Prior to facing George Groves on Nov. 23, IBF super middleweight titleholder Carl Froch fluctuated between irritation at the challenger’s barbs and straight dismissiveness towards the threat the unbeaten Londoner posed. That outlook almost proved costly, and although “The Cobra” prevailed via controversial ninth round stoppage, he went through hell in a brutal fight.
Now, ahead of the multi-million pound rematch, Froch is an entirely different animal. His game face has been on for months, he is completely self-absorbed and winning at all costs is the primary focus. Still, despite approaching the sequel in earnest, the champion remains fully convinced he’s the better man, and also offers a new wrinkle as to why Groves might struggle at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.
“I think Groves is a light heavyweight doing super middleweight,” said Froch, who has fought at 168 pounds since his professional debut in 2002. “That’s why he can’t do 12 rounds at pace. It’s been recorded that Groves takes off as much as eight pounds the night before a fight and that could be his undoing.
Froch continued, “It’s also obvious that he isn’t built to take punishment, because I didn’t hit him with that many punches in the first fight and his face was still busted up. I’m not relying on him running out gas, but if Groves is ready to go the distance then I’ll set a frightening pace and dish out 12 rounds of punishment.”
For the majority of the first fight it was Froch who absorbed the punishment. The three-time super middleweight beltholder took dozens of meaty headshots and was forced to rely on his incredible durability and cast iron will more than ever before. At 36 years of age, he cannot afford to take that type of abuse in the rematch.
“In this fight I need to buck up my ideas when it comes to defense,” said Froch. “When you take someone lightly you’re only thinking of offence and blasting your opponent out of there. In November, I was loading up, going wide, my footwork was wrong and I made loads of mistakes. I certainly won’t be doing that again.
“In terms of sparring I’ve had some great variety. A top amateur named Anthony Fowler; who won bronze at the world championships, Warren Baister; an amateur heavyweight, Kelvin Young; an unbeaten super middleweight, Ricky Summers, Chris Eubank Jr. and Callum Johnson. Camp has been so much better this time around.”
Despite Froch acknowledging a lack of focus, he was undeniably on the ascent when the first fight was stopped. The natural reaction at the time was to feel for Groves, who turned in a sensational performance, but the older man was also denied the opportunity to finish decisively. Still, “The Cobra” believes that the critics’ knives would have been out no matter how the fight ended.
“If I had been allowed to finish Groves more decisively then it could have been a standout moment in my career,” said the Nottingham star. “However, I still would have been criticized, because I struggled against an opponent who hadn’t beaten anyone in the top fifteen. I got dropped in the first and took a lot of shots over the first six rounds, so I was still open for negative feedback.
“However, to say that Groves was robbed of victory is ludicrous, considering the punches he was taking in round nine. He was on his way out, and it was me who was robbed of my glory. Still, on the upside, it has created this rematch, which is the biggest fight in British boxing history. That’s very good for the sport, good for the fans and good for us as fighters.”
When the first match was made, Froch appeared almost agitated by the assignment and viewed Groves as one big inconvenience. This young upstart was inexperienced at world level, didn’t belong in the same ring and was preventing him from taking on bigger game. Six months on and the same opponent will now be synonymous with the Froch legacy forever, no matter who wins.
Froch said, “That’s true. The first fight has created a rematch of such magnitude that it will definitely go a long way towards securing my legacy, providing it goes the way I know it can, with me beating Groves in style. We have some pantomime, due to all the controversy, and that has captured the public’s imagination.
“Our personalities are also significant, because although I don’t get on with George Groves we need to spend a lot of time together during promotional obligations, and the fans have watched this rivalry develop. The event has crossed over to the mainstream, which is very rare in boxing, and it’s great to be a part of that.”
Now in his mid-30s with millions of pounds earned, successful business ventures operational and a beautiful family, one has to wonder what dragons are left to slay for Carl Froch. Win or lose against Groves, is it not about time to walk away and preserve an undeniably brilliant resume?
“I’d like to fight in Las Vegas, because it’s the boxing capital of the world,” said Froch instantly. “The rematch with Groves is about prestige, legacy and the scale of this event is massive. To top that, I’d have to fight in Las Vegas for the first time, and it would be nice to compete on the same stage as some of the sport’s greatest champions.”
The last time Las Vegas and Carl Froch were mentioned, a showdown with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. was mooted. When this reporter poured negativity on that match up, based on the fact that Chavez has done nothing of consequence at 168 pounds, Froch was quick to defend the former WBC middleweight titlist.
“I think you’re being a bit harsh there,” said Froch. “Chavez is an unbelievable fighter who has only lost once in 40-plus fights and that was against a great champion in Sergio Martinez. He also proved in his rematch with Brian Vera that he belongs at the top and with his father’s legacy, and his huge Mexican following, that is a massive fight.
“In terms of the American market, it’s actually difficult to think of a better match up to be honest. If you look at Andre Ward, nobody is interested right now. He’s boxed twice since we met and is struggling to get fights, earnings, popularity or coverage. Someone like Chavez in Las Vegas would be huge and it would be a great fight to watch.”
Following Froch’s win over Groves and Adrien Broner’s humbling at the hands of Marcos Maidana, THE RING replaced “The Problem” with “The Cobra” on their mythical pound for pound list. Prior to his rematch with Mikkel Kessler, Froch had challenged this reporter to explain why he didn’t make the cut at that time, and was only too happy to discuss his inclusion.
“It’s a fantastic achievement on my behalf and something I’m very proud of,” said Froch with sincerity. “It was probably a little overdue, given the men I’ve boxed, but I’m not unbeaten and that distinction goes a long way when the pound-for-pound debate comes up. You have Andre Ward ranked No. 2 and his unbeaten record is the only reason he’s ranked that high.
“It’s nice to be recognized by The Bible of Boxing, Ring magazine, as one the Top 10 best fighters in the world, regardless of weight class.”
In order to hold his position on any pound-for-pound list and retain his IBF super middleweight title, Froch must turn back the challenge of one very confident and talented competitor. Groves has said that he will make this mega fight easy and become the first man to knock the champion out, a prediction which has left his opponent perplexed.
“I don’t know where he gets the confidence from,” said Froch, following a slight pause. “I’ve never been stopped, amateur or professional, and I’ve only been down twice on my career. I don’t get knocked out and Groves needs to remember that he’s the one with a stoppage loss on his record, and it was me who gave him that.
“I’m confident that the fight won’t go 12 rounds, so Groves is right in that respect, but it’s him who gets stopped. He can’t go the distance and will fall apart in the mid-to-late rounds. In fact he might get done early, because if he’s erratic and swings wild, like he usually does, then I’ll walk him on to something very big.”
Big is what this rematch is in every sense of the word.
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing