British super middleweight warriors Carl Froch and George Groves will collide on Nov. 23 in Manchester in a classic “Old Lion Versus Young Lion” duel which is already simmering in terms of pre-fight tension and anticipation.
Froch, rated No. 1 at 168 pounds by THE RING behind champion Andre Ward, is the defending IBF titleholder and the U.K.’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter. He captured his first world championship (from Jean Pascal in December 2008), five weeks after Groves turned professional and, since then, has beaten every significant player in the super middleweight division, with the exception of Ward.
Froch has made no secret of his view that the undefeated Londoner is out of his depth in this Sky Box Office Pay Per View attraction.
Not surprisingly, Groves (rated No. 5) vehemently disagrees with his opponent’s appraisal and guarantees the upset.
A classy, power-punching technician, Groves (19-0, 15 knockouts) is a former British and Commonwealth champion who has recently upped the caliber of his opposition. “The Saint” comprehensively outscored veteran Glen Johnson last December, then iced the capable Noe Gonzalez Alcoba on the undercard of Froch vs. Kessler II in May.
There is no denying that this is one very intriguing matchup. Froch is the bomb-proof tank who has torn his way through an assortment of super middleweight terrain, whereas Groves holds the state-of-the-art weaponry which remains untested against such as impregnable target.
The question is, does the challenger have the modifications necessary to last the world championship distance, to complete a real combat job, and to prevail when the going gets tough?
RingTV spoke to Groves, who it must be said is beyond confident, and he had choice words for “The Cobra.”
Ring TV: The biggest fight of your career is just short of two months away. How do you feel about what lies ahead?
George Groves: I feel great because it’s the perfect time and the perfect fight for me. I’ve had a great learning curve in my career and the momentum I have acquired recently has been ideal. I’m a young British fighter who will be fighting on pay-per-view, against someone regarded as a good champion in Carl Froch. I’m very fortunate to be in this position and I intend to take full advantage of it.
RTV: How is training going to this point and any ideas on who you will be sparring with during the build up?
GG: Training is going great. I had a good level of fitness before camp commenced and over the last few years I’ve always made sure that I’ve been in good condition before I start training. I don’t come into camp worrying about weight, it’s just a case of working on techniques and I get lighter and faster as time goes by. I’ve got six or seven weeks of hard training left, so we’ll be cranking it up, and there are some quality sparring partners due to arrive. I’m not going to disclose who they are because when you’re fighting another Brit, it’s best to keep tight lipped. All I can say is that they will possess attributes that Carl Froch has and in some ways they will be better than he is. When you select sparring that is the best way to go about it.
RTV: Your performance against Gonzalez Alcoba was impressive and you looked levels above. Was that the fight which convinced you it was time for a world title shot?
GG: I knew I was ready for a bigger fight. I fought in March (against Baker Barakat) and then in May against Gonzalez and I blew them away. It wasn’t a case of being ready because I felt that anyone I was in there with was going to get blown away. Gonzalez was a good fighter, he’d been in with some good guys and I shut him down from the start. I dominated him, took away his best attributes and nullified every one of his attacks. If I had met Carl Froch that night I would have beaten him. Two weeks beforehand I had been sparring Mikkel Kessler and knew I was at the highest level, so I was looking forward to put in a clinical performance and I did that. The Gonzalez fight just confirmed that I’m ready for fights at this level.
RTV: How did you get on in sparring with Mikkel Kessler during that training camp?
GG: At the end of the day sparring is sparring but it did let me know that I can operate with any of these guys. My situation was rare because I was ranked Number 1 or 2 in the world with the IBF and I had the opportunity to spar a reigning world champion in Mikkel Kessler. It was great to get some rounds in with such a great champion.
RTV: A lot of critics, including Carl Froch, maintain that this fight has come too quickly for you. How do you address that?
GG: When it comes to a fighter being ready you need to look at in two ways. Is the fighter mature enough physically? Now, I may not have peaked physically but it’s clear that I can operate at a high level from a physical standpoint. I’ve done it in sparring and I’ve done it in professional fights with the likes of Glen Johnson, who has more experience than anyone. I stood inside with him and I punched with him, so none of this will be new to me when I get in there with a current world champion. Secondly, is the fighter emotionally ready? In a way I believe that I’m more ready for this than Carl Froch. He may be used to the pressure of going abroad but I’ve been in a high-pressure fight at home. When I boxed James De Gale it was personal, it was a pay-per-view event and it was high pressure with a lot riding on the outcome. It wasn’t only my skills that won that fight but I had the superior temperament. By the time we did our ring walks I had a clear advantage over De Gale because he couldn’t hold it together as well as I could. Froch has a battle on his hands because he’s in against a British fighter and, for the first time, there are a lot of fans who will come to a big fight to see him lose. He just can’t comprehend that I’m a world class fighter capable of bashing him up. He just thinks I’m a pretender, who shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath, and it’s up to him to change his mind because if he doesn’t, this fight will be even easier for me.
RTV: There has been a war of words with Froch already. Taking one step back from the pending fight, is there anything you admire about your opponent?
