By Nate Williams
There have been many times in boxing where we have we seen great fights spoiled by the controversy of an official’s decision. Last night, referee Howard Foster took centre stage in Carl Froch’s WBA and IBF Super middleweight world title defence against George Groves in Manchester after the champion retained his belts with a questionable ninth round stoppage. The intervention left Froch, 32-2 (23), relieved, Groves, now 19-1 (15), dejected and the fans in attendance and watching on Sky Sports Box Office questioning what could and would have happened had Groves negotiated his way through the storm.
Froch (167¾lbs) was floored by a thunderous right hand from his challenger in the opening round as the 20,000 spectators inside the Arena leapt to their feet in uproar. Groves (166½lbs) then delivered his “blueprint” to the letter winning the jab exchanges and constantly tagging the Nottingham man with sickening right hands that put him ahead on all three judges scorecards after eight rounds (78-73, 76-75, 76-75).
However, after a flurry of frustration punches from Froch, Groves stumbled off the ropes and into the arms of Foster, who made a debatable split-second decision to end the fight early.
The 25 year-old former British and Commonwealth champion, who was booed into the ring and cheered out of it, looked completely fine and on steady legs as Foster was quickly escorted out of the ring under a jacket by security.
“I feel it was an unjust stoppage,” said Groves. “I feel I was very unlucky and I think 20,000 people would agree with me. I don’t know why the fight was stopped. The shots weren’t landing clean, Carl rushes in and he might have knocked me off balance, but I wasn’t nowhere near as hurt as he was in many of the rounds.
“He was in trouble in the first round, I had him on his backside and I had him backed up every round, dictating the pace and in my opinion, I pretty much won all of the rounds. In the ninth round, he was really emptying the tank and I was happy to let him do that because he wasn’t landing clean shots.
“There’s no way I should have been stopped and as soon as I realised what had happened, I didn’t expect him to stop it, I just thought he was trying to break it up. I had a clear head, my legs were under me but I think I’m a victim of my “chinny” reputation and I’m a victim of Carl Froch’s supposed punch power and warrior instincts.
He added: “I’ll have to review it, but I feel the referee got it wrong and it’s a bitter pill for me to swallow.”
However, Froch thinks that Foster should be praised for his decision, as he believes the man in the middle prevented a possibly fatal ending to the Londoner’s 20-fight career. “I had him in round nine it’s as simple as that,” he said.
“If the fight had gone on, he would of got knocked out one hundred percent. If the referee didn’t get in the way and hold him up, he was going to be on the floor in a couple more shots and he could have been badly hurt. At 25, this fight could have been career ending.
“He was tough and he was a good fighter, but I broke him down in rounds seven, eight and then stopped him in nine. I forced the stoppage, I beat George Groves up in round nine and the referee jumped in and saved his career.
“From where I was standing, I had a couple of free hits and I was about to hit him with more but you don’t want to see a 25-year-old kid knocked unconscious and carried out on a stretcher. The referee was six inches away and you can see what he’s looking at. He looks into the fighter’s eyes and he makes a very experienced and very educated decision as to whether or not he jumps in.
“George fought a fantastic fight and he’s a better fighter than what I thought he was with a bigger heart than what I thought he had. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
After a brutal round after round war between two British 168lb stars arguably unseen since the days of Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank, there is already talk of a rematch.
Groves is obviously keen on the idea while the three-time, multi-belt world champion is at this stage unconvinced. “I’d love a rematch,” said Groves.
“I was more than confident that Carl Froch wasn’t going to hear that final bell because I was buzzing him round after round. I’d love a rematch and I would take it again tomorrow.”
Froch said: “I think I’ve earned myself a position where I don’t have to offer anyone a rematch. I’ve fought everybody and I will fight anybody. I said to Eddie Hearn after the fight: “If the rematch makes sense why not?” I’m not going to say no if it makes sense to do it.”
*Send any thoughts or questions you have about the fight (including personal scorecards) to @nate_williams23 on Twitter.