The Punch that Revitalised British Boxing
In life, what interests human beings are stories, heroes and villains, adversity and triumph. The tale of Muhammad Ali was a story I knew from being small, his heroic stance on Vietnam and his triumph over formidable foes. I always admired him first and boxing second. However, I want to talk about the fight that truly made me a boxing fanatic. I want to talk about the rivalry that breathed new life into British boxing and taught me it was not just the heavyweights of the ’60s and ’70s that had great stories, but that boxing was creating new stories every Saturday night. I want to talk about Carl Froch vs George Groves
Carl ‘’the Cobra’ Froch had had a storied career well before George Groves became the challenger for his WBA and IBF world super-middleweight titles. Two wars with Mikkel Kessler, victories over tough challengers like Arthur Abraham, Sensational Knockouts like that over Lucian Bute and the all-time classic come from behind against Jermaine Taylor. Despite this, he had never quite transcended the sport and remained a favorite of mostly hardcore boxing fans. ‘St’ George Groves, on the other hand, was the classic challenger, 19-0 with 15 stunning knockouts. The west Londoner had fast hands, fast feet and a fast mouth, the complete opposite of the stoic champion.
As they took to the ring in the Manchester arena on the 23rd of November 2013 anticipation was high and the contest started fast with Groves landing well and Froch Looking tentative. Interesting though the action was it remained routine until with 20 seconds left in round 1 a huge, perfectly timed right hand from Groves dropped Froch harder than he had ever been dropped in his whole career. Froch rose and smiled, ever the warrior, but his legs were still not underneath him as the bell ended the opening round. Groves continued to stalk and land big crosses as the rounds carried on, growing in confidence until he in an effort to hurt Froch again opened himself up and walked onto a left hook late in the third.
Soon learning his lesson however Groves once again tightened up and dictated the pace and distance once again moving left with a cocked right hand. Froch, however, seemed to be getting himself back into the fight occasionally landing big and hurting Groves. This became the story of the fight as throughout the next few rounds Groves continued to dominate but opened his defense up slightly more in each round. Then in the 9th round Groves breathed heavily, beginning to tire and Carl started to swing catching groves with a series of shots that wobbled him back into the ropes. Then as quick as the barrage of punches had started the fight was over Howard Foster had grabbed George Groves stopped the fight. The stadium erupted, the fight had been stopped far too soon, as proved by the fact Groves immediately stood up and began protesting, totally cognizant of his surroundings. Everyone knew there had been a huge error with Groves ahead in the fight. The rematch was on.
This is the turning point in the story as there becomes two warring factions on a collision course for a final battle, a crescendo that would define the landscape of British boxing to come. no longer was it Froch fans, Groves fans or boxing fans, everyone in the UK had an opinion on this fight, and what would happen in a rematch.
The Monday of the 25th of November everybody their opinion on Froch vs Groves. Many thought Groves was about to go, others thought he was still in control whatever the narrative the bad blood reached a new intensity and George Groves became a man possessed, possessed with trying to get inside the head of Carl Froch. He completed a Rubix while Froch spoke at a press conference, he whispered obscenities while Froch faced forward at the face off’s, he said vile things about Froch and in my mind and that of other Froch fans became the villain, and to Groves fans, he became the cerebral psychological warrior, a hero. it then became a battle of north vs south as the trains flooded into Wembley station.
These allegiances were on full display at the weigh-ins as the Wembley arena was packed to the rafters for the weigh-ins with the George Groves faithful out in full force. This was the moment I believe George Groves started to break mentally. As the challenger, he stepped up first and although he made the weight easily he appeared daunted as the pressure of his fanbase washed over him, As they chanted his name he looked tense, nervously smiling and shifting his weight back and forth. The Champion, on the other hand, showed no such qualms. strutting onto the sage and holding his ear out laughing as Groves’ fans booed and hurled abuse, he looked relaxed, enjoying the theatrics of it all. As they came together Groves looked terrified smiling and breathing heavily it was a total juxtaposition to the cool collected man who had weighed in in the Manchester arena. As Groves began to crumble under the scale of the event Froch seemed to grow with every shout, he understood that the biggest stage in British boxing history was about to be his. ‘you look worried, you look very very worried’ were the last words Froch said to Groves as they stared into each other’s eyes at the faceoff, words that would play on groves mind for the 24 hours before they walked to the ring.
