We all remember the first Froch/Groves fight – the first round knockdown, the early stoppage – there’s no point in rehashing old ground, but what I will say is never have I seen such a unanimous 180 degree turn of opinion about two fighters. Froch was cheered into the arena that night and booed out, Groves was booed in and cheered out. This was in part to do with the way the fight ended but also the result of Froch’s post- fight comments and sheer lack of self-awareness. Refusing to shake Groves’ hand, saying “I respect him as a fighter but not as a man”, and his “the referee saved his career” comment all put a considerable dent in his public profile. In short, this is probably the reason why the rematch has been made. Froch has made it clear in the past that he wants to go to America and fight Chavez Jr or rematch Andre Ward, but his sudden decline in popularity has clearly been getting to him. Carl Froch is obviously a very proud man who values his ‘legacy’ a great deal and the fact that Groves has damaged it considerably is what has lured him into a rematch. His achievements – destruction of the previously unbeaten Bute despite being a huge betting underdog, his down-on-the-cards 12th round knockout of Jermaine Taylor, wins over Kessler and Pascal – have all been overshadowed by a cocky young upstart. An upstart that he no doubt sees a lot of himself in – the way Groves has gone about drawing Froch into verbal mudslinging bears similarities to Froch’s unsuccessful attempts to bait Calzaghe into a match shortly after his retirement.
So what will be the outcome come May 31st? If you ask the casual boxing fan they’ll most likely tell you that George Groves, the nation’s new darling after an unjust defeat, will go out and finish what he started by knocking Froch clean out. The problem is that these people are thinking with their hearts and not with their heads. Froch has alienated many with his arrogance and everyone wants to see him humbled – to see him lying on the canvas after months of shit-talking would be a feast of schadenfreude but in reality the chances of it happening are slim. Unless Froch’s chin is cracked and he’s shot after the wars he’s been in, this is an eminently winnable fight for him.
It’s no secret that Froch underestimated Groves coming into the first fight, and now knowing what to expect he’ll naturally be better prepared to deal with him this time round. He needs to stay focused and not get complacent, and spend less energy on mind games, not get caught up in the moment and walk onto something the way he did in the first. Froch’s key to winning this fight, however, is something he’s never done before in his entire career: keep his left hand up. Even as an amateur Froch has had a tendency to drop his left hand (getting carried away thinking he’s Sergio Martinez) only to have overhand rights planted ploughed directly into his nose, and Groves clearly has the power to make this mistake count. The main reason, though, that I feel that Froch will take this fight is because he never really got into the first one. The version of Froch in the ring that night was a shaken-up, poor man’s version of the one we’re used to seeing and he is much better than that display. His jab was ponderous, his hooks swinging and meeting only air; he snatched at any chance to connect with a big shot, was constantly punching in the clinches and should have had points deducted for it. Quite frankly, he was awful. He got dropped in the first round and never recovered – he was barely even in the fight until the 8th round. This time if he can work his jab properly, look to take away Groves’ power early with body-punching and jump on him while he’s on the ropes he’ll have a good chance of winning. These are big ‘ifs’ though, as he does tend to lose concentration forgetting about his footwork on occasion, choosing to leap wildly across the ring when looking to finish rather than aiming to box his way in. These lapses in concentration are what see him walking onto his fair share of punches and is exactly why he got floored in the first fight; he can’t afford to lose focus this time round. That being said I still think that he’ll steal a narrow win, and this is an opinion reflected in the bookies’ odds with Skybet currently having Froch as a big favourite at 8/15 and Groves the underdog at 6/4.
That’s not to say that this isn’t an unwinnable fight for Groves either. A concussive puncher with a technical approach, he has the skills to challenge at a global level and I would be surprised if we didn’t see him in more title fights in the future. He has superb head movement and uses this to work unfamiliar angles into his punches. The old cliché rings true – it’s the punches you don’t see that hurt the most – and Froch found this out the hard way in their first fight. Rewatch the knockdown; Froch’s eyes are completely glazed over as he drops to the canvas, and notice how Groves is actually moving backwards when he throws the punch.
It shows that he has the power to knock out just about anyone in the division if he connects cleanly. Although he’s perceived as being chinny, he’s shown that he has the ability to fight his way out of a corner – he was seriously hurt in round 3 of the Kenny Anderson fight but managed to survive and claim a stoppage later in the 6th. This was a liberty he was not afforded against Froch. It’s hard to say what approach he will take on the night – if he hurts Froch early again will he go all out to stop him, not letting him get away like last time, or will he risk letting it go to the cards knowing that he could he robbed the way he would have been in the first fight had it got that far? My gut feeling is that he will try to out-box Froch using his superior speed and take it to the cards, having already negotiated for all foreign refs to score the next fight rather than any domestic ones, which isn’t surprising really after the shambles we’ve seen in the past year (Burns/Beltran, Chisora/Pala, amongst countless others).
Supposing Groves were to win, it would be much better for British boxing and could usher in the next generation of Super Middleweights; Groves, James Degale, Callum Smith and Billie Joe Saunders (if he moves up) all have the potential to challenge on a world level, and a Groves win could be a foot in the door for them all. Degale has recently jumped ship to Matchroom which means that if he wins his final eliminator against Brandon Gonzales he’ll almost certainly get a shot at the winner of Froch/Groves – something he’s gunned for for a long time. I think it would have been more sensible for him to stay where he was and challenge Sakio Bika for the WBC belt and then look to unify, but I digress. Andre Ward has also mentioned that he has considered fighting Groves since his last fight, and a win against Froch could see him catapulted onto American TV with either HBO or Showtime a possibility.
I don’t want to appear as a Froch apologist, I’m not, but if you look at things objectively I think you’ll find that rumours of his career’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. It is possible that he has been in too many wars and that he’s a fighter on the slide, and fights like the types he gets into would usually take three fights out of a normal fighter, but his iron chin has never faltered and I don’t think it will against Groves. Talk of him being knocked out is wishful thinking rather than grounded in reality. Groves can win if he rattles Froch and uses his natural speed to outbox him, but I feel that Froch’s chin and experience at the top level should see him through again. He’s used to these big stadium fights and knows what it takes to win even when down on the cards. But then again, boxing is a sport where anything could happen – and come May 31st we’ll find out just what that will be.
(And can I just point out that Wembley is a shite venue for boxing – with 60,000 people there the atmosphere will undoubtedly be electric, but you’ll need binoculars to see anything from your £121 seats in the nosebleeds, unless you’re prepared to shell out £1600 for ringside (and not even proper ringside, the seats behind the bit reserved for celebrities). I’ll be enjoying this one from the comfort of my sofa.)