By David McIntosh
Promise in sport is as common as sunshine upon the sandy plains of Saudi Arabia. The fulfilment of promise, on the other hand, can be a rare, special and sweet thing. On Friday night in the heat of Jeddah, Super-Middleweight Calum Smith eventually fulfilled his long-vaunted promise of becoming an elite fighter by knocking out George Groves in the WBSS Super Series final.
Calum, the youngest of the astonishing Smith boxing band of brothers has been touted as a world prospect for some time. Many bold claims over his boxing pedigree have emanated from within the walls of his family home, from World Champion Liam, thrice world level challenger Paul Jnr and twice world challenger Stephen. All three have pointed to “Mundo”, the unlikely yet affectionate family moniker, as the most talented boxer of their extraordinary fighting family. In claiming the Ali Trophy, the Smith family finally have an elite fighter within their ranks and a boxing dynasty that will surely never be bettered.
Smith’s performance on Friday night was notable in many respects. Smith’s journey to the final in defeating the game Erik Skoglund and the unheralded Nieky Holzken had provided little insight into whether he could step up to World level. Arguably his first true career test arrived in Jeddah and the lack of adversity across Smith’s CV contributed to him arriving as an underdog for the fight. Rightly, George Groves entered the arena as the favourite for the title. Adversity and challenge are writ large across St George’s career and his experience alone had many pundits backing the talented boxer-puncher.
In reality, Groves’ credentials looked ominously questionable as soon as the boxers faced off. Can boxing fans recall seeing a bigger Super Middleweight in action? Smith is enormous at the weight and looked neither gaunt nor leggy throughout the tactical and at time brutal seven rounds. Surely a formidable sign for others within the division watching on with interest.
The action from the off was of high quality. Groves content to sit in the pocket early on, setting traps and countering his rangy opponent, a number of trademark flashing jabs from the hip to head and body. In contrast, Smith’s judgement of distance and sharp feet enabled point-scoring in and out raids. Round 2 saw Groves attempt more on the front foot, pushing back Smith from time to time, the smaller man attempting to get inside jabs thrown from Smith’s back foot stance. Round 3 upped in tempo from both men with heavier leather being traded and the first signs that Smith’s power might breakthrough, a heavy right to the top of the head rocking Groves as he unleashed his own clubbing right cross. Tellingly Smith remained unfazed and unmoved in that particular trade-off. Buoyed by success Round 4 saw the younger man back Groves up and continue to penetrate with accurate right hands although Groves’ clever counters and gritty retaliation drew scoring success. Smith’s reach advantage and sharp timing were clear in Round 5 and at times Groves’ crouched counter-attacking style accentuated the size difference to the extent that it looked like a cruiserweight stalking a middleweight. A crunching body shot from Groves had little impact on his foe and one wondered if some doubt had begun to seep into Groves’ mind. By Round 6 Smith had Groves backing up. Some classy fluent jabs from the defending champion upset the challenger’s flow but the sense a breakthrough was coming gathered and Round 7 would see it arrive in breath-taking fashion. An uncommon front foot attack by Groves, borne from frustration and constant pressure, ended in a hard right hand blocked by Smith. Smith, in turn, followed up with an absolute beauty of a check left hook that stunned Groves and sent him stumbling back across the ring. The resistance had been breached and Smith followed up in brutal fashion. A relentless raid of heavy shots sent Groves to the ropes and a thunderous right to the body buckled Groves at the legs. A brave but beaten Groves sunk to the canvas.
Smith himself fell to his knees to be immediately swamped by his band of brothers.
For George Groves, his tilt at the Ali Trophy has fallen short but he will remain one of England’s all-time finest Super Middleweight fighters. Once a man who may never have achieved his dream of winning a world title, Groves’ class, resilience and bravery took him to deserved world honours at a fourth attempt. He should rightly enjoy some time to recover and reflect on a hugely successful two years as WBA World Champion.
For Calum “Mundo” Smith, his promise is just being realised. Undefeated, WBA World Champion, WBSS Super Series Champion and, at last, unequivocally the best of the fighting Smith band of brothers.