by David P. Greisman
Both men came in with the knowledge that they could hurt each other and could be hurt by each other. They had learned this truth in their first fight, but that truth was not the whole truth. Any fact can be seen through the prism of opinion.
What buttressed both Carl Froch and George Groves was the belief that his foe had not done enough to finish him.
There was truth to this, too.
Groves had knocked Froch down hard in the first round of the first fight. He had controlled most of the first six rounds of the bout, the upstart unproven contender using this start to prove he belonged in with the accomplished veteran titleholder. Groves was ahead on the scorecards after eight. But Froch was still there in the ninth, and as long as he was still there, he still had a chance.
After all, Froch had been in similar positions four and a half years before then — on the canvas early, deposited down there by a counter right hand landed by a faster, younger opponent. Froch had been behind as his fight with Jermain Taylor got late, and he remained behind almost as late as he could go without losing. As the 12th round began, two judges had Taylor ahead. As the 12th round got going, Froch had Taylor down.
The knockdown hurt Taylor badly. Froch needed to end Taylor quickly. He continued to attack, hoping the referee would step in to stop him before the final bell would force him to do so. He got the win with just 14 seconds left.
There was much more time left against Groves, yet there was similar urgency. It was better to get started before the end.
What began with two men exchanging punches soon became Froch getting the better of the exchange, for one punch had left Groves wobbled and attempting to hold on. Froch sought to keep him from holding on and to take him off his feet. Froch landed a hard left hook and a right hand. Groves leaned back against the ropes, came forward to throw a few of his own, got caught once more and then covered up, stepping forward with his head down.
The referee jumped in. It was a premature stoppage, Groves argued, and one of the two sanctioning bodies whose belts Froch held agreed, ordering a rematch.
They met again this past Saturday, fighting in Wembley Stadium in London, the second-largest soccer arena in the entire continent of Europe. The crowd was estimated to be at least 80,000 people, attendance that The Daily Mail said was the second-highest ever in Britain and the most to watch two people fight in that country in nearly 75 years.
There was controversy in how the first fight ended. There was drama in that Froch had battled back. There was unfinished business in that Groves had been deprived of a chance to survive and Froch had been robbed of a chance to finish him with certainty. There was passion felt for the boxers, one of whom had been a super-middleweight star for years and one of whom was on the verge of becoming one. And there was genuine dislike further fanning the flames. Their bad blood was great for getting pulses pounding.
Groves had hurt Froch early back then. This time, he said, Froch wouldn’t get a chance to come back. Froch had hurt Groves late. This time, he said, Groves wouldn’t get a reason to complain.
They had argued for at least 25 tense minutes in a televised confrontation as they sat across from each other at a round table. Weeks later, they battled for about 27 tense minutes in a televised confrontation as they stood across from each other in a squared circle.
Carl Froch got the final word.
For all the bad blood, it was not a brawl but rather a boxing match that broke out in the opening rounds. They were more tactical than technical, both men looking to set up traps and wait for openings, neither man looking to get caught in a trap and have his night come to a close.
Groves did land a one-two combination in the final minute of the second round when Froch overextended himself. But by and large, Froch wasn’t giving Groves the opportunities that had been there in the first fight. Froch wasn’t running recklessly into shots, and so he wasn’t getting hurt by them. His was the solid chin that had been in with future light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal back when Pascal was a super middleweight, that had never suffered a knockdown until the Jermain Taylor fight, that had gone to war with Mikkel Kessler twice, and that had held up after the rough start against Groves last year.
Groves still won the opening rounds Saturday with better boxing and more landed shots. Froch again began to close the gap, both in the ring and on the cards. Groves wasn’t deterring Froch with movement, and he began to move less and stand in to punch more. This allowed Froch to move nearer to Groves and hit him more often.
Both men had won fights in spite of their bad habits. The difference is that Froch’s better qualities had allowed him to overcome his deficiencies against top-level opponents and in all but two bouts, the 2010 loss to Kessler and the 2011 defeat against Andre Ward. Groves’ best wins had been in 2011, when he took a majority decision over fellow prospect James DeGale, and in late 2012, when he had outpointed the aged former 175-pound champion Glen Johnson.
The best opponent of Groves’ career had been Froch in the first fight. And while Groves believed he had shown his class, Froch argued that Groves had faced the worst Froch and still hadn’t been able to win.
