By Terence Dooley
“I stopped it because I thought he was hurt. I felt that way after I stopped it as well, when I was directing him back to the corner. [W]e try to stop the fight before it is one punch too late. The shot had hurt him and he was taking some clean punches in the previous round so you have to make a decision based on what is best for the fighter.” — Howard Foster, October 2009.
If Doncaster’s vastly experienced referee Howard Foster had been brought out in front of the cameras following Saturday night’s fight between Nottingham’s Carl Froch and London’s George Groves — after Groves was stopped controversially in the ninth despite dominating throughout the majority of the fight — then we may have been spared a couple of days in which the online boxing world has resembled a small village that has experienced an outbreak of rabies.
Foster did not get this opportunity, he was rushed from the ring by a posse of security guards when it became clear that the crowd at Manchester’s Phones 4U Arena were gearing themselves up for a lynching. Ironically, Foster uttered the quote that appears at the beginning of this article to me on the night when he stopped Jon Thaxton in the fourth round of his British title fight with John Murray.
Sure, Thaxton was older, which played a part in Foster’s decision, and the stoppage didn’t impact nationally, but those few words from Foster took the sting from the post-fight furor, and allowed fans, pundits and the fighters themselves to understand exactly why the fight was stopped.
Unfortunately, cases in which the referee offers a few words of explanation are the exception, rather than the norm, and are seemingly discouraged by the BBBoC. Maybe this is why the Board's General Secretary Robert Smith came out to make a case on Foster’s behalf on both Saturday night and Sunday morning.
In stating the star referee’s case for him, the well-spoken and well-meaning Board Secretary only poured fuel on the fire that has raged since Foster stepped in at 1:33 of the ninth, and at the point when Groves, after a scintillating performance, was starting to look ragged and vulnerable.
It was a decision that prompted a few knee-jerk conspiracy theories, sent the crowd apoplectic and turned Groves, now 19-1 (15), from the villain to the hero in less than one hour. The challenger had been lustily booed on his way to the ring only to find that the jeers had turned to cheers by the end of the fight, with Froch, 32-2 (23), picking up the majority of the crowd’s ire, despite not really doing anything to earn the boos that cascaded down from the stands.
This type of flip-flop is par for the course; crowds can turn quickly and easily, especially in this day and age and in a world in which our opinions alter from Tweet to Tweet, changing at the drop of a hat or a hashtag. So don’t read too much the long-term implications, the vocal majority could be back onside with Froch by the time you read these words.
Despite Smith’s attempts, the void left by the silence of the third man since Saturday night has allowed people to present their own theories as to why the fight was stopped when Groves was under pressure for one of the few times in the contest: it was a simple mistake, Foster made his decision based on the perception that Groves can’t hold a clean punch, claims he had subconsciously leaned towards Matchroom’s house fighter and much, much worse.
My own take, for what it’s worth, is that Foster’s a thoroughly decent man, a brilliant ref as well and his only flaw — if you can call it that — is that he’s tends to err on the side of compassionate caution — the stoppages of Thaxton and Rafal Jackiewicz (L RSF 6 Kell Brook), amongst others, point to this. If Foster thinks you’re coming apart, he will hover, he will have a look and then he will stop the fight.
Unfortunately, in this case, he probably didn’t linger for long enough, he certainly stepped in very quickly and at a time when Groves’s footwork was all over the place due to the physicality of the WBA and IBF Super middleweight champion rather than the punches he was taking.
In mitigation, there was a little bit of naivety on the part of the 25-year-old challenger, who blazed away when tagged and could and should have taken a knee to earn himself a respite, which would have eaten up valuable time and got him off the hook, until the tenth at least. Groves, like Jermain Taylor in April 2009, proved himself a far better technical boxer than Froch, 36, yet he lacked that little bit of experience that would have carried him through this crisis — no doubt he now has now picked up an extra bit of big-fight nous.
It leaves us with still more questions to answer: Could Groves have survived and won on points? Was Froch denied the opportunity to take Groves out cleanly? How on earth did two of the three judges have only a single point between the two fighters going into the ninth?
The tragedy, for both boxers especially, is that they did not get to provide us with the answers to those questions on Saturday night. In almost every tragedy someone falls on their sword, in this case it is a referee who, generally, is spot on. Rather than castigating Foster, we should draw a line under it and pray for a rematch, as there are still too many unanswered questions swirling around.
As it stands right now, Froch versus Groves is similar to an unfinished sympathy, a massage minus the happy ending that leaves us angry, bemused and with a raging set of opinions, Franz Kafka’s original version of The Castle or a long, overly analytical article that doesn’t…
Froch’s fighting stock rose once again on Saturday night. Down heavily in the first, out-boxed throughout and certainly out-punched, “The Cobra” still managed to retain his sting until late.
Those who sneer at his boxing ability have to bear in mind that it isn’t just about skills and punch power, experience and fighting wiles also play their part in this type of fight. We know that Groves almost has it all, what we now need to know is whether he can learn from this and become as strong an all-rounder as Froch, which means picking up the experience, and humility, to take a knee or grab on during those parts of a contest where you’re swaying and can be deemed to be on “Queer Street”.
Groves’s performance in that fateful round reminded me a little of the career of Michael Brodie. Brodie could box, punch and was a tough nut, so tough that he would often fight too honestly. The best example of this was his fight with Neil Swain in March 1997 (W TKO 10). It was a seesaw battle that thrilled the fans, but which left too many miles on Brodie’s clock. Had he fought less honestly — by holding on more often, fiddling his opponent about etc. — he might have racked up less damage, although in doing this he might not have picked up as many fans or as much love.
Groves now finds himself at his first career crossroads. Does he tweak a few things, fight with a little less honestly next time or stick to his guns in the knowledge that he has more natural ability and power than Froch?
It’s a big question for Groves and trainer Paddy Fitzpatrick, who impressed throughout the build-up to the fight only to show a small flash of naivety when arguing that they may seek legal advice to find out why a “mandatory standing eight count” wasn’t administered.
Some governing bodies unhelpfully tend to described the “eight count” as a “mandatory standing eight count”, and this may have caused some confusion, as the “mandatory standing eight count” is given whenever a fighter gets back to his feet, in the main. However, the WBA, IBF and BBBoC generally don’t give the referee the discretion to give a standing count unless he feels that only the ropes are propping up the fighter.
Rather than go from naught to litigation, which is the done thing these days, their best tack would be to try to trigger a rematch by lobbying the IBF and pointing to Rule 12A: ‘Rule 12.A of the IBF/USBA Rules Governing Championship Contests cites the grounds for appeal which are: 1. Miscalculation of the score where the correct score would change the outcome of the fight; 2. Inappropriate conduct by the referee which is alleged to have affected the outcome of the fight; 3. Misconduct on the part of the judges or referee which is alleged to have had a material effect on the outcome of the fight; 4. Imposition of penalties under Rule 14; and 5.’ The courts won’t come to their rescue any time soon.
Where Fitzpatrick excelled, though, was before and after the fight, the rules situation aside. His decision to take on the British boxing press in attendance at the post-fight press conference may not be the best long-term option, but in turning their questions about the ending back on them he rattled a few cages — this isn’t a bad thing. I hear that his defiant display led to claims that he doesn’t understand the game properly. Given that he took on a huge job with 10 weeks notice and almost helped Groves engineer a huge upset, I’d say that his understanding of the game is just fine, maybe it’s the peripherals of the business and the vagaries of the ABC Boys that he cannot be bothered with.
As for Froch, he has had a bit of stick, but he got the W and still holds the belts. The titlist’s views have flip-flopped as dramatically as the crowd and fans — one minute offering the rematch the next minute declaring that it’s up to Eddie Hearn to decide.
There’s always been an edge to Froch, both inside and outside the ring, and one gets the impression that, like Chris Eubank and Sugar Ray Leonard before him (when dealing with Nigel Benn and Thomas Hearns respectively), he wants his beaten opponent to cry “Uncle” loudly, clearly and publically before he’ll even begin to consider a return match. This is the prerogative of kingship — well, he’s the 168lb ruler on this side of the Atlantic at least — yet I for one would love to see them do it again, and soon.
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