George Groves and Jean Pascal go into their respective fights on Saturday with an unexpected amount in common.
The most obvious connection being that both men have lost epic battles with former Super-Middleweight champion Carl Froch. However, that’s not all they have in common – they both face make or break tests at the weekend that could change the course of their careers.
For Groves, it’s a chance to make a fresh start with a brand new trainer, and quickly re-establish himself as a serious threat to the champions in the division. Pascal on the other hand has the opportunity to dethrone Light-Heavyweight king Sergey Kovalev and extended his career at the top level.
Looking back at their recent form, and using Carl Froch as an obvious comparison point, it’s easy to see why both men have their careers on the line this weekend. The Cobra would undoubtedly claim that he ‘ruined’ both men and he may be right. Neither fighter has looked quite as good since their epic battles with the Nottingham man.
Groves bounced back with two decent, if unspectacular wins, after his knockout loss to Froch, but then slipped to a split decision defeat against Badou Jack. Pascal, on the other hand, lost to Bernard Hopkins and then more comprehensively to ‘Krusher’ Kovalev, who he faces for a second time this weekend.
To be fair to Pascal, his only three defeats have come against Froch, Hopkins and Kovalev. That’s pretty stellar opposition. However, it’s the nature of his performances post-Froch that would lead one to suggest he’s gradually been on the slide.
His war with Froch was an absolute barnstormer and a fight of the year candidate which was watched by millions live on ITV. If you’ve never seen it before, I urge you to track it down online.
As a matter of fact, forget that, here are some excellent highlights in the second half of the below clip (hat tip to the Undisputed1983 YouTube account for the upload):
The pair literally stood toe-to-toe for the majority of the 12 rounds. Even though he lost that night, Pascal has arguably never looked as good.
In my opinion however, it wasn’t the Froch defeat that affected Pascal’s performances; it was the move to Light Heavyweight. The Canadian wasn’t a huge Super-Middleweight and it immediately put him at a disadvantage fighting naturally bigger men.
This wasn’t a problem against Hopkins where he was simply outsmarted by the crafty veteran, but it was certainly evident against Kovalev. Worse, the added weight has worsened Pascal’s worrying tendency to only fight for a minute of every round.
You couldn’t accuse Pascal of being lazy, but due to the sheer amount of muscle he carries on his physique he has always had a habit of fighting in spurts to conserve his stamina. This cost him against both Hopkins and Kovalev, but it’s unlikely he can change at this stage in his career.
You know what you’re going to get with Pascal and that’s usually an exciting fight. His first clash with Kovalev was a cracker – even if it was ultimately one-sided, and I don’t see Saturday’s fight being any less entertaining. Sadly for Pascal I don’t see the outcome being any different either.
And while a second loss against the ‘Krusher’ wouldn’t be the end of Pascal’s career, it would almost certainly end his run as an elite level fighter.
On paper, Groves has a much easier task ahead of him on Saturday night in his confidence builder against Andrea Di Luisa. The Italian’s best known performance was his stoppage loss to a faded Lucien Bute and if Groves is at his best it could be over very quickly.
(Highlights of Bute’s win over Di Luisa via Gankor Boxing YouTube account:)
However, let’s not forget this fight is a confidence builder for a reason – Groves has looked a shell of his former self in recent fights. That’s certainly not a dig at ‘The Saint’.
I rate the Londoner highly and enjoy watching him fight, but given how good he looked in the run-up to his first war with Froch (and during the fight itself) it’s a shame we’re now talking about him being in a must-win situation. That’s definitely the case however. Groves must win on Saturday and I’m pretty sure he will, but how he wins is the real intangible.
Under Adam Booth’s tutelage, Groves was a fast, explosive boxer-puncher capable of successfully fighting on both the front foot (as he did against Froch, Glen Johnson and others) and also on the back foot (as he did in his memorable victory against James DeGale).
His speed and movement were both great assets, but perhaps most of all he had real power in both hands – enough to put the granite-chinned Froch on his backside – coupled with very good timing.
His big weakness was a leaky defence, which manifested itself most clearly in his thrilling victory against Kenny Anderson when he had to get up off the floor to win.
No-one could doubt Groves’ heart that night or his chin (despite his later knockout loss to Froch), but it was clear he was far too open when throwing his own punches. It was something former trainer Booth berated Groves for when they were together and sadly it has cost Groves both his title challenges.
(Hat tip to the Soccer Am YouTube channel for the upload):
These defensive issues were never addressed by former trainer Paddy Fitzpatrick, who seems to have been the wrong man for the job. From the outside looking in, it appeared as if Groves was training himself at times during this period and this is never advisable.
Boxers need their trainers and leaving Fitzpatrick was absolutely the right move as it clearly wasn’t working. Groves’ confidence was understandably affected after his knockout loss to Froch at Wembley and Fitzpatrick did nothing to remedy this or the defensive errors which cost him.
Only time will tell if Shane McGuigan is the right man for Groves. The young trainer is certainly building an impressive stable with Carl Frampton, David Haye and now Groves among his star pupils and he has always talked a lot of sense.
McGuigan has done a great job with Frampton and it would be fantastic to see a rejuvenated George Groves back in the ring this Saturday.
It would also set up some mouth-watering fights for the future including a potential rematch with former rival James DeGale, as well as clashes with the likes of Liverpool’s Callum Smith, ‘King’ Arthur Abraham, or Giovanni De Carolis (surely the easiest route to a world title for the Londoner).
If McGuigan can work on Groves defense, restore his confidence and encourage him to punch with his old explosiveness again then ‘The Saint’ is capable of taking on and taking out almost anyone in the division.
Pascal and Groves may go into Saturday with an unexpected amount in common, but I’m only expecting one of them to win – and that’s ‘The Saint’. Let’s hope for a throwback performance that puts him back on the map and an exciting weekend of action involving both men.
I think we’re going to get it – with knockouts either side of the Atlantic!
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