By Terence Dooley
Two of Britain's finest Super middleweights face stiff tests this weekend. Nottingham's Carl Froch and London's George Groves appear at London's O2 Arena live on Sky Box Office on Saturday night in a pair of fights that could have a massive impact on their futures. Froch rematches Mikkel Kessler for the IBF and WBA Super World titles in the main event; Groves meets Noe Gonzalez Alcoba on the undercard. The home fighters are heavily favoured going into their respective bouts and, despite Froch's claims to the contrary, could be building towards an all-British Super middleweight match-up. However, promoter Eddie Hearn believes that Froch will have to be at his very best to avenge his May 2010 decision defeat to Kessler.
Froch, 30-2 (22), is viewed as a clear favourite in some quarters. Wins over Lucain Bute and Yusaf Mack — by fifth and third-round TKO respectively — have partially wiped away the painful memory of his decision defeat to Andre Ward in December 2011. A win over "The Viking Warrior", 46-2 (35), would be another welcome boost. Froch, though, has been at pains to point out that Kessler, 34, still has a lot left to offer and, despite many picking the 35-year-old Brit for the revenge win, Hearn echoed his fighter's belief that this will be a tough night's work during a telephone conversation with BoxingScene.
"I spoke to Carl about people making him favourite," said Hearn. "We both said that everyone's said it is tough to pick between them, but they went with Froch. So I don't think he's taking too much notice. It doesn't affect him, if anything it gives him a lot of confidence and makes him think: 'Blimey, I'm really highly rated'. Especially because so many thought Bute would win (when they met in May 2012)."
He added: "I think Kessler will dig deeper than he's ever dug in this fight, they're both desperate to win this fight. There will be open workouts, a big build-up and then the weigh-in and fight, it is a massive occasion."
Groves, 18-0 (14), fights for the WBA's Inter-Continental title on the same bill. Despite some online claims that Gonzalez, 30-2 (22), will be a pushover job, Hearn insists that the 34-year-old Uruguayan is capable of springing an upset if he recaptures the form that took him to the WBC Silver 168lb title in 2011.
"George took a massive change of direction in his career for long-term gain," he said. "His first two fights with us were on short-notice, but he's got a big test against Gonzalez. A lot of people think it is a good fight, I was speaking with Andy Lee about it at the press conference and he really rates Gonzalez, so it is a good fight for George."
The criticism of Gonzalez has added to the murmurs of online discontent over Matchroom and their handling of British boxing. Their deal with Sky means fewer shows, but more depth to the bills, and includes the ever-present Prizefighter nights, which has led to claims that the Prizefighter dates are a waste of a Sky spot and that the format needs to be either overhauled or put to bed. Hearn also has to contend with personal barbs posted on forums or directly to his Twitter account. The promoter has always prided himself on his willingness to interact with boxing fans yet he does feel the sting when criticism comes his way.
"It does hurt sometimes, because I'm a fan as well, and obviously I think that all the decisions we make are the best for our fighters," he said when asked if he still pays attention to the negative and positive messages that come to him via forums and Tweets. "There's a logic to every decision we make, and I'm willing to discuss that with people, but it is difficult on Twitter in 140 characters and you can't go on forums because that becomes an endless conversation, so I respond as much as I can. At the end of the day, the people I have to keep happy are my fighters and my broadcaster, and they're both very happy."
In the long-term, securing even more shows for their growing stable is a high priority target for Hearn and Matchroom. He said: "We're working on it at the moment. Sky are happy with what we're doing and must be delighted with the team we're building so things are looking good. I'm confident."
Please send news and views to [email protected] or Twitter @Terryboxing.