When George Groves met Carl Froch in Manchester, England, for the IBF super middleweight title last November, he had been the lead player in a fistic soap opera. A managerial dispute with longtime coach Adam Booth resulted in a court appearance, and the vast majority of British fans turned on him for having the nerve to take on “The Cobra.”
On fight night Groves shirked the pressure and oozed confidence. He decked his rival in Round 1 with a thunderous right hand, administered a serious beating on Froch, and was leading on all scorecards entering the ninth. Suddenly the champion broke through with a heavy attack and, although the Nottingham man was on the ascendency, referee Howard Foster’s stoppage was greeted with outrage.
There were immediate cries for a rematch and on Saturday night 80,000 fans will fill Wembley Stadium in London to see this argument settled definitively. Will Groves be able to produce again in the biggest fight of his life or will he succumb to the pressure of this monstrous occasion?
“Pressure comes down to the individual and how they deal with it,” said Groves, THE RING’s No. 5-rated super middleweight. “I’ve always dealt with pressure very well and although the atmosphere will be completely different, my outlook remains the same. I believed that I could win the first time, and I believe that I’ll win this time.
“Actually a few more people are picking me to win, so there’s less pressure on me. I’m in a fight that’s viewed as competitive and there’s no hate being aimed towards me, like there was prior to the first fight. I stayed calm and composed throughout the build-up last time, but dealing with all that hate would have taken energy from me.”
Groves entered the ring to a chorus of boos six months ago but, following an inspired performance, left to a standing ovation from over 20,000 fans. While the hero and villain roles may not have reversed completely, there is undeniably more affection for the challenger, who has watched his popularity soar in recent months.
Groves said, “This time I won’t have a hostile crowd to deal with and, in all likelihood, I’ll get more support than Carl Froch. I think everyone senses that Carl is at the end of the road and a changing of the guard is imminent. Also, unlike last time, I’m coming in with my team in place, and I’m not building my training camp from scratch.
Speaking of camp this reporter was keen to know who Groves was sparring with in the lead up to the rematch and when I explained that Carl Froch had extended me that courtesy, the challenger couldn’t resist taking another pop at the champion.
“I don’t have the big names that Carl has, plus he’s probably not paying his sparring partners,” said Groves, with a chuckle. “He’ll be giving them a plug in Ring magazine in exchange for free sparring. My guys are caged up, they’re only allowed out to spar and between rounds we throw them bits of steak.
“Seriously though, in terms of British based guys, we’ve had Patrick Mendy and Miles Shinkwin. They’re reliable and give you the work. You’ll never find the ideal sparring partner and in a real fight it’s about adapting and adjusting to what’s in front of you. I’ve been sparring with a couple of European lads, whose names I won’t mention, although they will probably leak out after the fight.”
Groves has shared almost nine full rounds of combat with Froch and is now better served than ever to break down his opponent’s attributes. Still, despite the experience he’s gained, there wasn’t a lot of positive feedback from the cerebral Londoner.
“You have to look at Carl for what he is,” said Groves, who is 19-1 (15 knockouts). “In terms of fundamentals he’s weak. He isn’t a pressure fighter and he isn’t necessarily this stereotypical warrior, who backs people up all the time. He doesn’t have good foot movement, or shot variety, and he doesn’t punch straight. There’s so much wrong with what he does.
“What I will say is there’s not much quit in him. There have been times when he’s slumped or sagged, but he’s been to the well so many times that he knows something can happen if he hangs around. There’s also been times when he’s cashed in on the proverbial lottery ticket, like when he stopped Jermain Taylor in the closing seconds, and when the referee stopped his fight with me.”
Suffice to say that a battle hardened top professional like Froch will venture to London with a toolbox over flowing with physical and strategic weaponry. Still, Groves is convinced that a change of game plan, or pace, will only delay the inevitable.
“Look Carl can start quicker and run on to more shots if he likes,” said the challenger. “Just because he starts quicker doesn’t mean he’ll punch harder or faster. He doesn’t set up his attacks well, and in that respect he’s ordinary. If he starts slower and decides to avoid punishment, in the hope that I get tired, that won’t work either. I’ll just cut the ring down on him.”
Many in the boxing fraternity were stunned by Groves’ performance in November, but the 26 year old is keen to dismiss the theory that he had a great night and Froch had a poor night.
“I can do a lot better and I will do a lot better,” said Groves in a serious tone. “It’s easy for people to justify their predictions for the first fight by saying that I boxed out my skin and Carl Froch didn’t show up but, truth be told, I boxed the way I’ve always boxed.
“I made mistakes without Carl forcing them out of me and I can change that. For example when Carl charged me against the ropes there were times when I didn’t have to fire back. I could have spun him around and used my feet. We don’t expect perfection, but our plan is to give nothing away for free.”
So what if Groves evens the score? When a great rivalry is tied the fans, the media, the promoters and most of all the fighters rarely resist the calls for a rubber match. Froch vs. Groves 2 has been financial dynamite for Sky Sports, Matchroom Promotions and the participants, who are on career high pay days. The bout will also shatter post war attendance figures and HBO in the U.S. is on board.
Surely Groves would want a trilogy, or would he?
“If I beat Carl Froch in the manner that I know I’m going to then I don’t expect people to call for a third fight. If he wants to come back and take another beating then he’ll be doing it for a quarter of the money, because he won’t be able to dictate a thing.
“The bottom line is that I’ve got between five and 10 years left in my professional career, whereas Carl doesn’t. A third fight would perhaps make sense to him, but I’ll be looking to crack on and take over the world.”
Groves has always aimed high and who can blame him? In six months he has gone from overmatched challenger to natural successor and his aspirations far exceed what is without question the biggest night of his career, and arguably the greatest occasion in British boxing history.
“Boxing is in for a new era,” said Groves. “In football you get big events like the FA Cup final or the World Cup and my hope is that we see occasions of that magnitude in boxing. I hope to be the face of that and I want to be in exciting fights that capture the public’s imagination.
“The only way to do that is to be involved in exciting fights and be an exciting fighter. That starts on May 31 when I perform at my best, control this fight and ultimately knock out Carl Froch at Wembley Stadium.”
Prior to the first fight, Groves told the champion how the first round would unfold and then delivered in spades. This time “The Saint,” who signed with German based outfit Sauerland Promotions last week, is taking his habit of detailed predictions one step further.
“Carl Froch is so obvious and predictable that I can tell him what punch I’m going to knock him out with,” said Groves, with no sign of subterfuge. “I will tell him what shot finishes him on fight week. He didn’t believe me when I told him how that first round would unfold. Let’s see if he believes me this time.”
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing