By Tyson Bruce
The same way that American fight fans cherish the memories of the great welterweight and middleweight rivalries of the 1980’s between Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, and Roberto Duran, so to do the British with the Super Middleweight rivalry of the 1990’s between Nigel Benn and Chris Eubanks and, to a lesser extent, Steven Collins. British boxing pundits like Jim McDonnell and Barry McGuigan talk about those fights with the same faint nostalgic tone that Emanuel Steward and Larry Merchant talked about the 1980’s. It left an indelible mark not just on their careers, but also on their lives as a whole.
Those were magical times in sporting history for everyone who was lucky enough to be there. And, fans from both nations are forever trying to find parallel rivalries that can recreate those special moments. How many times in the build up to Mayweather vs. Alvarez did you hear somebody reference the similarity to the fights between the fab four fight? It happened a lot. That fight, both in terms of competiveness and drama, fell way short of the mark. This weekend two British fighters, super middleweight titlist Carl Froch and young upstart George Groves, will engage in a bout that’s promotion and match-up has fans doing the ‘Macarena’ like it’s 1993 all over again.
As a millennial, the closest match-up during my lifetime in terms of style and personalities to the great 1980’s was Oscar De La Hoya vs. Felix Trinidad way back in 1999. That match featured two welterweights in their absolute physical primes—one being a pretty boy Gold Medalist and the other being a no nonsense knockout artist with a beloved local following—who had a fierce personal and professional rivalry with one another. From afar the fight so closely reminded one of Leonard vs. Hearns that it was uncanny. That is why when Oscar De La Hoya turned that fight into a track meet instead of a boxing match it was so brutally disappointing. It was so awful that despite doing a then record breaking 1.4 million pay per view buys they never had a rematch.
Chris Eubank and Nigel Been, both in fighting style and personality, were vastly different from the traditional model of the British prizefighter. Unlike the humble and structured personalities of British favorites like Henry Cooper and Frank Bruno, Benn and Eubank were flashy, brash, and sometimes downright nasty. That, however, was what made them special because they so authentically represented the cultural era that they were fighting in. Benn, known ominously as the ‘Dark Destroyer’, was a brooding nasty “badest man on the planet” style personality and Eubank was an irreverently eccentric guy with an ego big enough to fill Wembley Stadium itself. They were destined to loath and punish each other.
When Chris Eubank first began calling out Nigel Benn he had only around ten professional bouts and Benn was already regarded as a world caliber contender. In that sense it greatly resembles how George Groves, who is considered to be in the infancy of his prime, has so unabashedly challenged and disrespected the proven and universally regarded Froch. Nobody is giving Groves much of a chance it seems, but he could care less telling everyone and anyone that he has the style and stones to whip Froch.
Froch, who is usually a very adept trash talker, has been verbally ransacked by Groves throughout the promotion. I advise anyone who hasn’t already watched the Ringside interview with Groves and Froch to do so. It takes trash talking to an almost artistic level and, refreshingly, it pertains only to boxing related insults. Nobody is taking anyone’s ‘side-piece’ here. Froch was so taken aback by the quick wit of the young Londoner that he was practically a stuttering mess by the end of the interview.
This, however, could all backfire against Groves because Froch, unlike most fighters, is very good at fighting angry. Froch has attributes that you just can’t teach a fighter, with naturally heavy hands, fighting heart, and maybe the best chin in the business. He is also far and away the more proven fighter at world level. That said, Groves is a legit up and comer who has shown consistent improvement with each passing bout. Since his conquest of the Olympic Gold medalist and intense personal rival James Degale, he seems to have blossomed as a talent, with great performances against Paul Smith, a faded Glenn Johnson, and a highlight-reel knockout of former title challenger Noe Gonzales. Still, it came as a shock that Groves didn’t try and cherry pick one of the lesser belt-holders for a title and instead practically demanded a match with Froch. If he can fight as good as he can talk this ought to be some kind of a fight.
While much of the rest of the world’s boxing fans will be consumed with the return of Manny Pacquiao against Brandon Rios, this will certainly not be the case in Great Britain. This fight sold out the M.E.N. Arena in eleven minutes, and no, that is not a typo. Clearly, the British public is yearning for a rebirth of the glory days when domestic fights between British stars even overshadowed the sports biggest global superstars and events. It’s up to Froch and Groves to make sure that the fight lives up to the hype.
So Brits, bust out your ugly sweaters, addidas sneakers, and Will Smith records and lets party like it’s 1990 because this is an authentic, thrown back domestic-rivalry super middleweight fight.