As the Undercard started the scope of this event became clear. As a then 5-0 Anthony Joshua destroyed journeyman Matt Legg in a stadium beginning to fill up with people the sheer size of the stadium was visible, by the 80,000 people where in the stadium it sounded unlike any football match that had ever been played there, it was a pressure cooker and all of the pressure lay on the shoulders of two men. As the fighters came to the ring in theatrical fashion, one on a London bus, the other to a full firework display, parading past a who’s who of British celebrities it was clear these two combatants had brought British boxing back to scale not seen since the tragic events of Eubank vs Watson at white hart lane.
The fight started tactically, both men having grown a respect for the other one’s power in the previous encounter. It soon showed to be a battle of the jabs, a battle that Groves winning. As rounds, one two and three progressed Groves rapier-like jab spiked Froch and scored the better punches. This time however the right hand could not find its home as it had early in their first fight, fighting behind his left shoulder Froch was relaxed and maintained the distance with ease while Groves bounced back and forth on the balls of his feet, full of nervous energy the screams of his fans seeming to make him more anxious to stop groves with every punch. This nervousness was again amplified by the relaxed attitude of Froch, he was breathing lightly in brilliant shape and looked completely unphased by the attacks coming his way.
the tide of the fight turned in the 5th round as Groves came out and started, as he had in their first fight, showed signs of fatigue. Froch has been waiting for him, held on the leash by veteran trainer Rob McCracken, he started to work. When groves moved back to breathe Froch jumped on him, battering around the body, zapping his energy and refocusing Groves guard. When groves would drop his arms to stop the onslaughts Froch moved back upstairs with pounding hooks which drew the response from Groves who answered with winging shots of his own. Groves had begun to fight Carl Froch’s fight. In the matchup of Boxer vs fighter, if the fight becomes a slugfest the fighter will always come out on top, Carl Froch is the epitome of a fighter sheer will and fighting spirit.
The 6th and 7th rounds were when Froch’s ring generalship shone through. By raising his shoulder and parrying with his right Froch had completely neutralized Groves’ right hand, now whenever Groves threw the shot that had dropped Carl in the first fight Carl would reply with a combination of 3-4 punches working groves body and head and learning his patterns ofdefensee. He was cutting off the ring and stalking Groves measuring him for the one big shot. The 8th was more of the same Groves fatiguing Froch catching him more often and walking him down, pushing him around, working the body, rising to the occasion…Then it happened, The Cobra struck.
A long left hook. Groves drops his guard. Froch’s entire weight comes through a pitch-perfect right hand. Before the crowd had even heard the sickening sound of the punch landing groves had hit the floor. As the referee dove in to save him, the arena went berserk. Half of them devastated, half elated, one combatant vanquished and the other crowned supreme all in the single split second as Groves fell. The most definitive end to a compelling two fight series and satisfying end to one of the great rivalries in boxing history.
As a Froch fan, I went wild, the cocky Londoner hadlearnedt his lesson. The warrior had triumphed on the biggest stage of his career, vanquishing his biggest foe. Bigger than this however this was the moment that launched the British Boxing renaissance that has brought stars like Anthony Joshua to global superstardom, the Matchroom boxing model of British stadium fights with stacked undercards and huge main events. Events that have given us great fights like AJ v Klitschko, Bellew vs Haye, Brook vs Spence. Nurtured domestic current world champions like Callum Smith, Katie Talyor, Kal Yafai and Charlie Edwards and former champions from these isles, fanfavoritess like Bellew, Crolla and Frampton. All of these monumental achievements are to my mind at least in part influenced by the massive crossover success of Froch vs Groves 2.