Just over two weeks ago a historic deal was announced for these two pugilists, Carl Froch (34-2, 23 KOs), the WBA/IBF super-middleweight champion, and George Groves (20-1, 15 KOs), to finally sort out their differences inside a 90,000, “blood red,” seated stadium.
The anticipation for the May 31 rematch has obviously overwhelmed not just the boxing aficionados, but also people with very little interest in the sport at all, many of whom will never have seen a live boxing match of notable significance in their lives – that's until they meet their date with destiny.
Matchroom's Eddie Hearn, the promoter of the event, has pulled off a serious coup regarding the live gate attendance for the event. It would be perfectly legit to say he hasn't vaulted ticket sales through the retractable Wembley roof, but rather he's blown it off completely after detonating the semtex with a blasting cap. 60,000 tickets were shifted inside an hour. Sky TV are predicting Box Office pay-per-view buys to hit a million, potentially worth in the region of £17m. The broadcasting rights have gone international to an absurd degree, as over 100 countries are set up for transmission.
Eddie, the dark haired and charming boxing salesman, has went one better than his dad, Barry, who managed to get a figured amount of around 44,000 into Old Trafford for the WBC/WBO super-middleweight title rematch between Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn, 21 years ago. On May 31, after streaming out of the London Underground, jumping out parked cars, or by whatever means necessary regarding transport to the battle, thousands upon thousands of intense spectators, young and old – some having just drowned themselves profusely in large proportions of alcohol while others simply walk in a straight line – will eagerly swagger along Wembley Way towards a stadium befitting of a 21st century clash between two Roman Gladiators.
At the present time, if you don't suffer from a severe and debilitating case of long-term memory loss, as you very well know, they sure aren't Romans. Froch, 36, is from the city of Nottingham, with Groves, 25, being a Londoner.
However, these two gladiators won't stand and trade lunatically until a sure death occurs. Intentional headbutts and low blows aside, their physical confrontation will be conducted in a professional and dignified manner – hopefully. They'll both warm-up in their respective dressing rooms, get each fist bandaged and gloved by a member of their training camps to the formulated Marquess of Queensberry Rules, then march themselves towards a squared ring for a possible thirty-six minutes of extreme violence.
They'll both meet centre ring, producing a mirrored symmetry image as they stare intently into each others' eyes, touch gloves, retreat to their corners, and get ready to physically catapult at each other, wholeheartedly, while seeking a high degree of finessed skill and toughness: spiteful jabs, millisecond feints, rocket launching right hands, rib evaporating body punches, combined with durability in equal measures as a Siberian Larch made church. Hold on… Many Siberian Larch – referred to as “The Tree of Eternity” – made churches have ultimately been standing in existence for over 800 years, whereas Froch's chin lasted a mere two minutes and forty-two seconds against Groves during their first encounter.
His guard down, balance all over the place, rushing forward, straight up and down as a lampost, Froch handed over his nickname, “The Cobra,” to the awaiting Groves, who simply said, “thank you very much,” before taking a slight step back and flooring the champion, heavily, with a straight right hand down the pipe.
Froch's relatively limited defense throughout the course of his career couldn't have been termed as even “frail,” because it would suffice to say it never existed during those alarming moments. If it wasn't for the sounding of a bell, well, Froch might well have been saved by the referee instead. Thereafter…..Groves, exuding confidence, was springing forward with authoriative, free flowing, jabs. Very rarely did he miss the target with his purposeful offense. As was the case during the first round, his right hand – the punch Groves would later say had Froch “buzzed” on numerous occasions – would go on to become a regular and useful weapon against his slower campatriot throughout the contest.
During round four, technical deficiencies of the champion were evidently there in abundance, again. Groves launched a right hand from long range which, realistically, shouldn't have found its target. Froch pulling back in a straight line, hands down, wearing concrete boots, almost invited the punch to land on his chin, making no attempt to either slip it with head movement or quickly step to the side and counter-punch. Froch was physically tight and tentative. His jab, usually a ramrod, was so soft it would've struggled to awaken a light sleeper had it hit one's bedroom door.
Throughout the vast majority of the contest, especially the early rounds, Groves showed that he wouldn't voluntary back pedal, which obviously would've allowed the champion to gain momentum with his two-fisted attacks. Lucian Bute showed that backing away from Froch can lead to catastrophic consequences – he was mercilessly steamrolled inside 3 rounds. Groves was always within distance, solidly balanced, defense tight, picking his moments to either lead off or counter, making Froch unsure in almost everything he attempted. Yes, Froch did have his moments during rounds seven and eight but he was barely, if ever, significantly impressive with his work.
After eight completed rounds, Groves was certainly ahead – out thinking, out boxing and out punching the champion. When the controversial stoppage came in favor of the champion, it was a surprising one, as Groves was well balanced with his punching technique undamaged, too. Fighters who are totally “gone” and need to be saved by the referee rarely, if ever, deliver any ability of being able to fire back at their opponent with solid punching technique, which Groves showed seconds before the stoppage. See, it's not about how many blows to the head or body a fighter receives which should determine the conclusion of a stoppage. First and foremost, well, to a certain degree, it's paramountly the state of the fighter's consciousness and physical well being.
My mind is cast back to the McCullough-Larios rematch in Las Vegas a few years ago, when Dr. Margaret Goodman stopped the fight before the start of the last round. Goodman, a highly respected ring physician in Nevada at the time, thought McCullough had sustained far too many powerful punches over the duration of the fight, even though he never looked seriously hurt or close to being knocked down.
Was Groves hurt? Yes, slightly. But his consciousness wasn't ripped away from his soul enough for a stoppage to be forced by referee Howard Foster. He was given neither the chance to recuperate himself nor the opportunity to be accurately assessed by the referee.
Before the referee jumped in to stop the fight, Froch was defintely the fighter with all the momentum on his side. Yes. But, in my opinion, had he been allowed to continue, who's to say Groves wouldn't have knocked Froch out with a single blow for a full 10 count just a handful of seconds after the exact point when the referee halted the contest?
The IBF – who forced the rematch – statement from Jan. 24: “The panel felt that in the ninth round Groves should have been allowed to continue as he did not appear to be seriously hurt and was counter-punching and attempting to move the action away from the ropes at the time of the stoppage. In addition, the referee waved off the fight from behind Groves instead of in front of him and did not look into his eyes. Groves showed no signs of being hurt after the stoppage. The panel felt it was an improper stoppage… it has been determined that there was inappropriate conduct by the referee that affected the outcome of the fight.”
If Froch allows the younger Groves to dilute his confidence so thoroughly with psychological mind games during the build-up to the rematch that his decision making is, yet again, amateurish and obscured when he steps into the ring, his faculties might well end up being scattered over the canvas, only this time, like a dead man's ashes.
The volcanic feud: The gas started to simmer during a heated sparring session between the pair at a Sheffield gym in 2010. It manifested itself to boiling point when Froch controversially stopped Groves last November in Manchester – after nine rounds of fistic mayhem. At Wembley Stadium, London, on May. 31, the inevitable eruption of lava might well conclude proceedings once and for all.
Robbi Paterson is a feature writer/analyst who has contributed to various boxing websites, including TheSweetScience.com.
He can be reached at Oscar_no1@hotmail.com