By Tyson Bruce
British boxing promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport announced last week that the freshly signed Froch-Groves rematch sold 60,000 tickets within the first hours of sale. Hearn is expecting at least 80,000 tickets to be sold before the May 31th rematch, making it the largest boxing event in Britain of the post-war era. I literally had to read the press release twice just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. That’s because in North American if the ghost of Jack Dempsey crawled out of his grave to fight the reincarnation of Mike Tyson it wouldn’t sell eighty thousand tickets in a year. In Britain boxing is big and is only continuing to get bigger.
Maybe it’s the byproduct of living on such a small, isolated geographical land mass or that Britain is a much older society—but national bragging rights—in this case settled through boxing—seems to enchant the general public beyond what seems possible in America. Carl Froch and George Groves are vastly different characters that represent different parts of British society. Froch is the veteran champion, a gentleman trash talker, and hardnosed brawler. Groves is the flashy London city kid and an irreverent young upstart looking to shake up the boxing establishment.
Not since the great Benn-Eubank rivalry has a domestic clash garnered so much attention in Great Britain. The first fight was a perfect set up for a lucrative and dramatic rematch. The first time around the storyline could have just as easily been the dominant champion versus the young but perhaps in over his head challenger. That, however, just isn’t a role George Groves was born to play. Groves unabashedly challenged and disrespected the proven and universally regarded Froch throughout the first press tour. Froch, usually an adept trash talker, was often lost for words and left fuming angry.
The provocative press tour, clashing personalities, and all-British feel turned an ordinary title defense for Froch into a super fight. This worked in Groves’ favor because secretly Froch has always felt this fight was beneath him. Many feel the only reason that it took place to placate promoter Eddie Hearn. The fight itself has been a source of non-stop controversy since referee Howard Foster prematurely ended a good fight that had the looks of turning into a great one. The debate over whether the stoppage was a complete robbery or a premature end to what was already coming has reached epic proportions. Quiet frankly the rhetoric from both camps has reached the point of ridiculousness and the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
If Froch didn’t want the fight before, however, then the butt whipping he took from Groves for five plus rounds certainly won’t make him any keener. This was a point Groves stressed in the kick-off press conference:
“This is a fight Froch did not want…Froch knows he can’t possibly win. The first fight was a robbery and everybody knows it. It gives me great joy that this fight is happening…Froch never wanted this fight – he was forced to take it. That’s round one to me.” Groves continued, “Round two is the fact that we are here in Wembley – this is my home city. This will be a national event but this is my home crowd. I will hit Carl Froch wherever I want – on the chin, on the ear, on the nose, in the ribs, wherever I want. Carl can take nothing positive from the first fight.”
It must be noted that this is not strictly true. If you re-watch the tape it is abundantly clear that while Groves had dominated most of the bout with his greater speed and athleticism, Froch was beginning to break Groves down. The stoppage, however, was so out of the blue that many thought Foster was breaking them for a rules violation. That it ended so quickly was as great a disservice to Froch as it was to Groves. Froch tried to stress that while he was not really motivated for the first fight but the possibility of finally getting to “shut [Groves] up” has reignited his passion for boxing.
Ironically, the controversy and success of the first bout has made the rematch so massive that the fight Froch never wanted is likely the one that will most greatly define him. Froch has publically stated that he is the greatest super middleweight in British boxing history and one of the greatest British fighters of all time. Joe Calzaghe, the man most regard as Britain’s best all time super middle, scoffed, “Carl Froch isn’t even the best super middle weight right now.” Calzaghe is of course is correct, as Andre Ward easily bested Froch in the finals of the Super Six World Boxing Championship.
That makes it even more remarkable that 80,000 tickets could sell for a fight that doesn’t even involve the division’s true world champion. If Froch is to justify even a fraction of his claims to greatness then he simply must beat Groves. Otherwise, he will be remembered as just a really good supper middleweight that lost the two biggest fights of his career. The tension is clearly weighing heavily on Froch’s mind as after a relatively composed press conference (by their previous standards) he finally snapped and aggressively shoved Groves during a photo-op at Wembley stadium. Groves just continued to taunt him.
Froch, however, must be given credit for upping his trash-talking game for the second match. During a televised contract signing on Sky Sports Froch repeatedly accusing Groves of being a “whinger” and even went so far as to make a wise-crack about Groves pronounced balding, accusing him of being, “a whinger and moaner by nature and that little birdie from inside your camp told me you whine about your bald tweed.” This dig clearly ruffled Groves’ feathers and showed just how personal and ugly it has gotten between the two men. Combine that with the fact that first fight was superbly entertaining and you’ve got the recipe for an epic grudge match.
Could Floyd Mayweather versus Manny Pacquiao draw 80,000 paid fans to Yankee Stadium? Because that is the closest and most generous equivalent you could make in America. My honest guess would be to say that no they couldn’t and probably wouldn’t even come close. Therefore, you must respect the British enthusiasm and support for their local sporting heroes. Fortunately, American’s will likely get to witness the event courtesy of HBO—who will be righting a wrong for not picking up the first Groves-Froch fight. It will be a momentous sporting event and likely a great fight, in other words, something that the boxing world deserves and must watch.