At times in the rematch, Groves occasionally circled to his right in an ineffective manner that allowed Froch to cut him off and rip away with more shots. He also kept his left hand low.
Groves had been the faster puncher in exchanges earlier, landing over Froch’s jab or between Froch’s wider punches. With 35 seconds to go in the eighth, Groves’ good moments and bad habits got the worst of him.
Once again, he circled to his right and put his back on the ropes. His left glove was at his waist. Froch feinted and then come forward with a left hook, which was blocked by Groves’ right glove. Froch followed with a right cross aimed at Groves’ chin, and Groves’ foolishly attempted to counter with a left hook that had no chance of landing before Froch’s straight shot did.
The straight shot sent Groves straight down, the lower half of his left leg bent backward at his side. The referee looked down and started to count before kneeling to the canvas and waving the fight off. Groves began to rise. Any appearance of protest in his face soon turned to resignation as he stumbled into his corner.
Both men came in with the knowledge that they could hurt each other and could be hurt by each other. But Carl Froch knew that opening statements can be undone by closing arguments. His power gave him that knowledge, and that knowledge gave him power.
The 10 Count
1. What a ridiculously wonderfully packed weekend of boxing this was.
Saturday began for many with the live stream of the Top Rank card in Macau, China. The undercard included a pair of featherweight world title fights, with Evgeny Gradovich scoring a unanimous decision over Alexander Miskirtchian, and Nicholas Walters scoring a knockout over Vic Darchinyan. The main event, which also was replayed later on HBO, featured the man who ended Chris John’s career, Simpiwe Vetyeka, defending his belt against Nonito Donaire.
Then we found streams of the undercard out of Great Britain, watching bouts that included Kevin Mitchell score a stoppage over lightweight prospect Ghislain Maduma and super-middleweight contender James DeGale getting a technical knockout against Brandon Gonzales.
Donaire-Vetyeka started the HBO show in the afternoon — a “Boxing After Dark” broadcast even though the sun was most definitely out in the United States — followed by the live airing from London of the Carl Froch-George Groves rematch, a bout that drew something close to 80,000 people into Wembley Stadium in London. That’s a huge number; Miguel Cotto will probably draw a damn good crowd of 20,000 to Madison Square Garden this coming weekend for his fight with Sergio Martinez.
At about the same time as Froch-Groves 2 was the ESPN3 streaming of a title bout rematch in Germany in which Sam Soliman once again defeated Felix Sturm. (The results of Soliman’s post-fight drug test after their first bout led to the result being overturned.)
You might’ve then grabbed a nap or several drinks or both before the late-night card on HBO Latino, a doubleheader that featured junior lightweight prospect Javier Fortuna in the main event.
2. Of course, this being boxing, there has to be something to complain about.
This was a weekend when the biggest fight — Froch-Groves 2 — was one made quite necessary thanks to the questionable referee stoppage that ended the first bout. Fortunately, Froch-Groves 2 ended without controversy.
Fittingly, we still had three notable cases of referees either calling a halt a little too quickly, or otherwise just acting in a fashion consistent with their reputation (and that of our beloved but beleaguered sport).
To talk about the ending of Vetyeka-Donaire, we must first begin with the opening round. The boxers’ heads first collided about a minute in, and both men touched gloves. This would be just one of many clashes. As the bell rang to end the round, Donaire went down to his knees. He got up, and there was a cut on his left eyelid. Replays suggested that the cut came from a butt, though it might have come from an accidental elbow.
This would be important.
I didn’t watch the fight live. A fellow boxing writer who did said he did not recall any announcement as to whether the cut came from a punch or from an accidental foul. HBO’s Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman and Roy Jones Jr. were calling the fight on delay from Las Vegas, as the network’s production crew was out there for the HBO Latino card later that night (Steve Weisfeld chimed in from New York City). HBO’s crew didn’t mention any ruling either, though their commentary was based on the conclusion that the cut came from a clash of heads.
The referee, Luis Pabon, brought Donaire to a ringside physician to have the cut checked out about a minute into the second round.
Weisfeld noted that if the bout was stopped before the fourth round due to a cut, it’d be a no decision. “It’s very crucial that the bout go to the end of the fourth round, and the bell has to ring to end the fourth round for the bout to go to the scorecards,” he said.
