By Tyson Bruce
It seems like just yesterday that boxing in Britain was a source of mockery in America. These days, however, the Brits are a financial force within the international boxing community. When Match Room Sport’s Eddie Hearn announced that at least 80,000 tickets had been sold for the May 31st rematch between Carl Froch and George Groves, making it the largest boxing event in Britain of the post-war era, it caused the boxing world to do a big double take. The scale of the fight is such that it has transformed it from a mere boxing match into a full-scale cultural event. If the ghost of Joe Louis crawled out of his grave to fight a prime Mike Tyson it still wouldn’t draw 80,000 in America. Controversy is boxing’s most potent financial weapon and this fight, thanks in large part to referee Howard Foster, is chalk full of it.
Perhaps 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 men that represent different parts of British society. Froch, 31-2-0-(22), is a gentleman trash talker that perfectly embodies the traditional British sportsman. Groves, 19-1-0-(15), is an edgy London city kid with an irreverent desire to shake up the boxing establishment. They couldn’t be any more different and their dislike of each other couldn’t be more genuine.
The best place to start for analyzing the rematch is with the first fight. The first bout between Froch and Groves 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.
It is the contention of Grove’s camp that they had completely dominated the first nine rounds of the bout, only to have it ripped away from them the first time that they encountered any trouble. When asked about the first fight Groves responded accordingly,
“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.”
If Froch was reluctant to fight Groves the first time the butt whooping he took for most of their first fight certainly won’t make him any more eager the second time around. By all accounts his promoter Eddie Hearn, as well as a dramatic shift in public opinion towards the side of Groves, pressured Froch into taking the rematch. Groves is the thorn in Froch’s side, the dark shadow that he can’t escape.
Groves’ version of the first fight seems to be the one that has been generally accepted by the public. However, a close analysis of the first fight, without the emotion of it’s initial viewing, challenges this contention. It is abundantly clear that while Groves had dominated most of the bout with his greater hand 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.
Boxing is not a nine round fight; it’s a twelve round fight. From approximately the seventh round on Groves began to show signs of severe fatigue. As ungraceful and basic as Froch can be he puts tremendous physical pressure on his opponents. It’s the reason why he scores so many late round knockouts and rallies down the stretch in so many fights. It’s hard to imagine that Groves, as tired as he was, could have staved Froch off for another three and half rounds. Ironically, the premature ending might have been a blessing in disguise for Groves. Not enough people are taking that into account when discussing how the rematch will go.
Paradoxically, the controversy 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 his career. Froch has publically stated that he believes he’s the greatest super middleweight in British boxing history and one of the greatest British fighters of all time. If he losses this fight, his reputation will go up in flames faster than any of his claims of greatness. In fact, it’s hard to imagine Froch even getting into the Hall of Fame if he were to have lost the two most important fights of his career (the other coming against Andre Ward). His legacy is literally hanging in the balance with this fight and perhaps that is the hidden incentive for him in this fight.
The problem for Froch in the rematch is simple for all to see: he’s thirty-six years of age, fighting a younger and significantly more athletic opponent. Even if Froch was to win, not an unrealistic possibility, he will have to go through hell fire to do so. Froch can better prepare himself for the Groves onslaught but there is nothing he can really do to cope with Groves’ speed and superior talent—especially in the early rounds. Froch will have to fight a more disciplined and conservative fight with the hope of making a rally in the latter rounds. Groves cannot fight the exact same fight the second time around no matter how successful he believes he was the first time. He doesn’t have the fitness to do so and he’ll have to be mentally prepared for a more physical fight the second time around.
That this fight will draw 80,000 spectators in spite of the fact that neither Froch nor Groves are the best fighters in their division is powerful reflection of the growing shift in the boxing business. The sport is becoming more globalized by the day and the biggest fights no longer have to happen in American or necessarily involve Americans. This fight has been sold through bragging rights and national honor, two concepts that seem like distant memory in today’s boxing climate in America. And yet how many American boxer’s, champions or not, will make the kind of purse Froch and Groves will make? The answer is very few. And how many will draw as many fans as they will? The answer is none. There is a lesson to be learned from this.