By Graham Houston
There are times when a fight ends in such an unsatisfactory fashion that a rematch gets made by public demand. This is the situation with the return fight between Carl Froch and George Groves, which takes place at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, with Sky Sports televising on PPV in the U.K. while HBO will be showing the fight for viewers in the U.S. Froch, who will be defending his WBA “super world” and IBF 168lbs titles, felt he had proved superiority with last November’s ninth-round win — but few agreed.
Almost overwhelmingly, fans worldwide believe that Groves was an unlucky loser. Groves was certainly in trouble when referee Howard Foster intervened in the ninth round, but Groves hadn’t been down, and although definitely rocked in the ninth, and perhaps fading, he hadn’t been pounded into anything approaching a definitive defeat. While Froch was in the ascendancy when the fight was stopped, Groves, it appeared, had not been given the chance to hang on, get himself back on an even keel and perhaps stage a thrilling rally.
Yet was it really such a bad break for Groves? Although Groves was in front on all three judges’ cards after eight rounds, he had just a one-point margin on two of the scorecards. Assuming Groves had survived the ninth round without getting knocked down — and don’t forget there were still 87 seconds remaining in the round, sufficient time for Froch to do significant damage — the fact is that the boxers would have been level on two of the scorecards with three rounds to go, and Froch is known for coming on strongly late in fights.
Many believed that Groves outclassed Froch for most of the first eight rounds, but I don’t agree. Froch came back from that heavy first-round knockdown to get right into the fight. The bruises under Groves’s eye were testament to the fact that Froch was landing punches. I agree that Groves was winning the fight going in to the ninth round, but not by much.
Groves fought a terrific fight, no question. The challenger from west London was often outjabbing Froch. He caught Froch with some big right hands, although never one that equalled the opening-round blockbuster that sent Froch crashing to the canvas. Froch’s upper lip was severely swollen on the left side by the end of the fight. He had been hit hard and often. Yet Froch had been landing punches, too. This was a two-sided fight.
In the eighth round, I thought that the fight was turning in Froch’s favour. Groves turned sideways after taking a clubbing right hand. Froch swept the eighth round on the judges’ cards. In the ninth, it seemed to me that Groves’s boxing started to fall apart after Froch caught him with a jarring left hook. When Froch’s right hand sent Groves into the ropes, referee Foster was poised to jump between the boxers — and a couple of punches later the fight was over, with a distraught Groves struggling to free himself from the referee’s protective embrace.
Groves has a point, I believe, in saying that he might have been a victim of pre-fight perceptions.
Froch went into the fight with a reputation for toughness, grit and being able to grind out a victory after coming through adversity. Groves, although, unbeaten, was, in the opinion of most observers, likely to be under pressure and vulnerable in the later rounds.
Thus, in Groves’s opinion, Froch was allowed the opportunity to fight his way out of trouble after being floored in the opening round, whereas, in Groves’s view of the proceedings, the referee was over-protective when it was Groves’s turn to find himself on shaky footing in the fight.
No one, obviously, wants to see a fighter take punches to the point where his health is going to be placed at risk, and everyone, surely, agrees that it is always preferable for a fight to be stopped a few punches too soon rather than a few punches too late.
The point here, though, is that Groves had fought so hard, so bravely and at times so brilliantly in the preceding eight rounds that he had earned the right to try to stay in the fight. After all, this was a world championship fight, as big a fight as it gets.
If you think about it, Groves was arguably in just as much trouble, maybe more so, after Kenny Anderson knocked him down in the third round of their bout in November 2010 but he rallied and blazed back to stop the Scottish boxer with a brutal battering to the body in the sixth round.
Groves and his adherents will tell you that Groves would have survived the crisis and that he was just one big punch from turning the fight back in his favour. Froch is adamant that the referee did Groves a favour; that Groves was “gone” and would have been badly knocked out had he been permitted to continue.
It is possible to see merit in each of these viewpoints, which is why it was so important to British boxing that the rematch was made — and promoter Eddie Hearn has certainly secured a venue to match the occasion, this being the first boxing event at the new Wembley Stadium.
Groves, 26, is full of confidence, just as he was before the first fight with Froch. He believes that he showed himself to be the better fighter last November and that the rematch will see a similar sort of fight unfolding, except that this time Froch will not have the chance to make a late rush because he will already be out of the fight.
Froch, 36, says that he took Groves lightly last time, expecting a relatively easy fight, and that this time he will be better prepared mentally. There is no way, Froch avers, that he will get caught and dropped in the opening round this time.
Last time, Froch was a huge betting favourite at -550; the odds have narrowed considerably for the rematch, with Froch priced at about -150.
Froch (32-2; 23 KOs) will have the confidence of knowing that he was able to come back from a rocky start to win the first fight, and he will no doubt believe that things can only improve for him this time. Groves (19-1; 15 KOs) might have grown in confidence because the first fight will have confirmed, in his own mind, that he is the faster, more polished boxer and that he can hit and hurt Froch and knock him down.
Of all the great British rematches, the only one I can think of with a similar backdrop came when popular heavyweights Billy Walker and Johnny Prescott met in the 1960s. Walker won the first fight in the 10th and final round, with Prescott — seemingly ahead on points — wilting under pressure. Prescott bitterly disputed the referee’s intervention; in the quickly arranged rematch, two months later, Prescott won a hard-fought points victory.
The difference here is that while Walker and Prescott were respectful towards each other, we have seething animosity between Froch and Groves.
One expects Groves once again to get off to the crisper start, left arm low as he shoots the “up” jab and looks to bring over his right-hand bombs, although it would indeed be a surprise to see Froch again on the canvas in the first round. Froch, seasoned and steady, is likely to be getting his left jab to work a bit quicker this time, seeking to keep the pressure on Groves but wary of getting countered by the right hand.
I’m expecting Groves to be ahead after eight rounds of tactical, nip-and-tuck boxing — I see him as speedier, flashier, a bit smoother in his style.
Froch, with his vast experience of championship boxing, will, it seems to me, be making his big push forward in the last third of the fight, pressing Groves that little bit harder, ratcheting up his pressure and punch-rate.
If Groves has been unable to slow down Froch significantly, the champion might be able to catch up with the younger man and impose his will — as Froch would argue that he was doing in the first fight.
Froch turns 37 just over a month after this fight. Mikkel Kessler had Froch a bit wobbly from right-hand punches in Froch’s last fight before meeting Groves; then Groves had Froch down and seemed to be catching him all too easily with right hands thereafter. Will the years, and the hard fights, catch up with Froch? Will Groves have grown from the first fight? Will a more focused Froch simply be too much of an experienced, battle-hardened fighter for Groves to overcome?
I’m leaning towards Froch once again coming through the storm to hurt and overpower Groves late in the fight, perhaps stopping him around about the 11th round, perhaps getting there on points with a strong finish, but, to me, this fight is balanced on a knife’s edge.
This is an updated version of my preview from Boxing Monthly; I’ll be doing a betting-orientated preview for subscribers later in the week. Visit fightwriter.com