Originally written on The Queensbury Rules  |  Last updated 10/11/14

(Paul Smith, left; George Groves, right)

Since its inception in 1984, Britons have found the super middleweight division to be a bountiful and treasure-laden hunting ground. Alphabet title plunderers at 168 lbs. have included Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn, Robin Reid, Joe Calzaghe and most recently of all, Carl Froch. And the success of this bunch, pioneered by the inimitable Eubank in 1991, gifted other, fellow domestic fighters the opportunity to contest world honours they might never have received -- with rope ladders having been dangled down before men such as Henry Wharton, Lou Gent, Nicky Piper, Dave Starie and of course, one other.

Great rivalries germinated as a result -- the Benn-Eubank tempest a prime example -- although one in particular remains forever unrequited, namely the protracted flirtation between Calzaghe and Froch. The latest incarnation involves amateur team mates turned professional enemies, George Groves and James DeGale, with Groves looking to put yet another one over on his rival this weekend as he seeks to make a statement against recent DeGale victim Paul Smith.

DeGale was made to look a million dollar baby in dismantling Smith back in December, slipping, sliding and check hooking his way to a dominant nine-round stoppage victory. It was an unedifying night for the then British champion Smith, humiliated by a cocky young upstart in his own backyard of Liverpool. He was never in the fight.

Smith, 31-2 (17), has rebounded since, with a pair of relatively simple stoppage victories over middleweight journeymen Jozsef Matolcsi and Paul Samuels, both of which proved little, other than at which poundage “Smigga” looks to be better suited. Smith is slight for a super middleweight, and in Groves, he squares off against a big and powerful foe -- confident yet raw, physically gifted yet vulnerable with it.

Groves, 13-0 (10), came perilously close to calamity in his 11th contest, against the more meat and potatoes Scot, Kenny Anderson. In round 3, the green-as-grass Groves acceded to the Edinburgh scrapper’s insistence he move backwards into the ropes, and then responded wildly to being clipped once there. Opting to blaze back in retaliation, Groves found himself wobbled with a grazing shot to the temple and then floored with a short, stabbing right towards the end of an alarming session. Anderson’s follow-up assault, culminating in a hip toss which sent Groves to the floor, left the Hammersmith bomber barely able to limp back onto his stool. And while “Saint” George rallied to halt his tormentor violently in the 6th, it had been a mighty close call.

After easing himself back gently against the Ghanaian, Daniel Adotey Allotey, in Huddersfield, Groves went on to trump his great nemesis DeGale in May, pipping him via close decision in a nervy, chess match type affair. Emboldened anew, Groves will be aiming to revert back to his more destructive form against an opponent who, though gritty and hard, is there to be hit and has the sort of tissue paper skin that makes shaving appear an exercise in self-harm.

In a fight many fancy might be close, Groves could look sensational. Boxing at the outer limits of the ring, the 23-year-old climber will look to make Smith’s aggression work against him, utilising cat-like counterpunching delivered with heavy hands which, quite frankly, could make a mess of Smith before the finish. Smith, now boxing under the tutelage of Manchester guru Joe Gallagher, will be fit, game and aggressive, yet in all likelihood, remains too one-dimensional to pull this long shot off.

It will be entertaining while it lasts, and pounds well spent for the Wembley Arena crowd in London, yet Groves can make wide strides in dominating throughout, a result that will persuade the Merseyside man, now 29, to make one last run at things down at middleweight. Groves should have his arms held high before 10 rounds are out.

The headline act is perplexing. Coatbridge fighter Ricky Burns, who became an unlikely alphabet world titlist 14 months back after a valiant victory over Puerto Rican wildcat, Roman Martinez (down at junior lightweight), boldly invades the lightweight division against its notorious blood and thunder merchant, Michael Katsidis.

Katsidis, 28-4 (23), from Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia, must view Britain as his own personal Fortress of Solitude, a cold and forbidding environment in which to regenerate his waning powers. Although to be fair, he’s looked a little less than super of late.

Since his last visit to British shores, when he mashed an overawed Kevin Mitchell inside three rounds, Katsidis has gone down in flames against lightweight king Juan Manuel Marquez, and then taken a shellacking at the mitts of the resurgent Californian, Robert Guerrero. A confidence boosting comeback win aside, it remains to be seen what Katsidis has left in the tank.

Burns, 32-2 (9), boxing under the stewardship of Billy Nelson up in Scotland, is in rude form, and will look to outjab his marauding foe from range, hoping he can weather the visitor’s bristling assaults (likely to arrive in waves) before romping home on the cards. Katsidis, as ever, will rumble recklessly into his man, hooking sharply to the body while shooting missiles over Ricky’s lead paw.

Bookmakers see Katsidis as a big favourite here; he’s the more seasoned campaigner and the bigger man to boot. At 7/4 (Katsidis can be backed at 4/7), Burns looks a nicely-priced live underdog, yet with no real pedigree at 135 lbs. and with only one world class win to his name, it’s difficult to make a case for him springing an upset. Though he’ll have almost certainly lost a step, Katsidis should be able to forge his way home on points. In bouts such as this, though, where both men are entering into the unknown (Is Burns a world class lightweight? Is Katsidis damaged goods?), it’s difficult to be certain what on Earth might lie in store once the opening bell rings.
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