Guest blog by Ronnie McCluskey
This Saturday in front of 80,000 at Wembley Stadium, George Groves and Carl Froch will have a fight. Maybe you’ve already heard about it. Boxing doesn’t often invade the sports pages, but when it’s a box office blockbuster of this magnitude, even the hacks must take notice. The fight demands discussion. The rivalry divides opinion. The hatred, for once, is genuine.
What’s left to be said about Carl Froch and George Groves? Sky Sports have gone into overdrive promoting the fight – no small wonder considering they’ll compel you to fork out £16.95 to see it. We’ve had reams of copy, the impending battle dissected from every conceivable angle. We’ve had expert predictions and re-runs of the pair’s significant contests. The more fervent among us, those so hyped we can almost taste the blood spraying from the combatants’ wounds, recently saw the duo jaw at each other across a small table in The Gloves Are Off. This was Sky’s answer to HBO’s Face Off, and for boxing noobs the format sees opponents talk trash back and forth before shaking hands and returning to their monastic training camps. In the US, such affairs are commonplace. Before Manny Pacquiao’s last outing, he went Biblical on Tim Bradley, telling him, in his trademark pidgin English: “Those who humble himself will be exalted; and those who exalted…will be humbled.” The video is worth watching just for Bradley’s spooked-to-the-core look upon hearing that little soundbite. Pac-Man went on to score a wide unanimous decision victory.
Most of us didn’t need The Gloves Are Off; messrs Froch and Grove have been trading broadsides since late last year, when the pair were first scheduled to meet in the ring. Froch, the established 12-year ring veteran – a four-time and current world super middleweight champion – seemed dismissive of Groves, the quick-handed challenger a decade his junior. Unbeaten but untested at the highest level, Groves’ arrival at the Froch throne bestirred the champion like the chundering of a pissed-up reveller might bestir a cranky bouncer from his doorway perch. ‘Who the fuck is this chump?’ Froch wondered, dismissing the threat outright. To be even-handed about it, the flame-haired Groves was doing his level best to irk the champ, staunchly refusing to pay homage or, in the words of Tony Soprano, ‘respect the fucking title’.
To condense the barbs that presaged their first duel, at the Manchester Arena in November, into one manageable statement, Groves simply didn’t think Froch was especially good. With no shortage of bravura, The Saint promised to dislodge the crown from the head of The Cobra. What followed was somewhat legendary.
I asked, just two paragraphs ago, what was left to be said about Froch and Groves. Why then am I reenacting that which is already a matter of public record? Yes, to bring the noobs up to speed, but also to relive it for myself. This close to their monumental rematch, a bout among the most eagerly-anticipated ever to occur on British soil, I return to the November duel enthusiastically, mining for clues, hunting for answers.
Many of you reading this will have witnessed that absorbing first fight. As when Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank first locked horns, it was an immense battle, replete with a brand of savagery that made you wince, gasp and hurl abuse at the television. It was relentless. It was war. It was mutually assured destruction.
After heavily decking the seemingly indestructible Froch in the opening round, Groves, oozing confidence, proceeded to punish the champion, threatening with every mighty left hook and booming right hand to wrest the WBA and IBF title belts from The Cobra’s grasp. Somehow though, Froch refused to buckle. Calling on a wealth of experience, not to mention recuperative powers that’d make Wolverine proud, he began to return fire and was soon buzzing Groves with some tasty hooks of his own. Settled into the contest by the halfway mark – though still coming off second best in most exchanges – Froch finally put together a fusillade of punches in the ninth round that caused the trigger-fingered referee to intervene. The crowd went ballistic. Groves, though groggy and stumbling backward into the ropes, did too. An angry mob that had booed the brash challenger into the ring now jeered the champion’s post-fight speech. Groves, despite being hurt, seemed able to continue. The referee had ballsed up what had been an engrossing contest.
So, to Saturday. A rematch of a controversial and classic fight. A rivalry renewed. Six months have passed, and since November it seems the convictions of both men have only strengthened. Groves claims that he believed he was world-class before the last bout; now he knows it with complete certainty. Having largely dominated Carl Froch in November, he’ll be coolly confident of repeating the feat at Wembley. Boxers from London don’t often get the chance to fight at the national stadium; The Saint plans to make the most of it. With typical brio, Groves swears that three rounds is all he’ll need to mark a conclusive end to the pair’s feud.
Froch, for his part, has put forward his own convincing argument. He wasn’t mentally ‘switched on’ ahead of the November bout. Voices assured him he’d mop the floor with George Groves – that he was an unfit challenger – and, foolishly, Froch believed them. It wasn’t just the contentions of others though. Having dropped Groves during a well-documented 2010 sparring session, Froch still viewed his opponent as a juvenile, still perceived him as unconcernedly as he had the winded figure bent double on the canvas. This time, he’s employed a psychologist to achieve the inner calm he needs. Previously, he states, Groves wound him up. ‘Even on my worst night,’ he contends, ‘I still won.’
Can the rematch live up to what’s gone before? In front of 80,000 ravenous boxing fans, can Groves bring about a changing of the guard and make good on his third-round KO prediction? Or will the battle-hardened Froch, competing in his 12th consecutive world title fight and emerging from a tunnel-vision training camp, end the argument?
Who knows, but it’ll sure as hell be fun finding out.