By Liam Lawer @longcountboxing
It is easy to forget, given the protracted and frustrating preparations, that this contest marks the culmination of a tournament once refreshing and full of potential. An all-British final was a distinct possibility, one of those unforgettable nights in a packed-out stadium under the evening sky.
It would have rained, probably, and none of the ‘thousands in attendance’ would have cared. Now, before two of our best fight for supremacy, little of this romance remains. For this long-awaited conclusion we must instead travel to the arid heart of the Middle-East, stopping at the resort city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Temperatures this Friday are expected to exceed 40 degrees. It is exclusive, expensive, distant, and stripped of that special atmosphere. Let us then try and remember just how good this fight really is, and the importance it holds within the division.
Always the bridesmaid to the exceptional Cruiserweight bracket, the long anticipated Super Middleweight final is nevertheless a marriage of styles, skills and stories which make for an intriguing match-up. Groves, at this stage a veteran forged by the highs and lows of a Hollywood career, looks to star in his most triumphant scene of all. Smith, the prospect frozen in time, is finally testing himself at the highest level, hoping to land on the right side of the record books forever. For both, the trinkets that come with victory may not even be as tantalising as the status of being number one, and the making of history.
His chilling knockout of Luke Blackledge shows the danger he possesses
Their paths to this denouement however, are stark in contrast. Saint George’s 28(20)-3(2)-0 record does not make obvious the pain and strife he has suffered, nor the great strength of character shown to bounce back. The nastiness of the DeGale era, the crushing Froch saga and the reckless heart shown against Chudinov are not reflected by mere numbers. There is a trove of experience hidden within. In this tournament, a frenetic war with Jamie Cox was followed by a clever out-hustling of Chris Eubank Jr, showing multiple facets of Groves’ game. An injury in the latter fight has caused this one to be postponed. The status of its recovery adds another layer of interest to this already compelling contest.
Mundo’s 24(17)-0-0 ledger, on the other hand, reflects his easy progression. A career in stasis, he initially burst on the scene with all the promise and power a promoter could dream of. He disposed of European level talents such as Hadillah Mohoumadi and even recent champion Rocky Fielding with brutal efficiency. His chilling knockout of Luke Blackledge shows the danger he possesses late into the fight, and the potential he has to end it early. Lately, somehow, the momentum has subsided. His wins in this tournament have been assured but uninspiring, especially in a workmanlike points victory over late replacement Nieky Holzken.
Three years on from a WBC mandatory challenger shot, only now is he fighting an opponent of world class calibre. He’s good, no question about it, but if he is as great as his initial exposure suggested, he’ll have to prove it in this fight. Perhaps Joe Gallagher has masterminded this rise expertly, perhaps he has been protected for a reason. This could be the breakout fight or the end of the mystique, making it all the more absorbing to follow.
As the first series of the WBSS draws to a close, it deserves to go out reminding us of why we were so excited in the first place. This may well provide it. A seasoned champion versus a puncher finally let loose on worthy opposition. The winner rises to the top of the division. As for a prediction, Smith’s freshness may also be his greatest weakness. Assuming his shoulder is fully healed, it should be expected for Groves to use his all-encompassing experience to work out the Scouse bomber, and win the fight by a clear but competitive points decision.
If he can stand the heat.