This coming Saturday Wembley will host the biggest British boxing event of all time as Carl Froch and George Groves square off in front of 80,000 for Froch’s IBF and WBA super middleweight titles.
Following the controversial first fight in Manchester’s Phones4u Arena on November 23rd ,which Froch won by TKO stoppage in the 9th round after referee Howard Foster prematurely stepped in, the level of excitement for the rematch has been incredible, with 60,000 tickets sold within an hour of going on sale in March.
When dealing with factual evidence from both boxers’ past bouts, and attempting to ignore the majority of Sky Sports’ pre-fight build-up, it’s difficult to make a convincing case for either man, due to heavily determining factors such as age, skill, speed, freshness, experience, mental toughness and physical ability.
The first four characteristics mentioned all weigh in George Groves’ favour. The 26-year-old from Hammersmith, London is almost 10 years younger than his world champion opponent and possesses the boxing skills and speed to hurt Froch, as evidenced in the first round of their fight last November when Groves dropped ‘The Cobra’ and then went on to dominate the next five rounds in particular. Groves is also still very fresh in professional terms after 20 fights and 19 wins, 15 of which came via TKO or KO.
Unless he suffers a vicious defeat on Saturday, the sense remains that Groves will still have a bright future at world level, with his arch rival and former amateur stablemate James DeGale (who is fighting on the undercard against the dangerous Brandon Gonzalez in an IBF title eliminator) the first in line, determined to gain revenge after their bout in 2011, which Groves narrowly won by majority decision.
Experience, mental toughness and physical ability would all seem to be in Froch’s favour. The four-time world champion from Nottingham has had a stellar career, his last 11 fights being for world belts, losing only twice, to Mikkel Kessler in 2010 and Andre Ward in 2011.
Froch has fought at world level consistently for the last six years and gained plaudits for his unrelenting, aggressive fighting style; he has been involved in highly entertaining fights with Jean Pascal, Jermain Taylor, Kessler (twice), Arthur Abraham and Lucien Bute and his only unavenged defeat came against Ward, who is regarded as the number two pound-for-pound best boxer in the world behind Floyd Mayweather.
Froch’s mental toughness was tested to the limit in the first fight with Groves, both inside and outside the squared circle; Groves wound-up the Nottingham man to the point of distraction in the build-up to the fight, but once both men were in the ring, Froch relied on huge mental fortitude and physical strength to bring himself back from the brink after a torrid eight rounds in which he shipped huge punishment.
Groves’ pre-fight mental jabs at Froch did unsettle his more experienced opponent but Froch, to his credit, managed to overcome the many difficulties he faced that night and force the controversial stoppage by Foster.
What makes this fight so intriguing is the difficulty one faces in making a comprehensive prediction as to which man will emerge victorious. Carl Froch is the experienced world champion going into what may be the last fight of an incredible career. He has faced the greatest boxers in the super middleweight division and seen off all of them, with the exception of Ward.
In many of his interviews over the last year, Froch has spoken about the legacy he wants to leave and even claimed on Monday that this legacy is “hanging by a thread”; while this is an overstatement, it would be devastating for Froch to lose his world titles in what promises to be the biggest fight of his career against a boxer from the next generation of British talent.
To leave the game as not even the best fighter in Britain would be a bitter pill to swallow, particularly if he had to concede this position to George Groves, a man who Froch dislikes severely.
To suggest that Froch will win this fight if he imposes the same strategy which accounted for Bute, Taylor or Kessler would be overlooking the fact that Groves is faster than these other fighters.
In the Bute fight for example, Froch obliterated the Romanian-Canadian in five rounds with savage, unrelenting power. However, Bute was a stationary target at which Froch could throw bombs: Groves is a quick, fleetfooted fighter with sharp reflexes and a dangerous right-hand. Froch has struggled against fighters of this ilk in the past, such as Andre Dirrell, Ward and Groves himself; it’s unlikely that he will be able to adapt his style to a fashion which would completely destroy Groves in the way he ruined Bute’s career.
For Groves, this fight is obviously the biggest so far of his career and will most likely remain unprecedented, given how the rivalry between both men has caught the public’s imagination in a way not seen since the legendary days of Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn in the early 1990’s.
After gaining invaluable experience last November and confirming his status as a world class fighter, Groves enters the rematch knowing that he can hurt Froch. With far fewer miles on the clock than his opponent, quicker hands and the fresh experience of competing at world level, it seems that the time is perfect for him to dethrone Froch as Britain’s top super middleweight.
However, after completely outclassing Froch in November, Groves was guilty of showing immaturity when he dropped his hands and invited Froch onto him in the 6th, and also didn’t seem appropriately conditioned as he faded badly after using a vast amount of energy in the first 8 rounds. It appears that his greatest chance of winning will come from boxing and moving; if he goes to war with Froch and his granite chin, Groves will lose.
The most intriguing aspect of this fight is how it will be portrayed in boxing folklore once the dust has settled.
Will it represent one fight too many and the end of the road for one of the sport’s bravest warriors and the passing on of the baton to a fresh, young British fighter?
Or will the 36 year old veteran once again roll back the years, vanquishing a domestic pretender and head off into the sunset with the perfect ending to one of modern boxing’s most impressive careers (if indeed he decides to retire)?
Time will tell. Roll on Saturday.
Joe Keane, Pundit Arena.