Jeddah: George Groves puts his WBA belt on the line against Callum Smith in the inaugural World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) super middleweight final at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday. Here’s why it’s such a big fight in so many ways.
Saudi Arabia’s first major international sporting event
As Saudi Arabia looks to diversify its economy beyond oil through tourism as part of Vision 2030, it will begin to open up to the world by hosting sporting events inside its once-closed Kingdom. The season-opening event of motorsport’s Formula-E championship will take place in Riyadh in December, followed by golf’s European Tour holding a tournament there in January. That same month the first of three (of the next five) annual Italian Super Cup finals will also take place inside the country. For now though, the Groves-Smith fight in Jeddah this Friday represents a first, and will set the benchmark.
The GCC’s first big boxing match
From having the ideal demographics to stage a Manny Pacquiao-Amir Khan bout, to rumours of Mike Tyson being offered millions to fight Vladimir Klitschko on a yacht, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have long been linked to hosting high-level boxing. In reality though, the biggest fight here was in 1997 when Chris Eubank Senior fought Camilo Alarcon at Dubai Tennis Stadium towards the end of his career. It wasn’t for a title, let alone a world title, and didn’t garner much international attention. Groves-Smith will though, and Jeddah is the unlikeliest of locations to finally open the region’s door to the sport.
The final of an exciting new format
Boxing has always been overcomplicated by having too many sanctioning bodies and too many fighters who dodge fights claiming the money isn’t right. The inaugural World Boxing Super Series (WBSS), however, pitches the world’s top eight (in their weight category) against each other in a simple year-long Champions League-style quarter to final eliminator. Groves-Smith is the final of the super middleweight division. Given that it is going to be an annual event, Jeddah can continue hosting, grow with the format, and benefit more than it would by hosting a one-off Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. It’s also an easier way of pitching the sport to new followers.
The trophy has Ali’s name on it
Winners of each of the five WBSS finals lift the Muhammad Ali Trophy, named after the late great heavyweight boxing legend, who died in 2016. Ali’s widow Lonnie actually attended and presented the award to the winner of the first final won by Oleksandr Usyk over Murat Gussiev at cruiserweight in Moscow in July. Groves-Smith is the second of five finals and given that it is in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, just one hour away from Mecca, you can expect several fighters, who like Ali converted to Islam, to attend, for what will be a historic spiritual homecoming for the sport.
It’s an all-Brit affair
After a lean period, British boxing is back with big names in each weight division led by heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua. No other division is as hotly contested by Brits as the super-middleweight division however, where Groves, Smith and Chris Eubank Junior all loiter. Eubank Junior lost to Groves in the semi-final of this competition and will now fight Ireland’s JJ McDonagh on the undercard in Jeddah. This Brit-centric line-up is a great testament to the nation’s current boxing prowess, and it could prove a massive lure to the hundreds of thousands of British expatriates who live and work in the region.
Head to head
George Groves, 28 wins, three defeats, 20 KOs
Callum Smith, 24 wins, no defeats, 17 KOs
Chris Eubank Jr vs JJ McDonagh
Darren Surtees vs Kane Baker
Aliu Bamidele Lasisi vs Artid Bamrungauea
Kem Ljungquist vs Mourad Omar
Mikael Lawal vs Tamas Kozma
Zuhayr Al Qahtani vs Giorgi Gviniashvili