By Frank Warren
There’s nothing like a top domestic bang-up to get the juices flowing and that’s certainly what sports fans can look forward to when super-middleweights Carl Froch and George Groves renew their hostility at Wembley Stadium tonight.
Both are good operators with big personalities and bigger egos. The genuine friction between the former spar mates – stoked further by referee Howard Foster’s controversial ninth round intervention which allowed Froch to retain his IBF and WBA belts in Manchester last November – has led to a huge turn out at the national stadium.
While the stoppage was possibly a tad premature, it certainly wasn’t the worst I’ve witnessed.
Having withstood an early maelstrom that included getting dump heavily on his rump in the opening session, ‘The Cobra’ was building up a real head of steam and Groves appeared to be wilting.
Froch, I sense, would probably have completed an emphatic stoppage shortly after, had the fight advanced to its natural conclusion. Foster’s controversial call possibly denied the champion from receiving the ultimate glory his heroic comeback merited, but others feel Groves may have recovered. Who knows?
Tonight the nation will be gripped and everybody it seems harbours an opinion on both the principals and the likely outcome.
Nevertheless, it certainly won’t determine the best super-middleweight in the world and don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise.
That accolade incontestably belongs to Oakland’s unbeaten 2004 Olympic gold medallist Andre Ward who toyed with Froch when they met in the final of Showtime’s Super Six tournament in December 2011.
The Yank coasted to a clear unanimous decision and ‘The Cobra’ certainly hasn’t advanced his game since. Probably the opposite.
Though Lucien Bute and Yusef Mack were emphatically put to the sword, the Nottingham man had a desperate struggle staving off a faded Mikkel Kessler last May. Subsequently, his 36 year old legs had little spring during Groves early onslaught.
And though Froch might have one of the biggest sets of balls ever to fit inside a protective cup, he seems oblivious to the fact that it’s okay to slip a punch occasionally.
History shows that Froch habitually struggles against boxer types who bring quick hands and feet; reference his fights with Jermain Taylor, Andre Dirrell and Ward. And none of those hit as hard as ‘The Saint’.
Froch – entering his 12th successive world championship – holds a massive sway in experience. He is also naturally more rugged and can work at a far brisker pace over the twelve rounds, but he needs to start fast. To retain, he needs to start quickly, drag Groves into a war and then drown him down the stretch.
But, for me, it’s Groves’ fight to lose. Froch won’t bring anything new whereas the question is has Groves learnt anything from the first encounter.
He certainly has the tools to again expose Froch’s deficiencies. The west Londoner is blessed with an excellent jab, far greater speed and we know he possesses the pop to put the champion on the canvas.
For me the key questions are whether he has the engine to sustain his dominance for 36 minutes or the beard to stay upright if Froch connects clean in the latter stages.
All the pre-fight bullshine and mind games count for nothing once the first bell sounds and no doubt we’ll all be on the edge of our seats for however long it lasts. If Groves is still upright after 12 rounds, then he probably wins on points. But that is a big ‘if’!
But whatever the outcome, both fighters should place a large photo of Howard Foster above their mantelpiece and kiss it each night before they retire to bed.
It’s really his controversial stoppage six months back that has built tonight’s rematch to bolster their pension funds.
The incredible life of one-time WBC light-heavyweight king Matthew Saad Muhammad sadly came to a close, at the age of 59, last Sunday.
Born Maxwell Loach, Saad was abandoned by guardians outside a church in the mean streets of his native Philadelphia at the age of five and taken in by Catholic nuns.
Unable to tell them his name, the sisters re-Christened him Matthew Franklin, after the saint and the street where they found him. He was later raised in foster homes and reform schools.
After embracing boxing to stave off neighbourhood gangs in his late teens, ‘Miracle Matt’ evolved into one of the most exciting warriors the sport has seen; a bleeding, bruising brawler with a big punch and even bigger heart.
He ruled at 175lbs from 1979-81 during the golden era of TV fights for that division; converting to Islam shortly after his coronation.
Saad successfully retained his title eight times, usually coming from the jaws of defeat to club his way to an unlikely stoppage win.
Britain’s John Conteh was his only challenger to survive the 15 round distance, though the Scouser was rubbed out in the fourth of their rematch. I was ringside for both fights and, on both nights, Saad was the better man.
In 1998 Saad was elected into the International Boxing Hall of Fame but, despite trousering $4million from the ring, he later fell on hard times, suffering periods of homelessness and destitution. However, true to form, he rose from the brink and concluded life as an advocate for those without shelter.
A remarkable fighter who led an even more remarkable life. Condolences to his family and friends.
Good luck to the seven strong England squad competing in the European Women’s Boxing Championships which begin in Bucharest, Romania today.
It’s a huge year for our ladies with women’s boxing debuting at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this July and the World Championships in Korea to follow.
The girls will be looking to eclipse the four medal haul they bagged at the last Europeans in Rotterdam three years ago. London Olympians Nicola Adams and Natasha Jonas lead the charge.
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