British and Commonwealth title wins over James DeGale and Paul Smith in 2011 established London based super-middleweight George Groves as one on British boxing’s brightest young talents.
However, injury has led to inactivity, but now restored to full health and fitness, the 24 year old makes a welcome return to service this weekend at the HP Pavilion, San Jose, California, when he faces off with dangerous looking Mexican Francisco ‘Panchito’ Sierra.
Prior to his departure, Groves reflected on his recent difficulties with boxing writer Glynn Evans and mapped out the path that he believes will conclude with a world title over the next 12 months.
Below is a Q and A with George Groves
Q: How do you reflect on your second round stoppage win over Paul Smith at Wembley last November? You appeared shaken by a right at the close of round one, before executing masterfully a round later.
GG: I view it positively without a doubt. The shot I took didn’t register, genuinely didn’t affect me but I was irritated I’d made a silly mistake. I’m a notoriously slow starter, always make defensive mistakes first round before I hit my rhythm and clearly that’s something I need to try and stamp out.
The right hook I finished Paul with is a very dangerous shot to throw as it leaves you exposed but he left a gap and I pounced. I was very impressed he managed to get up, albeit a bit shakily. After that, it was just a case of not letting him hold and landing another clean one on his noggin. I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity.
Q: It was something of a surprise when you opted to team up with Frank Warren, manager of your nemesis James DeGale, last year. Explain!
GG: Previously in my career I’d had the advantage of sailing through on David Haye’s slipstream, featuring on his big Hayemaker shows and profiting from the TV exposure they brought. David and Adam (Booth) always really looked after me. But when doors started to shut for David last year (following his defeat to Wladimir Klitschko), they also shut for me.
When Frank got wind I might be seeking a promoter, he showed a very strong desire to have me boxing under his banner. I had a few offers but Frank’s was easily the best.
You can’t blame him for thinking his man, James DeGale, would beat me cos everybody did! However, after I beat James, I think Frank started to seriously take note of me.
Clearly, because Frank has been involved with James longer, he has a better, personal relationship with James than with myself at the moment. That’s not a problem. In fact, it’s nice to see he’s a loyal man. But Frank knows boxing and he knows I have a bright future, in what is a very exciting weight division. If I keep winning I know I’ll have Frank’s backing.
Q: You’ve made it clear you’re in no hurry to grant European champion DeGale a rematch, despite him having better marbles than you at the minute. Are you concerned you could be pressured into one before your choosing?
GG: I’m only interested in looking after myself. If a rematch is to our benefit we’ll oblige, if it isn’t we won’t. For me, getting to the height of the division, fighting the elite, making continual, steady improvements, is what I’m about. I want to get on with my career.
James winning and retaining the European title doesn’t bother me at all. It keeps our return alive and makes for another huge, lucrative attraction. I’d certainly like the European title at some stage and mine and DeGale’s paths are definitely going to cross again at some point. Everyone saw how big it was with just British and Commonwealth belts at stake. Imagine how huge it could be if it was a world title unification with everything on the line.....if he ever gets that far!
We’re both doing our part. It’s good that James is improving, too. I want our third fight to be relatively competitive. I don’t want to be accused of abusing him!
Q: In March, you pulled out injured on the brink of your highly anticipated British title rematch with Kenny Anderson, then, almost immediately signed to challenge Robert Stieglitz for the WBO title in Germany which naturally aroused suspicions. What’s your take?
GG: About two and a half weeks before the Anderson fight, I picked up a back injury in sparring. We told nobody and had treatment every day but I couldn’t run or spar and eventually, unfortunately, I just ran out of days.
I was confident that I could beat Kenny Anderson without that training or sparring - I’d done some great work in the build up - but I had a fitness test and Adam pulled me out. I had just one CV session and that’s not ideal before a 12 round British title fight.
So I was on recovery before the Anderson fight but just didn’t have enough time for that date. Then, when I was offered the Stieglitz fight for the WBO title....what do you do? Hang around for someone you’ve already beaten by stoppage in six rounds or go for the world title?! No brainer!
Q: Champion Stieglitz had lost just twice in 43 at the time and was defending his belt for the sixth time. What made you so confident that you could topple him over in (Erfurt) Germany?
GG: I had to go to Germany because they won the purse bids but I knew I had the tools to not only beat Stieglitz over there but to stop him.
Robert’s a well accomplished fighter but I was very confident my style beats his. He throws a ridiculous volume of punches which would be very difficult to match and, even if you did, you won’t get the decision over there. But because he throws so many, he has to leave gaps and I know I’d capitalise.
Q: What exactly happened to force your withdrawal?
GG: I was preparing in Cyprus, had quality sparring, mountain runs, was getting my swims in, when I got a serious whack on the nose in sparring which dislocated the cartilage and forced me to pull out about three weeks before.
It was soul destroying, knowing all the hard work I’d put in had come to such an abrupt end. Because it was potentially the best payday of my career thus far, I’d been racking up the training expenses. Sitting back in my villa, in the dark, after the realisation, was the lowest ever moment of my boxing career.
But Stieglitz fights Arthur Abraham in August and, with me being mandatory, I think it’s realistic that me and Steiglitz still fight for the world title before this year is out.
Q: In the interim, you’ve been training alongside David Haye for his epic demolition over Dereck Chisora. Inspirational?
GG: Absolutely. Since pulling out the Stieglitz fight, I’ve done loads of sparring with David and other heavyweights plus some young frisky kids like Alan Higgins and Patrick Mendy who keep you sharp with all their nervous energy.
Dereck Chisora is a good fighter –what a chin – but David showed that when he approaches a fight correctly, he’s a great fighter. His shots were so hard, fast and crisp. David has this aura, this winning mentality which makes it really good to be around him.
Q: What do you know of Saturday’s opponent Francisco Sierra and what are you hoping to get out of the contest?
GG: I’ve seen a bit of footage but don’t know too much. He seems like he’ll let his hands go with spite and intent but I welcome that as it means he’ll leave a lot of target. Make him miss, make him pay.
I can’t wait to get over there for a bit of sunshine. It don’t f***ing stop raining here! This fight will provide me with crucial US TV exposure on Showtime and an opportunity to get my buzz back. I want to prove to Adam Booth that I can do the stuff in a fight, which I’ve been showing in the gym.
As I’ve only had a round and a half in over 14 months, the main thing I’d like would be to get some rounds. But I always have the intention of getting my opponent out of there as quickly as possible. I don’t intend artificially dragging it out.
Q: The 168lb division has one of the deepest talent pools in the sport. How far do you believe you are from a punch-up with a Froch, Ward, Bute or Kessler?
GG: Not that far. I always rise to the challenge in front of me. I’m very confident I’d have beaten Stieglitz. But, ideally, I’d prefer more fights to constantly drill in the improvements I know I’ve been making in the gym and, provided I’m kept active, there’s no need to rush. Already I can box long or trade but there’s loads more layers I can add. I intend becoming a well oiled machine that can chop and change for any opponent, have answers for all of ‘em.