George Groves fight against Callum Smith set to take place in Jeddah as Manuel Charr bout with Fres Oquendo confirmed
Manuel Charr’s WBA heavyweight title defense against Fres Oquendo has been confirmed for Sept. 29 — the day after George Groves and Callum Smith are expected to fight in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
The Lebanese-German has been awaiting a new date for his first title defense since the cancelation of the May 4 match-up that had been heading for Chicago, and he will instead fight his mandatory challenger at Cologne’s Lanxess Arena in what is expected to prove the most significant week of boxing the Middle East will have ever experienced.
In addition to Charr-Oquendo on the 29th, Arab News understands that the WBA super-middleweight title fight and World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) final between defending champion Groves and his fellow Briton Smith will be confirmed for Sept. 28 at King Abdullah Sports City.
Confirmation of their lucrative fight is set to come after the five-month period of uncertainty that has followed Groves suffering a dislocated shoulder while convincingly defeating Chris Eubank Jr. in February.
The cruiserweight final between Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev was also postponed during that time, and moved from Jeddah to Moscow.
The 33-year-old Charr, the world’s first Arab heavyweight champion, will have been inactive for almost a year by the time he fights Oquendo, having outpointed Alexander Ustinov last November to move into contention to meet some of the world’s biggest names.
“I’m really looking forward to the fight,” he said.
“Since beating Ustinov everything is happening. Now, as world champion at home in Cologne, I can box in front of my fans and this is the greatest thing I can imagine.
“Fres is a very strong and experienced opponent, I certainly will not be underestimating him. I’ve known a long time we would fight and have always looked up to him. It will be an honor to go up against him in the ring.”
Charr remains the favorite to overcame Puerto Rico’s Oquendo, 45, and is also understood to be a likely target for Britain’s former unified champion Tyson Fury.
Fury’s second fight since beginning his comeback comes against Italy’s little-known Francesco Pianeta on Aug. 18 at Belfast’s Windsor Park. The first was a victory over Sefer Seferi, who Charr defeated before he overcame Ustinov, and should he again succeed next month he is expected to begin pursuing higher-profile opponents and at a time when Charr — in the event of overcoming Oquendo — would also be targeting the richest possible fights.
“I should already be world champion,” Oquendo said. “I’ve gone ahead and waited for my chance.”
The delays and uncertainty previously surrounding Charr-Oquendo are similar to those experienced by Groves, Smith and the WBSS, who have said the date and location of Groves-Smith will be confirmed later this week. It took until May for the 30-year-old Groves to be passed fit to participate in the competition’s final, and since then even he has grown frustrated with the delays regarding a location and date.
Venues in London — where it was expected to be — Manchester and the Midlands were all considered but an agreement with the General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia (GSA) to stage one of the WBSS finals in Jeddah means that the all-British match-up is instead heading East, with British fight fans expected to fly to the Saudi Arabian city to watch the bout.
An elbow injury suffered by Usyk forced the postponement of the cruiserweight final against Gassiev from May to last Saturday, which was also moved partly owing to concerns surrounding the intense heat in Jeddah in July. The GSA secured the rights to a WBSS final as part of a wider attempt to bring high-profile sporting events to the Kingdom and in Groves-Smith will perhaps host a fight with greater mainstream appeal than Usyk-Gassiev.
“It’s a bit strange, a big domestic fight with two Brits, 99 times out of 100 you’d think it would be in Britain,” Smith said.
“Regardless of where the fight is, it’s a level playing field for both of us.”
Groves’ rematch in 2014 against Carl Froch attracted a then-record 78,000-strong crowd to Wembley Stadium, largely owing to his efforts to promote it. His subsequent success in winning a world title and defeat of Eubank Jr. means that his fight against the highly-rated Smith, 28, will likely define his career.
It is also understood that Eubank Jr. remains in contention to fight Smith in Jeddah should Groves suffer a recurrence of his injury. Fellow Briton James DeGale also hopes to challenge the winner of Groves-Smith, giving their match-up yet further appeal.