Can ‘sick-note’ Groves get back on track vs semi-retired Johnson?
Big fight preview; George Groves vs Glen Johnson plus undercard
By Michael J Jones
London’s Commonwealth champion George Groves looks to put a disappointing twelve months behind him when he takes on aging veteran Glen Johnson at the Excel Arena London tonight.
The twelve rounder tops a good-looking bill which also features talented young fighters in Billy Joe Saunders, Tony Conquest and Steve O’ Meara.
Groves, now 15-0 (12), has had a year full of set-backs since his crushing two-round blow-out of more experienced scouser Paul Smith in November of last year. A British and Commonwealth defence against previous stoppage victim Kenny Anderson was aborted due to injury. The 24-year-old Londoner was then matched against Robert Stieglitz for the WBO world title in May of this year before a nose injury forced him out again.
Eight long months after his KO of Smith Groves finally returned in July to force a sixth-round defeat on tricky Francisco Sierra in California. A cut right eye suffered in an otherwise solid victory has meant the unbeaten Englishman has been kept inactive for another five months leading up to his test with Glen Johnson.
Jamaican hard-man Johnson hasn’t been anywhere his best form of late and is now nearly 44-years-old. The former world champion has also had 70 bouts to Groves’ meagre 15. Johnson turned pro when George was just five-years-old.
Luckily for the champion, Johnson is some eight years past his glory years which saw him beat Clinton Woods, Roy Jones Jr and Antonio Tarver back-to-back. Of his recent defeats, Johnson has shown considerable wear and tear from his near-twenty year career which has seen him take on scores of top-level fighters from middleweight to light-heavyweight. He is more than worthy of his nickname of “The Road Warrior”.
Worryingly for the 51-17-2 (35) pressure fighter, he’s coming off three straight losses which lead to a brief retirement earlier this year. The durable war-horse has also had recent surgery on a niggling elbow injury which could hamper his ability to throw his punches.
In two decades, only a prime Bernard Hopkins has managed to halt Johnson which occurred over fifteen years ago in Glen’s first defeat. The soon-to-be 44-year-old, could make an argument to be unbeaten in the UK after stopping Toks Owoh and going 1-1-1 against Clinton Woods (when all seemed like clear decisions for Johnson).
I don’t see Johnson getting knocked out and I believe the bout may be tougher than many are predicting. Don’t be surprised if Groves loses a few rounds and has to navigate some rough patches but by the final bell, I think the Londoner will have done more than enough to take the decision.
Hopefully rematches with arch rivals James DeGale and new British champion Kenny Anderson will follow in 2013. Many are insisting former victim James DeGale has leap-frogged Groves since there tense grudge match 18 months ago. In that time, southpaw DeGale has won and defended the European title in bouts screened live by Channel 5. Anderson has rebounded also to lift the British title vacated by injury-ridden Groves. The teak-tough Edinburgh man has been eager for revenge since a controversial stoppage defeat two year ago.
In the chief supporting bout, evenly-matched prospects Steve O’ Meara and Liverpool’s Liam Smith meet over twelve rounds for the vacant Commonwealth light-middleweight title. It promises to be a lively affair between two solid operators.
O’Meara may be the slight favourite going in. After early points defeats to the late Brett Flourney (in Prizefighter) and Joe Selkirk, the Londoner was written off as a serious contender but has come back with venom in recent contests.
In September of last year, Steve featured in another even-looking contest versus 9-0 Ryan Toms for the vacant Southern Area title and surprisingly halted his unbeaten foe in the first. To prove it was no freak result, Steve then defended with a 51-second dismissal of Nathan Weise.
A period of inactivity followed due to injury and illness but the 28-year-old came back in September to pound Tony Randall to a third-round defeat. That win took his record to 16-2 (5) with three knockouts in his last three.
Opponent Smith is currently 12-0-1 (5) and has done little wrong so far in his four years as a pro. The Joe Gallagher-trained Liverpool fighter’s only blemish is a four-round draw with tricky Terry Carruthers two years ago. In his most recent bout, “Beefy” impressively out-scored decent Scot Gary McMillan over ten rounds at the Liverpool Olympia. The scouse slugger has also stayed busier than O’Meara this year with four contests (all wins).
