George Groves finds himself at a crossroads after a split-decision loss to Badou Jack in his third bid for a world title. It came on the undercard of Saturday’s Floyd Mayweather-Andre Berto fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The 27-year-old from London survived a first-round knockdown, rallied to take control in the middle rounds before wilting down the stretch in Jack’s first defense of the WBC super middleweight title. Two ringside judges scored it to Jack by scores of 116-111 and 115-112, while a third had it 114-113 to Groves (the Guardian scored it 115-112 for Jack).
“I am going to take some time to work out what’s next,” said Groves (21-3, 16 KOs). “Losing a world title fight is the worst feeling in the world.”
Jack (20-1-1, 12 KOs), a Swedish native who was handpicked by Mayweather for the fighter’s nascent promotional company and captured the title with a majority-decision win over Anthony Dirrell in April, was conciliatory in victory.
“George Groves is a hell of a fighter with a very good jab and a lot of heart,” Jack said. “He was prepared for it to go 12 rounds. I should have got the knockdown but I didn’t.”
From the opening bell the fighters circled one another clockwise trading jabs to the head and body, but Jack connected with a sharp right hand upstairs that hurt Groves then followed it up moments later with a heat-seeking overhand right that dumped the Englishman to the canvas. It was enough to briefly silence the sizable contingent of British fans who populated the upper reaches of the two-thirds-empty MGM Grand Garden Arena and otherwise made themselves heard throughout the fight.
In the second Jack began landing the right hand over the top with greater frequency, a development at least as alarming as the knockdown itself. Yet Groves steadied himself and landed several stinging body shots. He made further headway in the third with a series of right uppercuts, but was cracked with a massive right hand at the end of the round.
Groves then began doubling and tripling up the left jab. He was busier if not more accurate and scoring with work rate. Then what had started as a more technical jab contest gave way to in-fighting in the fifth with Groves getting the better of the exchanges. He scored with a series of right hands as Jack fought off the back heel. That momentum redoubled in the sixth to the delight of the supporters upstairs, as he kept busy and moved Jack backward.
By then he’d taken control and seemed on his way to a title, winning the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds on all three judges’ scorecards.
But Jack bounded back nicely by recommitting himself to the body attack, appearing to hurt downstairs early in the eighth. When he snapped Groves’ neck back with a thudding overhand right early in the ninth, it appeared the Londoner was in trouble. Jack began stalking and hurting his opponent to the body at several points.
By the 10th round Groves looked utterly spent as Jack racked up points. Near the end of the frame Jack connected with a devastating right hand to the abdomen that nearly sent Groves to the canvas. Most likely in need of a knockdown entering the championship rounds Groves dug deep, most notably a one-two combination in the 11th that stung Jack. Yet it proved too little too late.
“I thought I won the fight decisively, all credit to him though scoring the knockdown in the first round,” Groves said. “I thought I controlled the fight with my jab and that I was in control throughout it appeared closer to the judges.”
Jack landed 210 of 506 shots (42%) – compared to just 154 of 721 for Groves (21%).
“Body work is becoming my signature,” said Jack, whose output included 52 power punches and 26 jabs to the body. “I want to enjoy this win but I will fight anyone.”
Groves’ previous two losses in world title fights came to countryman Carl Froch. He floored Froch in the first round of their first meeting in 2013, ultimately losing by technical knockout in the ninth round. A rematch six months later before 80,000 fans at Wembley Stadium ended when Froch scored a highlight-reel knockout in the eighth.
As with those fights, Groves, who trained at elevation for eight weeks in Big Bear Lake in California, appeared to fade down the stretch.
He rebuilt with a pair of wins over lower-level contenders to become the WBC’s mandatory challenger and earn a shot at Jack. While he said he wanted a rematch after Saturday’s disappointment, it’s unclear where he will turn next.
“Congrats to Badou,” Jack said. “I hope he has a successful reign as champion. I’d love to fight him again and hopefully I will do better next time.”
This article was written by Bryan Armen Graham at the MGM Grand, for theguardian.com on Sunday 13th September 2015 04.51 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010