Carl Froch celebrates his victory over a distraught George Groves following the controversial stoppage to their IBF super middleweight title bout at Phones4u Arena on Nov. 23 in Manchester, England.
For many UK fans Carl Froch-George Groves may have been one of the best prize fights ever staged on British soil but, as is often the case in boxing, this ferocious domestic shootout is likely be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
London-based challenger George Groves, THE RING’s No. 5-rated super middleweight, opened as a significant underdog against his countryman, but exuded confidence in the build-up and produced a performance to match, against the infinitely more experienced IBF super middleweight titleholder.
“The Saint” decked his bitter rival with a pulverizing right hand in Round 1 and opened up a big lead. He displayed tactical finesse, withering punch power but, in a controversial call, was pulled out of the fight at 1:33 of Round 9, following a burst of combination punching by the Nottingham star.
The overall consensus is that the stoppage was early and referee Howard Foster has come under scathing criticism during a tumultuous aftermath. The British Board of Boxing Control has elected to stand behind their official, but the demand for a rematch has been deafening amongst fans and media alike.
For his part Froch, THE RING’s No. 1-rated super middleweight, was on the major ascendency in Round 9, and many are convinced that a definitive knockout victory was imminent for the relentless warrior. However, you win a fight with fists, not a crystal ball, and lingering doubts and a sour taste show no sign of dissipating as both camps continue their poisonous feud.
RingTV.com spoke to George Groves (19-1, 15 knockouts) about his stoppage defeat, the aftermath and the rematch that every boxing fan wants to see.
Ring TV: The referee’s stoppage has created an enormous stir. You’ve watched the fight back, so take me through your thought process when you were under fire and your perspective on what we see on television?
George Groves: In Round 9 he caught me with a shot and I tied him up. The punch landed around the back of the ear but, although it registered, my senses were completely intact. At no point during that fight were my senses scrambled and I always had my legs under me. After the punch landed, Carl Froch, who was in a desperate state of mind, rushed in to throw a few more and I was still defending myself, evading some of the punches and more importantly – firing back. When I went to clinch again, Howard Foster grabbed me and called a halt to the fight. I emphasize, not once, were my senses taken away from me and I was in full control of my faculties. I abided by the rules of the sport and proved that I was capable of defending myself. Did I take a couple of punches? Of course, but if we don’t hit each other the sport doesn’t exist. I also made my opponent miss and fired back, which is defense in itself. It was an awful decision from Howard Foster and, although I’m not suggesting there was anything sinister about it, he was obviously caught up in the hype of Froch having a granite chin and being able to take anything thrown at him. Froch took a tremendous amount of punishment, hit the deck in Round 1 and was buzzed continually throughout the fight. For the referee to say he stopped that fight because “I was hurt” is totally unfair, considering the punishment Froch absorbed.
RTV: Did Howard Foster speak to you after the stoppage and try to explain his actions?
GG: I didn’t speak to him. My trainer (Paddy Fitzpatrick) asked him why he stopped the fight and the answer was; “Oh, he was hurt!” How can he judge that with my head under his arm? He couldn’t see my eyes and I was still in the process of defending myself when he made the call. If I was in the same position that Lucian Bute was in (against Froch) then I would have no argument, because he was taking clean shots on the chin, not defending himself and not firing back. That was the complete opposite of what I was doing.
RTV: There are those who say you were seconds away from being knocked out. How do you address that?
GG: There are people who are trying to justify the stoppage by saying, better too early than too late. Again, if I was in Bute’s position then fair enough, but that argument can never be used if someone is still defending and punching back. That is what a fight is. If you look at the Froch vs. (Mikkel) Kessler rematch in May, with the same logic, then that fight could have been stopped 10 times, because they were thumping each other with big shots, round after round. But again, both of them have warrior reputations so it’s okay, whereas I have an unjust chinny reputation, so I need be saved before disaster strikes? It’s absolutely ridiculous.
RTV: You scored a huge knockdown in Round 1. What mistake did Froch make which led to that and did you envision such a quick and explosive start?
GG: Carl Froch makes fundamental mistakes and I disclosed that before the fight. His defenses aren’t very good, he doesn’t cover his chin, he crosses his legs (when he punches) and his footwork is really bad. The knockdown happened because he rushed in square with two shots and I took a step back and let him walk on to the right hand. You had the force of him coming in, plus the force of the punch itself and it landed flush on the button.
RTV: Were you surprised Froch made it to his feet, because that looked like a really concussive punch?
GG: Carl has a good chin and I knew that coming in. When he’s hurt you can’t rush him because that plays into his hands. When I boxed Glen Johnson I landed huge punches but when I went for the finish it sapped my energy and I learned a lesson from that. It was only two minutes into the fight, when I dropped Froch, and I knew he would keep making the same mistakes throughout, so I was in no rush.
RTV: How do you rate Froch’s punch power as compared to other fighter’s you’ve faced?
GG: He’s physically very strong, but that was nowhere near the worst I’ve been hurt in a fight. I was never in real trouble and his punch power was exactly as I expected it to be – fist clenched tight, clubbing punches. Because Froch doesn’t have the correct technique and speed he loses a bit of punch power in my opinion.
RTV: You displayed tactical superiority for most of the fight, although two of the scorecards were closer than ringside consensus. Did you expect to exert that kind of dominance in the fight and, if so, why?
GG: Definitely. I’ve got more tools than Carl Froch and my physical attributes outweigh his, 10 to one. I knew I was better technically and I was well schooled going into this fight. He couldn’t cope with my lateral movement and my jab was far superior. Froch has a good jab but it’s always thrown the same way, whereas I have more variety with mine and it showed. It was the same with the right hand, which I could spring in with as a lead, turn into a hook or catch him around the ribs. As the fight progressed I kept adding layers to my performance and he never had a chance to get comfortable.
RTV: You’ve never been in a fire fight like that in your career. How much did you have left in the tank when the fight was halted?
GG: I could never be 100 percent fresh, because that’s physically impossible. I had slowed a touch, but I was in better condition than Carl and when you’re better off than your opponent, that allows you to relax. With three rounds left I was looking forward to emptying the tank because I had the fitness and the conditioning to do that. When Carl unloaded in Round 9 I remember thinking it was his final push, but I was robbed of the chance to come back from it.
RTV: There was bad blood in the build-up, but it was quelled to an extent after the fight. Has that changed?
GG: I had no grudges against Carl Froch, because he didn’t say anything to insult me on a personal level. I don’t hate him and beating him in the ring would have been satisfying enough for me. I talked the talk, walked the walk and converted a hostile crowd in the process. I went over to him after the fight and he told me to “F” off and get lost. I just thought, you silly man, what more do I have to do? You boasted about what you were going to do but couldn’t get it done, whereas I backed up my words, got robbed and you still haven’t got the cajones to be a man and shake my hand. My trainer went over and told Robert McCracken (Froch’s trainer) to sort it out and although Carl made an effort, he wanted to lecture me. I’m giving him an olive branch, but he still couldn’t understand what had just happened. I don’t know if he was still concussed or something. In the build-up I told him what would happen for a reason, and in the ring I spelled it out for him. He just wanted to control things afterwards, and make it up to me by saying we used to be friends. Everyone is crying out for a rematch, so why do you want to be friends? He boasted at ringside that he could have ended my career and everyone booed because they knew it was lies.
RTV: It was the biggest moment of Paddy Fitzpatrick’s career. What are your thoughts on your trainer and team post-fight?
GG: My team is great. I’ve come to realize that the circus is not needed, although I’ve never really gone down that route. Paddy’s attention to detail in the lead up to this fight was amazing as was his knowledge, dedication and loyalty. The trust that I was able to put in him allowed me to perform to the best of my ability and I didn’t fully realize, until afterwards, how much it meant to him (emotional). You know, unfair or not, he should be training a world champion right now. Paddy made his points very clear (on the stoppage) at the post-fight press conference and he earned that right, because my old trainer (Adam Booth) got more coverage than he did. Paddy played a vital role in this fight.
RTV: You did have a moment with Adam Booth after the fight. What was the crux of that conversation?
GG: I bumped into him after the fight and my wife was there. It was a sad moment because Adam has been a big part of my life for a long time and our working relationship broke down in messy circumstances. There’s a friendship that should be there, even if we can’t work together, and he was just there as a friend. Adam was concerned and, although we’ve got issues that we’re working through, it was nice to have him there at the time.
RTV: You’ll have spoken to Eddie Hearn. How does the land lie with rematch talks at the moment?
GG: I’m promotionally a free agent but if Eddie wants to speak to me then I’m all ears because Carl has two options – rematch or retire. I wouldn’t hold it against him if he hung up the gloves and I think his trainer may push for that, because Carl took dozens of head shots. Still, if he decides to box on, a rematch is his only option because the British public would never accept (Andre) Ward, (Gennady) Golovkin or (Julio Cesar) Chavez (Jr.). In essence he would be avoiding me and I’ve already said that I’m ready, willing and able to fight him again. If he retires then I have plenty of options and I’ll just move on without him. Froch had his first real piece of success in Round 9 and the referee stopped the fight, so it’s unfinished business because that decision was catastrophic. It’s difficult to put into words the money, time and options that ending has cost me. People say my stock has risen, but my stock would have risen regardless. My only solace is that I’ve arrived on the world scene and that’s a great thing.
RTV: You seemed genuinely moved by the crowd’s support following the fight. Did that sooth the pain somewhat and do you think you’ll sustain that fan appreciation?
GG: I hope so. I made new fans because I was humble and gracious after the fight, even though I’d been robbed. I think the crowd understood that I was in fight mode in the build-up and it was the real me, after the punches had been thrown. On the flipside Froch didn’t do that and attempted to justify a premature stoppage. What Carl needs to understand is that he said so many things that turned out to be untrue. He said I was going to sleep as soon as he landed the right hand and he has a track history of talking out his backside. He should have just said it was an early stoppage, shook hands and called for the second fight. He’s done himself no favors whatsoever. If he comes out and admits it was an early stoppage, and pledges to retire, then I’ll respect that. If he comes and says that it was early and he wants a rematch, then I’ll have even more respect. But if he carries on saying he could have ended my career and wants a rematch with Yusaf Mack, then nobody will respect him.
RTV: Your countryman, Tony Bellew, fights Adonis Stevenson this weekend. What are your thoughts on how that fight will unfold?
GG: I think Tony is a big underdog here because Stevenson has turned in such great performances recently, whereas Isaac Chilemba gave Tony a few problems. That said Chilemba is a really tricky customer. Tony has to take Stevenson’s punch power away from him and move his feet correctly. It’s a tough task but we wish him all the best and it’s a fantastic fight. I hope everyone in the UK stays up for it and we get a new British world champion. I’m a fan of both guys and Tony won’t be fazed by being the underdog in this one.
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