“By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show,” wrote Samuel Johnson, perhaps during a rare respite from anxiety. When, on Saturday, WBA and IBF super middleweight champion Carl Froch sees London, he’ll likely see as much of native son George Groves as the talented challenger can show. Last November, Groves surprised the boxing world with a superb performance against Froch; he knocked the champion down in the first round and ruled for seven more before a Froch flurry prompted a bad stoppage. This Saturday they’ll meet for a rematch against the spectacular backdrop of Wembley Stadium and a mob of eighty thousand. It’s a fight whose scope, relevance, and buildup summons memories of the sport’s great battles from the past.
Carl “The Cobra” Froch (32-2) and “Saint” George Groves (19-1) met last November in Manchester in one of the year’s most controversial fights. The storm came in the ninth round, when a sustained attack by Froch climaxed with a right hand that wobbled Groves. The younger man was hurt, but not badly enough to warrant stopping a fight he’d dominated for eight rounds. The shock in the arena was palpable, and the Manchester crowd, which had booed the Londoner Groves on his walk to the ring, applauded him in defeat. Groves’ rise in boxing was attended by much hype, and he substantiated it during nine dramatic rounds.
What surprised so many people (including, presumably, Carl Froch) is how easily Groves commanded the ring. The challenger was the sharper, stronger man, and consistently got his punches off first. Despite Froch having advantages in height and reach, Groves’ snappy jab kept finding its way to Froch’s chin, while his right hand seemed to connect almost every time he threw it. Conversely, the “Cobra” fought as if in a daze. His jab was lazy, his right hand unthreatening, and he lacked his usual energy, which precluded him from subduing Groves’ aggression. This was uncustomary for a boxer whose reputation is indivisible from his warrior ethic. When Groves connected with a beautiful right in the first round that landed flush and floored the champion, the super middleweight division seemed to undergo an instant and unalterable shift.
Carl Froch’s reputation as a tough guy is not unwarranted (as anyone who witnessed his signature late round stoppage of Jermain Taylor can attest). He claims that he can’t be knocked out, and following that knockdown he remained upright, even if he continued to be dominated. Nevertheless, he never looked like the better man, as Groves’ pressure was unrelenting. The challenger may not have won every round, but in every aspect he was the superior fighter. Then, in the ninth, after announcer Adam Smith warned against counting Carl Froch out, Nottingham’s “Cobra” bit Groves with several stinging shots, and then benefited from a panicky referee who imposed a stoppage that was absurd. As a result, while the champion retained his title, it was the challenger who won the crowd.
How could Groves have pushed Froch around so easily? In the fight’s buildup the “Saint” was anything but cherubic as he relentlessly insulted the champion. This may have worked Froch into a fury that upended his focus, but what’s certain is that he was less than perfectly prepared on fight night. Perhaps Froch was so focused on Groves’ insolence that he neglected his training, or maybe he didn’t take the younger man’s abilities seriously. Whatever the case, he paid for it dearly because Groves put him through eight brutal rounds and nearly snatched away his title.
So who should be favoured this Saturday? It’s a difficult fight to call. Presumably, Froch will enter the fight more prepared and relaxed than last time (to Groves’ glee, Froch has admitted to working with a sports psychologist this time). He must be sharper from the outset, and not allow Groves’ right hand to connect as easily. This could be a recurring problem, however, as Froch, with his unorthodox style and posture, habitually rests his left hand on his thigh, which gives Groves’ right a clear avenue to his face. “The Cobra” must control the ring and keep Groves to the outside where, boxing on his backfoot, Froch can ambush him with the same barrages that led to last November’s stoppage.
There is a sizeable elephant in the room, though: how much does Froch have left? The man has made his reputation as a warrior, but with brutal fights comes attrition, and it stands to reason that at some point he won’t have the juice to keep pace with younger, fresher fighters, particularly ones as live as George Groves. Whether his age and significant mileage prohibits him from boxing effectively on Saturday is the fight’s biggest question.
Given how successfully his tactics worked in the first fight, don’t expect George Groves to deviate from his entertaining, aggressive style. He’s faster than Froch, more fluid, and maybe even stronger. He’s also promised to get Froch out in three rounds. This is pre-fight boasting, of course, and Froch is too sturdy to be dispatched of so quickly, but Groves knows he can hurt him and should spend the fight fearlessly coming forward. Its outcome will hinge on how well Froch can control Groves’ offense, and whether Groves can maintain his high tempo late into the bout.
This it what makes it such a difficult fight to predict. We don’t know if Froch’s renewed focus will be supported by his physical skills. If they are, and Groves enters in the same shape as last November, expect a war in which Froch refuses to give ground and both men trade huge shots in the middle of the ring. Which man will emerge the victor from such violence? Truthfully, I don’t know. Froch’s toughness is unquestionable but how many more storms can he weather? Conversely, even though Groves has never been truly stopped (last November’s debacle notwithstanding), he hasn’t faced the same level of opposition. Ultimately, it might just come down to who lands the monster shot first. Or who is the better finisher.
As an event, the Froch-Groves rematch will be a terrific spectacle. The sheer fact that eighty thousand fans will attend underscores the British public’s thirst for high-profile domestic superfights. It conjures fantastic imagery of the great matches held outdoors in front of huge crowds early in the last century, events that mythologized boxing as a physical testament to national character. Fights like this, for which genuine rivalry, the personal magnetism of two antagonistic souls, and national rooting interest all form a perfect storm, do not happen frequently. Hopefully there will be more. But for now we’ll savour this one. Here’s hoping it’s a classic.
— Eliott McCormick