GG: I admire that he can go to the well and do it more often than a normal fighter. Metaphorically, he’s had his back against the ropes many times and faced problems which, in theory, he doesn’t have the skill or ability to overcome but his tenacity pulls him through. On the flipside he’s played a lot of poker and we’ve seen all the hands, so there’s nothing clever about him anymore. I feel that his strengths have deteriorated, mainly his aggressiveness, his hand speed, his work rate and his temperament. Carl has had a long, hard career and he’s a bit long in the tooth now and this time he’s in with someone who’s fresh, hungry and wants to win. This will be his hardest fight, physically and mentally.
RTV: How were relations between you both prior to the fight becoming a possibility?
GG: The last time we sparred was before he lost to Mikkel Kessler (April 2010), then we ran into each other in Hamburg before Haye vs. Klitschko (July 2011) and had a conversation. Sometimes you can sense that you are likely to become future rivals and there’s mutual respect, or it can go the other way and there’s a bit of needle involved. By nature I don’t think Carl Froch likes anyone to be successful and he’s been known to pick fights outside his own weight division (with Amir Khan). He appears to have a superiority complex, because to sit there and call himself an international superstar is ridiculous. When Floyd Mayweather says that, he’s saying it for a reason, whereas Carl simply isn’t close to that status. He tells himself lies, ends up believing them and that makes him sleep better at night. It’s not going to help him when it’s just me and him in the ring.
RTV: You will be trained by Paddy Fitzpatrick, who you have worked with in the past. Why do you feel Paddy is the right man for the job?
GG: There were two major issues. Firstly, I didn’t want to waste time trialing other trainers because that takes time, and secondly, Paddy and I work well together and he has a lot of experience. He’s a perfect match for me. Plus, I know what I need to do to beat Carl Froch and in a pressure fight it will come down to what the individual knows, rather than relying on someone else. Paddy is there to guide me in the right direction and make sure that I do what I say I’m going to do in the fight. Ultimately it’s down to me, the knowledge that I should have accumulated in my career, my boxing knowledge and my hunger.
RTV: What attributes do you possess which will trouble Froch the most?
GG: I can’t really answer that question because I think Carl Froch can be beaten in many different ways. Sometimes he leaves his chin out, sometimes the other guy falls apart and sometimes he just gets lucky. There’s many different ways I can beat Carl Froch and I will use an accumulation of tactics. I’m just waiting for him to show me something different because he always does the same thing. If he thinks his usual style will work he’ll get punished, and if he changes things up then I’ll make the adjustments and punish him anyway. It’s difficult to say how a fight will unfold but I will be clinical, every punch will hurt and he won’t hear the final bell.
RTV: Froch has claimed, more than once, that he decked you in sparring. Although sparring has to be separated from real combat, can I have your side of what went down in training?
GG: I went up to Sheffield for a six- or eight-round spar. I threw a lazy jab off the ropes and he caught me with a right hand over the top, my knee touched the canvas and I stood up a second later and touched gloves. Two days later I went over to Nottingham and bashed him up, but it’s sparring and you tend to switch off a bit in training. There’s no sense in me justifying anything because it makes it out to be more than what it is. In my last camp I got dropped twice in back-to-back spars but it’s not like anyone sends for an ambulance or I go and sit in a cold shower with my clothes on. It’s more frustrating than anything else and you just review it in your head and work out the mistakes you made. A lot of fighters take what happens in a spar and run with it, and Carl probably put it in his little diary. Let him think that any shot he hits me with will knock me down because next time there’s no head gear and it’ll be 10-ounce gloves. On fight night he’ll see something a lot different, and I’m a lot better than I was three or four years ago and this isn’t practice.
RTV: Andre Ward, by consensus, is the only fighter to have beaten Froch convincingly. Why did he have so much success?
GG: Ward is an educated boxer and he approached that fight with a game plan and executed it very well. Froch appeared clueless throughout the whole fight and Ward took away Carl’s good points and that’s what boxing is all about. Take away a fighter’s strengths and what is he left with? It’s also worth remembering that Ward won that fight with one hand. The other thing I recall is that during the post-fight interview, Froch said that Ward was working him up close and he doesn’t work on that (laughs).
RTV: Recently Froch has been getting off to a quick start, whereas you like to have a look at your opponent before releasing big shots. Do you envisage fireworks early?
GG: Yeah, like in any fight you want to take control. You can have a look but you want to dictate the pace and get into a rhythm. It’s important not to be reckless and to stamp your authority early. He’ll be saying the same kind of things but we’ll see on the night.
RTV: You alluded to a knockout, what is your final prediction for Nov. 23?
GG: I always say that. If I do what I know I can do then I don’t expect any opponent to hear the final bell, and I’m saying it again this time. It could happen early or it could happen late but I will be landing heavy and frequent punches on his chin. Either way, Carl Froch won’t hear the final bell.
Photos by Scott Heavey-Gettyimages (1,3-5); Alex Livesey-Gettyimages (2)
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing