By Cliff Rold
When the purse split is close to $20 million USD, and the butts in the seats are expected to total some 80,000, there is only one word to describe the event: Superfight.
Carl Froch-George Groves II might not be seen that way in the US, but in boxing terms it only gets so much bigger. This fight has everything: a quality style clash, genuine animosity, and a whale of a controversial finish the first time around.
There can be no mistaking that Groves was ahead the first time around. Only the second man to drop Froch, youth, technique, and superior speed were putting on an early show. Then, the most grizzled of veterans started forcing his way back into the fight. Froch was turning the tide.
Before the world could see how the waves would break, referee Howard John Foster made an execrable call to stop the fight in round nine. Groves was in trouble but he didn’t look anywhere near done yet. Almost as bad, the official scoring of the bout had Froch behind only a point on the cards of judge Waleska Roldan and Massimiliano Bianco after eight rounds.
November 23, 2013, was a(nother) bad night for the officiating of the sport. In the ring, fans were getting everything they could ask for.
Six months and change later, they’re set to do it again. Will the officials bring their A-games? Will the fighters?
If you’re a fight fan, there might not be an easier day to anticipate in all of 2014.
Let’s go the report cards.
Titles: IBF Super Middleweight (2012-Present, 3 Defenses); WBA “Super” Super Middleweight (2013-Present, 1 Defense)
Previous Titles: WBC Super Middleweight (2008-10, 2 Defenses); WBC Super Middleweight (2010-Present, 1 Defense)
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 167.5 lbs.
Hails from: Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom
Record: 32-2, 23 KO
Rankings: #1 (BoxingScene, TBRB, Ring), #2 (ESPN, BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 9-2, 4 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 8 (Robin Reid RTD5; Jean Pascal UD12; Jermain Taylor TKO12; Mikkel Kessler L12, UD12; Arthur Abraham UD12; Glen Johnson MD12; Andre Ward L12; Lucian Bute TKO5)
Titles/Previous Titles: None
Height: 5’11 ½
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 168.3 lbs.
Hails from: Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
Record: 19-1, 15 KO, 1 KOBY
Rankings: #3 (ESPN), #4 (TBRB), #5 (Ring), #6 (BoxingScene), #7 (BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 0-1, 1 KOBY
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 2 (Glen Johnson UD12; Carl Froch TKO by 9)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Froch B; Groves B+
Pre-Fight: Power – Froch B+; Groves B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Froch B-; Groves B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Froch A; Groves B+
Groves built his lead the first time by being first and finishing exchanges for most of the early going. The right hand he dropped Froch with in the first was a perfect mix of power and timing. It was only the second time Froch has been down and the most hurt he’s ever appeared to be.
What preceded the knockdown speaks volumes about the chances for the challenger in the rematch. Froch, even mounting a comeback later, never seemed sharp. Dating to a war with Jean Pascal in 2008, Froch has faced just about everyone that matters in a strong era at 168 lbs. Not the fastest or smoothest man in the first place, Froch has won by knowing what works for him and fighting within himself. He’s got a good jab and boxes better than he often gets credit for but being tougher than the men in front of him has been his calling card. He’s the best overachiever of his time and his mental strength is his best quality.
All plaudits aside, everyone gets old and long runs of tough competition typically make men older than those who purse safer paths. Was his sluggish start against Groves in part a product of that? It’s only fair to ask if it was a part because Groves was the cause of what was going on. He’s the technically better boxer. He’s quicker, his shots are more orthodox, and he puts them together in quality combinations. Froch, whose range can make him difficult to catch clean, ate hard flush shots more than his norm.
The question for Groves is does he have it in him to outgut Froch if this turns into a war. He didn’t get a chance to answer that question the first time just as it was being fully posed. It’s unfair to get carried away with speculation that he would have failed. Just last week, it looked like Light Heavyweight Champion Adonis Stevenson was done in the ninth round of his defense against Andrzej Fonfara.
That was what really stunk about the call to end Froch-Groves I. It denied both men, and the fans, the outcome the fight deserved. Groves didn’t deserve to have the rug pulled out before he could answer the ultimate questions about himself. Froch didn’t deserve to have a pall cast over what could have been his finest victory.
The fans didn’t deserve a quick hook or judges who were turning in abominable scores.
This is a chance to finish answering the questions, to get it right from wire to wire, and to see boxing presented as the major league sport it should be more often than it is.
So who wins?
Groves fought as well as one could have asked the first time around. That Froch started chipping his way into the fight spoke to how hard it is to keep him at bay. Old gives way to young; that’s how sport works. That doesn’t mean the aging go quietly or are unable to summon the remainder of their youth when they need it. If Groves fought nearly his best fight the first time, Froch counters by being a proven veteran who has shown he can be better. Fully arrived as one of the game’s biggest draws, the older man will be sharper this time and Groves will have it harder from the start. It’s going to be testy and we’ll know a lot at the start. If Froch gets his jab going, if he’s snapping rather than pushing his shots, in the early rounds, Groves has an uphill battle. In a fight that proves worthy of the hype and the crowd, and really on the whim of a coin toss, the thinking is Froch will break the will of the younger man late and come up with a late stoppage no one is arguing about this time on Sunday morning.
Report Card Picks 2014: 24-8
Froch-Groves II is only the summit of a loaded weekend for Mount Fistiana…In Macau, two veteran champions are matched tough. Former Flyweight and lineal Jr. Bantamweight champion Vic Darchinyan (39-6-1, 28 KO) was so close to avenging his loss to Nonito Donaire last year but the power of Donaire proved too much. At 38, and fighting at Featherweight, power should again be his undoing. The pick is for 28-year old Nicholas Walters (23-0, 19 KO) to announce his arrival as a player, retaining his WBA belt with a stoppage sometime in the second half…More intriguing is the main event pitting WBA “Super” Featherweight titlist Simpiwe Veteyka (26-2, 16 KO) against former Flyweight, Bantamweight, and lineal Jr. Featherweight Champion Nonito Donaire (32-2, 21 KO). The history of former Flyweight champions winning belts at Featherweight is limited and Donaire didn’t look good in either of his 2013 outings. Veteyka has a hot hand coming off a title win over Chris John and has the sort of awkward style that could give Donaire fits. This looks to be a fight with lots of contested rounds, a feeling that Veteyka is winning many of them close, and a decision that sends Veteyka home angry. The pick is Donaire on a debated decision…In Germany, IBF Middleweight titlist Felix Sturm (39-3-2, 18 KO) saved his career last time out with a title win over Darren Barker. Now he has a chance to avenge a loss to Sam Soliman (43-11, 18 KO) that was overturned when Soliman tested positive for illegal stimulants. Sturm boxes better this time and Soliman fails to muster the same effort the second time around. Sturm by decision…Finally, well under the radar for many fight fans, there is an excellent 115 lb. title match in Mexico. WBC tiltist Srisaket Sur Rungvisai (27-3-1, 25 KO) started his career 1-3-1 and hasn’t lost since. The Thai banger brings the fight all night long but that may play into the hands of challenger Carlos Cuadras (29-0, 24 KO) who is comfortable in the trenches or fighting off the back foot. The more versatile Mexican is ready for his moment and should win via decision though a late stoppage wouldn’t be a surprise…Enjoy a great weekend of boxing.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]