About halfway through the round, Donaire turned away from an exchange in which he got hit, making it seem as if there was another clash of heads, though it wasn’t clear whether that was actually what happened. Pabon allowed it for some reason, which Kellerman noted.
They clashed heads again — and this time it was clear — with about 30 seconds left in the second, and again Donaire moved away from the action. Pabon brought Donaire back to the physician.
Donaire had a good third round. And in the fourth, after a competitive 75 seconds, Donaire landed a good left that deposited Vetyeka on the canvas. Donaire continued to have a good round, and then, with about 26 seconds left, he suddenly moved away again — this wasn’t immediately after a head butt, but perhaps the blood was getting in his eye. Pabon again called time and brought Donaire to the physician.
The fourth round ended. The fifth was about to begin, and Pabon was leaning over the ropes, talking with officials at ringside.
“It appears that the fight’s going to be stopped,” Weisfeld said. “And Luis Pabon is conferring about the proper mechanism to stopping the fight. Right now he’s asking that the bell be rung for the fifth round, but the interesting thing is that the judges have to score the two seconds of the fifth round. But even though I certainly dislike even rounds, the judges have to score the fifth round 10-10, but there’s no question in my mind that the 10-8 fourth round for Donaire put him over the top.”
Indeed, the fight was stopped, bizarrely, with the fifth round having been rung very briefly and very deliberately into action. Donaire got a technical decision win, taking all three scorecards 49-46 — three rounds to Donaire, one round for Vetyeka, one round even, and an additional point taken from Vetyeka for the knockdown.
The cut was bad and in a bad spot. Donaire would need 11 stitches to close it. But the stoppage and the way it was handled seemed weird.
The referee hadn’t stopped it until he knew the fight was official — which under some sets of rules would be once the fourth round is finished, and under another would be once the fifth round begins.
I don’t know what had changed that made Pabon or the physician want to stop the fight right then, as opposed to earlier. But the difference is that before four rounds were complete, Vetyeka would’ve retained his world title via “no contest” had the fight been stopped. After four rounds were complete, Donaire was the new titleholder.
If there is to be a rematch, which Donaire to his credit says Vetyeka deserves, and if for some reason the fighters couldn’t agree on terms and the bout went to purse bid, that means Donaire, as the champion, would now get 75 percent of the purse instead of 25 percent.
That’s if we get a rematch immediately. Top Rank promotes both Donaire, who is now the World Boxing Association’s “super” champion, and Nicholas Walters, who is the WBA “regular” champion. Donaire and Walters could end up facing each other instead.
3. There’s much more to be said about the problems with this.
Tim Starks, writing for The Queensberry Rules, argued that Donaire wanted the fight to end, noting that Donaire turned away toward the end of the fourth instead of continuing to attack, and also pointing out that Robert Garcia, who was part of Donaire’s corner, had been involved in the technical decision Mikey Garcia got over Orlando Salido. Garcia-Salido ended with Garcia ahead but with a broken nose caused by a head butt. The stoppage occurred as Salido was beginning to come on and was giving Garcia trouble.
HBO’s crew didn’t criticize this strange turn of events. More than a few people on Twitter questioned whether this was because Donaire was the HBO fighter.
Pabon is a referee who has been a target of criticism before. You may remember him from the mess that was Wladimir Klitschko vs. Alexander Povetkin. Or you may recall his unfortunate work on Povetkin vs. Marco Huck.
I don’t know why he felt it necessary to have the fifth round begin. It’s possible that he believed that it would’ve made the bout official, though, frankly, that shouldn’t matter to him.
Multiple people pointed out to me that Donaire-Vetyeka reminded them of Amir Khan’s win over Marco Antonio Barrera, when Barrera was cut early and badly from a clash of heads but the fight was allowed to continue into the fifth round.
4. All of which brings up the rules.
WBA rules only say that a fight stopped due to an accidental foul will go to the scorecards after four rounds have been completed. It doesn’t clarify when “completed” is.
Veteran corner man Russ Anber, who was not involved in the fight but was watching the bout, said he’s had rules meetings where the contract stipulates something different than the sanctioning body’s official rules, and that he’s often heard that the fifth round must begin for a fight to be considered complete.
