The third man in the ring had never seen or heard anything like it. Eighteen months since he last officiated a world title fight, Charlie Fitch, a relatively inexperienced 43-year-old referee from Syracuse, N.Y., found himself inside London’s Wembley Stadium to oversee a decisive finish to an all-British grudge match that would soon play out before 80,000 fans. He took a deep breath. He was aware of the history.
Back in November, Carl Froch and George Groves combined to produce one of the most savage, dramatic and controversial fights ever to take place on British soil, a fight concluded by a ninth-round stoppage in Froch’s favor. The Nottingham slugger retained his IBF super middleweight title that night, but not everyone went home happy. The booing fans certainly didn’t and neither did Groves, the plucky challenger on the receiving end of what he and everybody else deemed to be a hasty and ill-timed stoppage.
The flustered referee, England’s Howard Foster, fled the ring beneath a security blanket, ears ringing from the vitriol of 20,000 fans, and the contentious nature of his stoppage threatened to overshadow all that came before it. That included Groves decking Froch in the first round and outboxing him for the first half of the contest, and then, crucially, the heroic champion rallying back through the fog. Regrettably, it became all about the moment Foster crossed his arms and cradled a wounded but willing “Saint” in his arms.
Months later, however, with the controversy acting as the impetus for Froch and Groves to pick up where they left off and fight again, the ostracized referee from Doncaster had inadvertently set the wheels spinning on a blockbuster rematch at Wembley Stadium, one that would break the post-World War II attendance record for a British boxing match. Sixty thousand tickets flew out the door in just 51 minutes, with the promise of a further 20,000 to follow. They too would vanish in a flash. The return had become more than just a boxing match. It was now an event. According to its promoter Eddie Hearn, “Unfinished Business” marked “the biggest event in British boxing history.”
Because of all this, Fitch took another deep breath to compose himself. It was impossible to escape the controversy that shrouded the first encounter six months ago, and this time there was no margin for error. The public needed to be satisfied, their thirst for an emphatic, violent ending quenched. Fitch was aware of this. He was also aware of accusations from the Groves camp that much of Froch’s success the first time around had been due to fouling and rough-house tactics on the inside. It was another thing he was expected to stop. Another thing on his mind. …
Enjoy this preview of “Finished Business”? The full version can be read in the September 2014 issue of THE RING Magazine, on newsstands now. The issue includes comprehensive post-fight coverage of the landmark Froch-Groves II event, as well as a “Best I’ve faced” installment featuring the cover-man himself.
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