Carl Froch and George Groves squared up for the first time since their grudge super middleweight rematch was confirmed for May 31 at Wembley, England – and suddenly the whole of British boxing went into crazed overdrive.
While the bitter rivals were delivering statements of intent Monday lunchtime, at a press conference held inside the English soccer team’s 82,000-capacity national stadium, tickets for the most-eagerly anticipated domestic showdown in many, many decades were going on sale.
By the time Froch and Groves had finished their media duties, which ended in a shoving match on the hallowed Wembley turf, news was already filtering through that all 60,000 seats on offer had been snapped up in less than an hour. There may be another 20,000 made available in the coming weeks depending on the Metropolitan Police granting permission for an event of that size-taking place in the capital after 10:00 p.m.
Little need, though, for IBF titleholder Froch (32-2, 23 knockouts) and challenger Groves (19-1, 15 KOs) to sell or hype their second scrap. Yet this fact did nothing to stem the flow of verbal from the pair of sworn enemies. Groves once more played the wind-up merchant, constantly baiting and goading the 36-year-old Nottingham star. Froch, in contrast to last time when he became so agitated by the Hammersmith man’s behaviour, desperately tried to avoid direct debate and exchange. He so nearly succeeded, too.
“This is it. Everything for a reason. We got the rematch we wanted. Carl Froch has been mandated. He’s been forced to take a fight he knows he can’t possibly win,” said 25-year-old Groves before focusing on the unsatisfactory outcome of the first meeting in Manchester last November when the referee controversially intervened in the ninth by declaring him unable to continue.
”It was a stonewall robbery the first time. Everyone knows it. The IBF know it, that’s why they have installed me as the mandatory, with an immediate rematch that’s now taking place. Froch has constantly said it’s a fight he can’t get up for, that he struggles with his motivation. He wanted to go to Las Vegas, I believe, and fight Chavez. He didn’t want to take this fight but has been forced. That’s round one to me.
“Round two is because we are sitting right here in Wembley, in my home city. Why is it that Carl has to travel down to London, to my hometown, to fight in front of my home fans? This will be a national event. People will travel to watch the fight. But this is my home crowd. Maybe that’s fate.
“And I know and he knows there’s nothing he can take from the first fight, absolutely nothing – apart from the gift he was given in the ninth round by the referee Howard Foster.”
Froch’s response was not to respond, though he did speak of his ‘excitement and pride’ of performing before a record British boxing crowd.
“Fantastic stadium, Wembley – doesn't get any bigger than this; a platform for boxing and for myself to showcase my skills. I'm just so, so excited,” he said without once looking in Groves’ direction. "To be given this opportunity, and I'm sure George Groves feels the same, it's a wonderful opportunity that we have to take with both hands.
"I've had an unbelievable break over Christmas and the New Year with my family. But I've missed the gym, I've missed boxing, I've missed hitting the bag, I've missed listening to my trainer Rob McCracken – and that's bad news for Groves because I'm now excited and looking forward to getting back into the ring on May 31 and doing the business.
"The last time I felt this mentally switched before a fight on was in the build-up to Lucien Bute – and we all saw what happened there."
All fairly measured. Then came the first face-off for the cameras, which passed without incident until some of Froch’s entourage, led by his brother Lee, physically confronted their man’s chief tormentor.
Still, Froch, himself, had managed to play it cool, stay calm and retain his self-discipline. Or, so we thought. For the very moment the warring countrymen made into the fresh air and onto the pitch, Froch cracked and pushed Groves in the chest.
Later, Groves warned he will demand the British Boxing Board of Control take action against Froch if there is a repeat of that aggressive behavior at future press conferences planned between now and fight night. He also claimed THE RING’s No.1-rated super middleweight is ‘struggling to keep it together’.
Groves, the magazine’s number five at 168 pounds, may have a point. It's going to be a fascinating two-and-a-half months finding out for sure.