In this case, barring us seeing the document that Donaire and Vetyeka signed, we cannot blindly assume that to be the case.
For comparison’s sake to others’ regulations:
The rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions explicitly says “four rounds are complete when the bell rings signifying the end of the fourth round.”
The International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Organization follow the ABC and are the same: “Four rounds are complete when the bell rings signifying the end of the fourth round.”
The World Boxing Council is different, defining a technical draw as necessary “if the bout cannot continue … before the start of [the] 5th round,” or mandating the bout go to the scorecards “after the start of [the] 5th round.”
5. On the undercard to Carl Froch-George Groves 2, Ghislain Maduma was slightly ahead on the scorecards against Kevin Mitchell after 10 rounds, and then Mitchell hurt him in the 11th. Maduma staggered around the ring as Mitchell kept punching, and ultimately Maduma teetered against the ropes enough that the referee, Phil Edwards, rightly called the knockdown.
Mitchell scored another knockdown. Maduma rose, walked to a corner and bounced with Edwards in front of him. Yet a quick stumble from Maduma in the corner had Edwards deciding to wave it off.
We’ve seen referees make similar decisions before, but typically off of much worse stumbles than Maduma’s. Edwards, you may recall, was the referee for the controversial ending to Dereck Chisora vs. Malik Scott. He was also criticized by more than on writer for his stoppage in Tony Bellew vs. Ovill McKenzie.
6. That wasn’t the only questionable stoppage on the London card.
James DeGale scored a knockdown on Brandon Gonzales in the fourth round of their bout. Later, with about 30 seconds left, DeGale staggered Gonzales again. Shortly thereafter, Gonzales leaned forward to try to hold on, then weaved under and away from three punches, and referee Steve Gray jumped in.
Yes, Gonzales was hurt. Yes, DeGale would’ve kept coming at him. But this was still an early halt to the bout.
7. Those who caught Vic Darchinyan’s loss to Nicholas Walters on the Donaire-Vetyeka undercard saw what should be the end to a long, accomplished career — one that a couple boxing writers I respect believe may very well land a second “Raging Bull” into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Darchinyan won his first world title back in December 2004, when he stopped undefeated flyweight titleholder Irene Pacheco. He defended that belt successfully six times before running into one of the two most notable left hooks that Nonito Donaire has ever thrown.
That could’ve ended the career of a one-dimensional power puncher. Except Darchinyan learned from his mistake and worked to fine tune his shortcomings. He won a world title at 115 pounds in August 2008, knocking out Dmitry Kirilov. He then picked up two more belts — giving him three for the division and a claim to being lineal champion — by knocking out a very skilled boxer named Cristian Mijares. The reckless puncher we’d seen before was now showing more patience, and it was paying dividends.
Darchinyan then stopped Jorge Arce before moving up to 118, where he lost to Joseph Agbeko. He returned to junior bantamweight, making two more title defenses before jumping back up to bantamweight.
He lost a split decision to Abner Mares, scored a technical decision over Yonnhy Perez and, later that year, dropped a pair of decisions to 118-pound titleholders Anselmo Moreno and Shinsuke Yamanaka.
It was 2012. Darchinyan was already 36, quite older for a fighter in a lighter division. Nevertheless, he still had enough left to top then-undefeated 122-pound prospect Luis Del Valle. By the end of last year, he got a long-awaited rematch with Donaire and actually was beating Donaire when he once again got hurt and stopped.
That was at featherweight — four divisions above flyweight, and too much for his own good. He’s now 38. He got got dropped hard by Nicholas Walters for the loss this past Saturday.
It should be over for Vic Darchinyan. But it was fun to watch, and it was a career that is worth our consideration.
8. Post-fight interviews with Carl Froch and George Groves? Froch getting down on one knee and kinda-sorta-but-not-really proposing to his longtime girlfriend (and mother of his two kids), Rachel Cordingley?
Not on the HBO broadcast.
9. Instead, we got commentary from HBO’s Max Kellerman about fun potential next opponents for Froch, including Gennady Golovkin or Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
I’d rather hold off on seeing Golovkin face one of the best fighters at 168 until we finally see him face some of the best fighters at 160.
I’d love to see Froch vs. Chavez Jr.
10. If Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. ever fought in the United Kingdom, by the way, he’d come in somewhere between 12 stones and just plain stoned…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]