GEORGE GROVES’ biggest concern about his World Boxing Super Series final with Callum Smith isn’t so much having to travel to Saudi Arabia, or even nurse the shoulder he injured in his semi-final against Chris Eubank Jnr. It’s the possibility of having to fight in an open air stadium on September 28 in spite of the desert heat.
“It’s a big Olympic Stadium but there are indoor arenas attached apparently,” Groves, the WBA super-middleweight champion, said of the venue in Jeddah. “I can’t imagine they are looking at selling 70,000 tickets for this fight and doing it outside so it’s most likely that it will be an indoor arena with some air con. Otherwise, it’s no longer a fight is it? It’s something else. It’s an endurance challenge to see who wants it most.”
Both fighters are English, will be training in England and won’t travel to the Middle East until the week of the fight. Air conditioning therefore would preferable. “Neither of us would appreciate fighting outdoors in that heat and humidity but who knows? I’m pretty sure they’re sensible,” Groves said.
But then it’s somewhat unusual, to say the least, to have this all British world title fight in Saudi Arabia in the first place. “It took them so much time because they were deciding whether to do it in the UK or Saudi Arabia. It worked out that there’s more incentives to have it abroad, and they’ve had to find a date in the calendar that doesn’t clash with other big fights. It wasn’t going to be the week before because they didn’t want to go head-to-head with Wembley Stadium. It’s a date we can now work towards, put that stress behind us and we’re good to go,” Groves reflected.
The delay in finally setting a September 28 date for the contest has allowed Groves to focus on rehabilitating the shoulder he dislocated against Eubank. “This [injury], you’ve got to learn to walk again. It’s coming back. I’m back sparring now, proper sparring, we’ve got Chria Billam-Smith [a cruiserweight] in the gym who’s good sparring for Callum Smith, and he’s come on a lot since we sparred last time. We’re doing alright; we’re on our way,” he said. “From the explanation we got it’s the ball and socket’s basically gone, disappeared under the pressure. When the shoulder pops up, the muscles go into spasm and crush the bone, so there’s a big divot missing from there. Instead of adding bone to the divot they extend the shoulder, taking bone from one side of the pec side of the shoulder and taking tendon with it, the tendon and extra bone and two screws secure it in place. We saw one of the leading surgeons in the country from the best clinic in the country. They’re very happy with the option of the surgery we chose. The major damage is that it’s rock solid; you’ve got to try and get mobility back in there.”
“Now I’ve got the mobility back,” he continued. “Because I’ve given it so much attention, and been lucky enough to get some real good work, we’ll be back sooner than most people with similar injuries would be. Fortunately I’ve got enough money to invest in my shoulder, and the expertise to get there.”
Being a world champion, taking part in major fights, gives him the resources to prolong his career. Tending to it could have cost him in the region of £50,000 out of his own pocket. “That’s why you’re lucky enough to be in this position [at the top level], that’s why fighters in this stage of their careers manage to do a bit better than when you’re at the start. At the start of my career I still would have paid for it, even if I’d had to borrow it to pay for the actual surgery, but with the rehab I couldn’t have afforded to see a specialist,” he said.
The injury was so severe that when it happened while he was being taken to hospital in Manchester in February, he was concerned it could have ended his career. But if it had forced him out of boxing Groves would have left the sport a contented man. “I’ve had some great experiences in boxing, it [the Eubank fight] was one of them, it wasn’t the best but it was a very good one, so that’s fine. It would be a decent way [to go out]. Hopefully when I do decide to call it a day, it’ll be something as good as the Eubank fight,” he said.
“It would be a great way to wrap it up, in a big fight, a big seller and a win. Sometimes they come around, sometimes they don’t. I’m not too fussed, I won’t be chasing them.”
After winning his world title, were he to win the World Boxing Super Series and the Muhammad Ali trophy, he’ll be running out of goals to accomplish. “I will be struggling for things to tick off the bucket list,” Groves thought, but added, “I’ll find a couple. I’m pretty much there.”