MANCHESTER, England – A capacity crowd of 21,000 at the Manchester Arena witnessed Carl Froch retain his IBF super middleweight title with a ninth-round technical knockout of George Groves, but the result does not tell the full story of a compelling and brutal fight.
Froch, THE RING’s No. 1-rated super middleweight, was decked in the opening round and caught with the cleaner blows for the majority of the contest. The Nottingham man’s iron will and unbelievable championship heart saved the day, but the ending was marred by a quick stoppage, as evidenced by the crowd’s less than enthusiastic reaction.
“I got off to a slow start,” said Froch. “I got dropped in Round 1 and took some heavy shots in a very tough fight. Still, Groves can’t be that tough because he got stopped. What do you want to see? Do you want to see a 25 year old carried out unconscious on a stretcher?
“It’s like the gladiator days where the crowd want to see the finish but the referee was inches from the action, and Groves was out on his feet. I’ll fight anyone and if Rob and Eddie think a rematch works then that’s what we’ll do.”
Despite the event being an all-British affair one could have been forgiven for thinking Groves, THE RING’s No. 5-rated 168 pounder, was a visitor before the opening bell. “The Saint,” as he had been at the weigh in, was booed incessantly by the sell-out crowd but ignored the noise, stood static, and glared daggers at Froch during the introductions.
In Round 1, Groves immediately took center ring, offered the feint, drew the lead and walked the champion on to brisk right hands. The challenger had said that he would land that particular shot with ease but nothing could have prepared the sold out arena for what happened next.
An explosive right hand from Groves landed flush and Froch, ignoring the warning, left his defenses wide open for another one. The champion, known for having a concrete chin, couldn’t have hit the canvas quicker and the crowd exploded amidst wild scenes.
Froch survived the session but he was in a fight – a real fight.
There were more meaty exchanges in Round 2 but Groves was falling short with the right hand and couldn’t sustain the momentum. Both worked well with the jab but Froch, now well aware of the threat, sought to buy time and clear his head.
“The Cobra” struggled to establish range and Groves was either too close or too far away to be caught by Froch’s vaunted two hand bursts. Suddenly the crowd appeared to switch allegiance and chants of “When the Saints Go Marching in” filled the arena in Round 4.
Still, even though Groves was sharp shooting one always felt that Froch was due to make an impression. The champion’s chin was warming to the power and he stubbornly returned fire with fierce barrages that backed the Londoner up for sustained periods.
In Round 5 Groves gave up center ring for a spell as his jab fell short and the champion peppered him with his own left lead. Froch was now able to evade counters and although his attacks lacked accuracy they were pressure packed and kept Groves occupied.
This reporter wrote in his notes that the session could have been a game changer but Froch was in for a rude awakening in Round 6. “The Saint”, hungry to re-establish control, consistently snapped the champion’s head back and although Froch didn’t wobble or go down, the punishment was brutal.
It was a horrible round for Froch but incredibly he rose from the ashes again to pin Groves against the ropes. The challenger initially welcomed the assault, taking time to show off some cute defensive maneuvers, but more than a share landed and the incredible flurry is testament to Froch’s legendary courage.
Groves had never seen action like it but he appeared full of fight and continued to double the jab into the champions face. It was sharp work and, to this point, the performance of a lifetime. Froch attacked in desperation, and an elbow to the throat of Groves drew a stern warning from referee Howard Foster, who was about to play a key role in proceedings.
Froch continued to take terrible head shots in Round 9 when suddenly Groves was caught, and hurt, in a wicked exchange. The champion’s tenacity was simply incredible and, as he attacked looking for the finish, there were collective gasps around press row at the sight of his immense fighting heart.
Groves was in trouble, but not all of the shots were landing cleanly when the referee jumped in to halt the contest. A glorious ending was taken away from Froch and Groves was robbed of his chance to recover, as the crowd reacted furiously and turned on the champion as the ring was invaded.
There were angry scenes between the camps, but thankfully the combatants embraced and the ill feeling was brought to an end.
The consensus before the fight was that the moment had come too soon for George Groves, but nothing could be further from the truth. The younger man encountered the proverbial brick wall in Froch, and while he fell just short in knocking it down, some of the foundations were seriously rattled.
“I don’t know why it was stopped,” said Groves “The shots weren’t landing cleanly and there was no doubt that I could have continued. No way should I have been stopped. I had him hurt throughout that fight and on the seat of his pants in Round 1.
“I knew I had the capability to perform like that and earned the respect from the fight fans. I got booed on the way in and cheered on the way out and that was a special moment for me. I’d love a rematch, but I would have preferred it as champion.”
Does Groves (19-1, 15 knockouts) have the capacity to regroup? That remains to be seen but, as a fighter, he has the innate resources to battle back and, as an athlete, he is undoubtedly gifted. Only time will tell if the 25 year old has the required character to come back from defeat.”
Froch (32-2, 23 KOs) is still a champion but he went through hell tonight. The thirty six year old is arguably the most dedicated warrior in the game but how much more can he take? The proposed match ups for 2014 included Gennady Golovkin and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. but public demand may well force George Groves Pt. 2.
“I can’t see the public demanding any other fight than a rematch,” said Eddie Hearn. “I thought George was ahead and deserves a return fight. I can’t speak for Carl Froch because he was in a hard fight tonight and he’s 36 years old.”
Photos / Scott Heavey-Getty Images
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing