By Geoff Poundes
On Saturday night at the Excel Arena in London, local boy George “The Saint” Groves, 15-0, 12 KO’s, continues his professional education when he takes on seasoned veteran Glen Johnson, 51-17-2, 35 KO’s, over twelve rounds. He’ll be defending his 168 pound Commonwealth title.
43-yea- old Johnson has lost five of his last seven, but that doesn’t tell the whole story – those losses were against the likes of Lucian Bute, Carl Froch, Chad Dawson and Tavoris Cloud. What he may now lack in ambition, Johnson will more than make up for with experience and know-how.
It’s a testament to Groves’ potential that most commentators have him winning this fight at a canter, even after only 15 fights as a pro, but the reality could be very different if Johnson is able to draw the young Englishman into a war – Groves has been prone at times in his short career to fancying a bit of a tear-up, thereby leaving his chin out to dry. Johnson has the kind of smarts to take advantage of any slips in concentration.
That said, 24-year-old Groves is an intelligent boy, and has a wily cornerman in Adam Booth – the pair of them were exceptional eighteen months ago when they plotted Groves’s razor-thin decision victory over arch-rival James DeGale, and with The Saint now perched on the fringes of world title contention it’s doubtful they’ll leave too much to chance with old man Johnson.
In the final analysis Groves should be too young and strong for the aging Road Warrior, and should race to a wide decision. Johnson hasn’t been stopped for fifteen years (Bernard Hopkins managed to stop him in eleven rounds in 1997), so it’s likely he’ll be upright at the final bell.
Ricky Burns was due to top the Excel Arena bill, but has failed to find an opponent, so the chief support to Groves is fellow up-and-comer Billy Joe Saunders, 15-0, 10 KO’s who defends his own Commonwealth middleweight title against 22 year old former British title challenger Nick Blackwell. Blackwell, 12-1, 6 KO’s, has re-established himself since being handed a beating by Martin Murray for the title last year, but 23 year old Saunders is something special, and should put paid to his challenger within five or six rounds.