Boxing News At Five

Boxing News at Five: Groves and Smith get sunburnt in Saudi Arabia, and Joshua and Hearn get three more years

george groves
Action Images/Carl Recine
George Groves and Callum Smith will fight in Saudi Arabia in September, and Anthony Joshua and Eddie Hearn will remain best friends for at least three more years

THE George Groves and Callum Smith World Boxing Super Series saga ending up in Saudi Arabia is a bit like buying a Ferrari with a dent and paint damage, leaving it in the garage for six months, removing its engine and wheels, and then trying to ride it as if it were a horse.

It still looks good, if a little neglected. It still works, if you reapply the engine and wheels. But, ultimately, it needs to be used properly. Drive it, don’t ride it.

Oh well. It’s happening. We know that now. We know the location for the super-middleweight final is the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and that the date is Friday, September 28, and that the temperature in Jeddah is currently 38 degrees.

“The super-middleweight final in Saudi Arabia, where the Muhammad Ali name and legacy is so revered, has all the ingredients to capture the world on a stage not normally associated with boxing,” said promoter Kalle Sauerland.

“Groves vs. Smith is an incredible match-up between two proven gladiators, two rivals, and certainly a final not to be missed.”

The reason for the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) super-middleweight final ending up in Saudi Arabia of all places should be clear enough to anyone who realises all these super-middleweights and cruiserweights and now bantamweights and super-lightweights aren’t being paid by one man, or through ticket sales, or through pay-per-view sales, or in IOUs.

Which is to say, there’s more to this project than its frontman, Kalle Sauerland. Not only that, through powers of deduction, we can work out that those in control – really in control – will probably call Groves vs. Smith a home fixture.

It’s also safe to say one of the finals – either super-middleweight or cruiserweight – had to end up taking place in Saudi Arabia (Oleksandr Usyk cleverly wriggled out of that one), at the request of the (major) money men, and that the two fighters involved, Groves and Smith, will be only too happy to oblige. After all, it means they get paid – well.

The downside to this is obvious, of course. As much as The Road to Jeddah is necessary, there has been a fair amount of backlash from British fans, many of whom will have paid to watch the two Brits in earlier tournament action, and many of whom will have found themselves googling Jeddah in order to discover if it’s closer to London or Liverpool only to then weep.

Enraged fans won’t care one bit about the reasons behind the decision or, indeed, the fact it was likely one taken out of the WBSS promoter’s hands. They don’t want to know why. All they know is they don’t like it. Not one bit.

George Groves vs Callum Smith

But they are right on one thing and it’s this: Groves vs. Smith, hardly an easy sell in the UK, what with September being a busy month crammed with at least two bigger and better fights, is now going to be damn near impossible to promote the right way and garner the attention it deserves – both beforehand and on the night itself.

A couple of low-key guys, Groves, 28-3 (20), and Smith, 24-0 (17), don’t do a lot of talking at the best of times and they certainly won’t fabricate a rivalry or cook up beef before a one-off date in Saudi Arabia. They will train, they will lose weight, and they will fight. Their pay packet, after all, is guaranteed, and seemingly, given the great need for this final to end up in Saudi Arabia, doesn’t hinge on pay-per-view or ticket sales. (A good thing, too, because those tickets aren’t being bought. They’re being gifted.)

The concern, then, is that an intriguing match-up, highly anticipated in February or March, falls through the cracks and is eventually watched by a fraction of the people who would have shown an interest had it been handled differently.

Money isn’t everything.

Actually, who am I kidding? Of course it is.

George Groves vs Chris Eubank Jr

In other news, Anthony Joshua and Eddie Hearn have listened to The Reverend Al Green and decided to stay together.

The WBA, IBF and WBO world heavyweight champion today announced a new three-year promotional deal with Matchroom Boxing, one that starts with a September 22 defence against Alexander Povetkin, and, frankly, it should come as no surprise to anyone.

Joshua turned professional with Hearn and Matchroom Boxing in 2013 and has, through 21 fights, been managed, promoted and moved expertly – as well, in fact, as any British boxer in recent memory. He has secured three of the four major world titles, the first of which he acquired in just his sixteenth fight, and has become one of the most marketable and recognisable faces in British sport.

Much of this is to do with Joshua’s ability, punch power and knack for winning, of course, but, equally, his promotional company have been as smooth and adroit outside the ropes as he has been between them. That’s the truth. It’s why they’re getting rich together. It’s why they’ve agreed to stay together and get even richer together.

“When I decided to become a professional boxer, I felt the boxing market was stagnant and in need of new energy,” said Joshua, 21-0 (20). “Both Matchroom and Sky have backed me and given me opportunity after opportunity, and I will always deliver.

“They’ve worked very hard to give me a platform to showcase my skills and tell my story. So, choosing to renew our deal was always a matter of when not if. We have created history together and we are dedicated to keeping the UK scene in high demand for all boxers and boxing fans. But, for me personally, the journey is nowhere near finished yet.”

Anthony Joshua

Eddie Hearn, Matchroom Managing Director, said: “I am delighted to extend our promotional agreement with Anthony and also extend his relationship with Sky Sports.

“Anthony is a huge part of the Matchroom family and we have been with him from the debut to unifying the world heavyweight titles. He is the biggest star in the sport and we look forward to more success, more iconic nights and seeing him become undisputed heavyweight champion.”

Three more years! Three more years! Let’s hope in that period, as well as making ungodly amounts of money, Joshua and Hearn also find the time to lure Deontay Wilder, the WBC champion, into a boxing ring. That would be nice.

Deontay Wilder

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