubank Jr look like a novice in a one-sided fight that showed signs of a true champion

The Eubank Jr in the ring on Saturday night was not the true Eubank Jr, but in the bright lights of Manchester the boxing protégé froze and was taught a lesson of experience by Groves

Steve Bunce
Sunday 18 February 2018 13:44
Chris Eubank has cowboys in his corner, says George Groves' trainer

In the end George Groves simply knew too much about the art of boxing at the highest level and Chris Eubank Jr looked like a sickened boy at times at the Manchester Arena late on Saturday night.

The pair met in the semi-final of the World Boxing Super Series, their world title baubles were also part of the winner’s bounty, but it was always the fight that mattered and not the lavish trimmings. It was also a fight that divided opinion, something that shocked both camps during three months of often insulting exchanges - they each believed it was an easy night for their man and, in many ways, it was for Groves. It was a total disaster for Eubank Jr and no amount of revisionist thinking should be allowed to divert the harsh truth of his exposure.

The fans fell in love with the idea of an old-fashioned fifty-fifty scrap and on the blue-light city streets they tumbled from drinking holes, holding their tickets and noisily joining queues to fill the arena. It has always been a fight city, Manchester, and this venue with its hazardous slopes has hosted the finest fights in Britain for over 20 years with Nigel Benn, Naseem Hamed, Carl Froch, David Haye, the other Chris Eubank, Ricky Hatton and a riotous cameo from Mike Tyson in 2000 all delighting the fancy, the faithful and the hopeful; late on Saturday night it hummed, buzzed and steadily grew louder with the fans sounding more like a howling swarm than 20,000 humans.

It was the type of night when even the cynics, men on a paid mission in the privileged seats, took the occasional deep breath in anticipation of the fight. At ringside the cowboys and other old boxing faces were out in force to add a sparkle of nostalgia to the event. It felt like I had stepped back in time to watch a fight from another time and that is lovely.

All three judges voted for Groves with margins of five, four and two rounds and the grizzled fighter, just 18 months older than his opponent, had to survive over two minutes of the last round with what looked like a dislocated left shoulder. The pain was visible from ringside but Eubank Jr missed the injury, Groves struggled with the lame arm to the final bell and went off to hospital once the celebrations had stopped. It was a final defiant act by Groves, who had been made the betting underdog.

Eubank Jr had struggled from the very start, seemingly unable or unwilling to get his feet close enough to counter or land effectively. Groves was patient, never rattled or flustered as Eubank Jr rushed, throwing wildly, his head tucked away to the side and his fists operating without any thought.

In round two Groves clearly hurt Eubank Jr with a simple right cross and in the third a clash of heads opened a nasty gash by Eubank Jr’s right eye. Groves remained steady, circling and mixing caution with experience to pop away with a steady stream of easy jabs. There was a half-hearted attempt by the Eubank camp to blame malicious headwork for the cut and the referee for allowing Groves to hold, which he did, to deny their man the chance to work. Nobody was really listening, not even when Eubank Jr said his vision was impaired and that he could not see Groves from that eye because of the blood. Eubank fell way short of expectation and his own claims - the loss will leave scars long after the wounds have healed.

Groves moved, smothered and picked away with sense throughout the fight; it was never easy but it was never very hard, even if a lot of the rounds were decided by the tiniest of margins. Groves has been shaped by defeats, heartbreak and during that bloody journey he has become a very good pro. It was not a masterclass, not a shut-out but it was one-sided in an odd way.

Eubank Jr was wild and erratic as blood poured from a cut near his eye 

Eubank Jr was very disappointing and his father and the veteran coach Ronnie Davies, the two men in his corner and at the heart of his attachment to the sport, were left baffled at the end. There were, thankfully, no excuses, but there were few answers to what was a bewildering performance. “He never listened, that was not Junior in there,” Davies said. Poor Ronnie looked exhausted in the tunnels at the Arena an hour or so after the fight. The father, as honest as ever, was blunt in defeat: “He never performed, that’s the cold truth.” It certainly is. I think Eubank Jr is a much better fighter than the one in the ring on Saturday night and he now needs to make some hard choices or risk never being the fighter he could be.

Groves is through to the final of the WBSS and, assuming his shoulder injury is not too serious, will fight some time in June. On Saturday night he fought like a seasoned champion, just like he promised. “I hurt him early and made him look like a novice,” Groves said. It was one final gloat, a last boast and nobody in the Eubank camp disagreed.

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