By Graham Houston
Manny Pacquaio’s comfortable points win over Brandon Rios was, globally, the big international event of the weekend, but the all-British 168-pound title fight between Carl Froch and George Groves contained the drama, the excitement and, of course, the controversy. Referee Howard Foster’s decision to stop the Froch-Groves fight in the ninth round, with Groves hurt but showing the presence of mind to hang on, will go down as one of the most unsatisfactory endings in recent boxing history.
It seemed to me that Froch had seized control of the contest in the ninth round and Groves had taken on what I call a “falling apart” look, but if a referee intervened every time a fighter was in trouble we would have been deprived of witnessing some sensational turnarounds — Diego Corrales stopping Jose Luis Castillo, Kelly Pavlik coming back against Jermain Taylor, and, going back a bit, Prince Charles Williams outlasting Bobby Czyz and Thomas Hearns clutching till his head cleared against James Kinchen, not to mention Rocky Graziano battling his way back when all looked lost in the rematch with Tony Zale, and if we sat down and thought about it we could no doubt come up with many more instances.
Perhaps Groves could have weathered Froch’s onslaught, got himself back together, and rallied. Maybe Groves could have timed a big right hand to get Froch into difficulties — after all, he did drop Froch heavily in the opening round.
I don’t have as much trouble with the stoppage as most people seem to be having because I felt that Froch was on his way to winning.
We now know that two of the judges had Groves just one point ahead. Assuming that Groves had been allowed to continue, and had managed to get through to the end of the ninth, at best he would have been level on two cards with three rounds to go — the ninth was looking like a 10-8 round even if Groves had stayed on his feet — and the much more experienced Froch is noted for coming on strongly in the later rounds. So I don’t think that Groves could have won the fight — the tide seemed to have turned irrevocably.
Froch landed his hardest shots in the final moments. A right hand sent Groves into the ropes, then, as Groves fought back with a wild desperation, Froch jerked the challenger’s head around with a left hook and followed with a right hand, and Groves didn’t react well to these punches. Another couple of clear, direct hits from Froch might have put Groves down and given the fight a definitive conclusion. As it was, the referee’s intervention left us with a sense of anti-climax.
Foster might argue: “Wasn’t it better for Groves that I pulled him out, rather than seeing this brave young man stretched out on the canvas?” Yet Groves hadn’t been down, and until the ninth round he hadn’t been seriously rocked or staggered, and he was fighting for two world titles in the biggest fight of his life. I believe that, on balance, Groves should have been given a little bit longer.
Looking at it from Froch’s perspective, Froch could take the position that he was deprived of the opportunity to win beyond doubt.
If Froch had scored a knockdown, perhaps even if he had landed just one more heavy shot, there surely wouldn’t have been such an outcry over Foster’s decision to stop the fight.
The reaction of the sellout crowd in Manchester was one of anger and outrage, with the referee and — unfairly — Froch himself getting booed.
Boxing crowds aren’t barbaric. If a fighter is taking punishment and isn’t showing the will to fight back, if a boxer is, say, defenceless on the ropes, then it’s time to halt the hostilities, and everyone knows it.
That wasn’t quite the case here, though. Referee Foster’s intervention was, to me, just a little too hasty, not as bad a stoppage as some are making out, but an ill-timed one nonetheless.