Eubank Jr vs. Groves analysis
By Tony McKenna: It was the night Chris Eubank Jr came of age. In Wembley Arena, on 15th July 2017, Eubank Jr put on a masterclass of boxing. He exhibited the full superfluity of his movements; that ceaseless, undulating flow of hooks and uppercuts, opening up his opponent’s defence like waves cascading across a crumbling sea wall. Easy, nimble on his feet – quick darting feints of the head left him tantalizingly just out of reach, but on those few occasions when his rugged, tank-like opponent was able to land cleanly with a whistling left over the top, Eubank Jr seemed unphased, his smooth chiselled features lighting up momentarily in an amused smile.
His opponent, Arthur Abraham, was no longer at the peak of his career, this is true. Aged 37, his battle with Eubank Jr was his 52nd professional fight, but the three-time former world champion was still a world class fighter and a dangerous prospect with a granite chin and a devastating knockout capacity to boot. Eubank Jr’s victory, however, was about more than just his opponent’s defeat; it was also a victory over some of the kinks and imperfections which had bedeviled his early career.
Junior had always been an incredibly fluid puncher, able to put forward beautiful, seamless combinations featuring every type of punch, but he had also demonstrated a tendency to go to sleep in a fight, to take rounds off. In his fight with Billy Joe Saunders some years before – the only defeat on his record – he looked languid in the early rounds, and such inactivity no doubts cost him the eventual points decision. In addition, Junior’s defence sometimes seemed haphazard and flaky, and he tended to overcompensate by standing toe-to-toe, the temptation to overwhelm his opponents with a dazzling display often overriding the more thoughtful and deliberate game plan.
But in the Abraham fight, Eubank Jr appeared a more seasoned, rounded and harmonious fighter. His consummate defence – on the back foot, dropping the shoulder, making the opponent miss – perhaps owed something to his sparring sessions with Floyd Mayweather Jr. At the same time, there was a rhythm and control to his performance which suggested the young man was playing a longer game, looking at the fight as a whole, unleashing his flurries less frequently but more tellingly, snapping the jab. Behind the flamboyance and dominance Eubank Jr evinced that night lay a fight plan which was tactical, even and highly regulated. One had the impression of a boxer approaching an apex by which youth and experience had fused in a perfect equilibrium.
I am not sure that one can say the same of George Groves, the boxer Eubank Jr will confront on 17th this month. Groves, it is true, has enjoyed something of a renaissance; having suffered back-to-back losses against Carl Froch – the second entailing a devastating knockout – and having lost a points decision to Badou Jack in 2015, Groves rallied, winning his first Super Middle Weight title in 2017 in a stellar performance against Fedor Chudinov culminating in a knockout via body shot. Groves’ road to the top has been considerably more rocky that Eubank Jr’s, but his advocates argue, quite rightly, that he has fought a higher calibre of opponent, and that his experience will prove telling.
In terms of style George Groves provides a marked contrast to Eubank Jr; whereas the latter is fluid, and luminous, the punches arriving in free-flowing cascades – the former is brittle and spare, a vicious angular jab snapped out with machine like accuracy, a fast swiping hook from a crouched position flashing across the flank of his opponent. Groves is a sharp shooter, throws far less than Eubank Jr, but picks his shots more carefully, and his defence is more impregnable for this reason.
He is an excellent technical fighter – a good counter-puncher, but generally he tends to stalk his opponents, from that awkward poised position, using his keen boxing brain to figure out that chink in the armor, that flaw, before viciously exploiting it; he is both a tactical fighter and an offensive one. We saw this in the first fight with Carl Froch, where Groves drew winding circles around the champion, drawing him close at awkward angles, before consistently beating to the punch.
That first fight, of course, was famously and controversially stopped to Groves’ disadvantage, but up until that point all three judges had Groves ahead on the scorecards. I think we can expect a similar dynamic in the Groves-Eubank Jr fight; that is to say Groves will look to exploit any technical weakness on Eubank Jr’s part by using the accuracy of his jab to the head, by endeavoring to undermine the fluency of Eubank Jr’s flurries, doggedly breaking him down thereby. Groves will be awkward but offensive, using technique to disrupt rhythm, accuracy to undermine flow.
But the problem with such a tactic it is still premised on beating Eubank Jr to the punch; or to say the same, the decisive factor in this fight will inevitably boil down to one of speed. On this issue Eubank Jr clearly has the advantage; his reflexes, speed and work rate of late have all looked phenomenal. Groves is the bigger man, and I suspect that his only real chance might come from Groves’ swift ability to hone in on slight error, a lapse of concentration on Junior’s part, which might allow Groves to land a knockout punch.
Short of a knockout, however, it doesn’t seem likely Groves can win. And a knockout is a tremendously big ask, especially given the solidity of Junior’s chin. At the same moment, Groves is fighting someone who seems to be entering his zenith as a fighter. We are looking at a decisive Eubank Jr win by way of points.