It’s a pick em’ affair which will likely go the full route but I lean towards O’Meara to grind out a close points decision over his bullish opponent. His faster hands and better foot-work should lean the bout in his favour in what should prove an entertaining fight.
Also in Commonwealth title action is middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders. The southpaw former Olympian has been impressing in recent performances and seems destined to compete at a higher level down the line. The 23-year-old is skilful and has heavy hands; few have tested him to date as he’s raced to a perfect 15-0 (10). Nine of his ten stoppages have come in the first two rounds and the only men who have gone the distance recently have been Gary Boulden and Bradley Pryce who both tasted the power early before going into their shell.
Challenger for the belt is fellow Englishman Nick Blackwell. The 22-year-old Wiltshire boxer was making steady progress early in his career before being thrown in against world rated St Helens contender Martin Murray last year. Unsurprisingly, the out-classed youngster lost his unbeaten record in five one-sided rounds.
Since that lone defeat, Blackwell has come back well to win all four subsequent bouts via the short route to move to 12-1 (6). Probably the most impressive of those victories being a four-round annihilation of puncher Martin Concepcion last March. Nick also holds a resounding ten-round decision over Yorkshire’s tough Harry Matthews. He’s no mug and could prove tricky to pin down for Saunders early on.
Billy Joe looks something special though and I can see him wearing the game Blackwell down for a conclusive stoppage somewhere around the eighth to continue his march to world honours.
Also on the bill are two ten-rounders in the cruiserweight and welterweight divisions respectively.
The cruiserweight clash sees top-prospect Tony Conquest take on Rotherham’s Neil Dawson in defence of his recently won WBO International belt. Dawson looks to be in over his head against a rapidly-improving fighter.
Conquest is 10-0 (4) and this year has stopped both former British champion Leon Williams and tough Irishman Ian Tims to demonstrate his improving punch power. The Essex fighter looks set to take on British champion Jon Lewis Dickinson next year in a British title shot providing he can stay unbeaten.
At 10-1 (3) Dawson has only had one more fight than Conquest despite turning pro some seven years beforehand. The tall 32-year-old’s only loss was a knockout defeat to Blackpool’s Matty Askin for the Central Area belt early last year. Dawson competed well against his aggressive opponent early before crumbling in the concluding session. The Yorkshire-man has also been on the canvas in wins over Tony Moran and Menay Edwards.
Expect the hungrier, younger Conquest to impress with an early stoppage.
Last title fight on the bill is a Southern Area bout between unbeaten Bradley Skeete and all-action bruiser Chas Symonds. Londoner Symonds has endured a stop-start career since Ross Minter wiped him out several years ago. Chas, 17-5 (5), won the belt in April with a clear decision over Darryl Still in London. Chas’ only defeat in recent years was a tough distance reverse against strong Gavin Tait.
Skeete, 9-0, has all of the physical advantages in the contest. Bradley will tower over 5’6” Symonds at 6’1” and is also five years younger at 25.
The pick is for the taller, fresher fighter to use his slashing long punches to stop Symonds on cuts or clean knockout by the middle rounds. It’ll be exciting while it lasts and Chas won’t go down without a fight.
Footnote; Arthur Abraham defends his WBO super-middleweight title against French underdog Mehdi Bouadla on the same night in Nuremberg. Groves, with no easy champions in the division, could take on the Germany-based Armenian in the first half of next year providing he comes through against Johnson. Abraham looks ripe for the taking after losses to Anthony Dirrell, Carl Froch and Andre Ward in recent years. Bouadla was stopped only last year by Mikkel Kessler and should suffer a similar fate to the champion.
Weights for the fighters-
George Groves 11st 13lbs
Glen Johnson 11st 13½lbs
Billy Joe Saunders 11st 5lbs
Nick Blackwell 11st 4½ lbs
Chas Symonds 10st 6½lbs
Bradley Skeete 10st 6½lbs
Steve O’ Meara 10st 12¾lbs
Liam Smith 10st 13½lbs
Tony Conquest 14st 2lbs
Neil Dawson 14st 2lbs