By Nick Hallin
With probably the most talked-about fight in British boxing history now just a matter of hours away, there is still no consensus within the business on who is going to prevail out of Carl Froch and George Groves – or how the fight will end. Current and former pros are effectively split down the middle, with many arguing for Froch, and just as many siding with Groves.
Nor is there general agreement about how the fight will reach a conclusion. It could be a first round stoppage either way, or it could be a points verdict to either man. Each of those four scenarios has advocates from within the game.
Froch, as has been his way during the build-up to Saturday’s epic, has said little, other than an oft-repeated assertion that Groves will not hear the final bell. Beyond his contractual obligations, Froch has offered virtually nothing to outsiders, pulling up the drawbridge to focus on a Spartan training camp.
In sharp contrast, Groves has maintained an astonishingly high profile. Groves, through almost single-handed and tireless effort, has made Saturday’s fight one of the most talked-about British sports events of the decade. For his part, the confident challenger has repeated many times that he will stop the veteran champion in three. He is also certain that he will be able to last the full 12 rounds.
What very few are falling for is Groves’ press conference assertion that he’s going to get Froch with the left hook. This is almost certainly a double bluff, and one which is unlikely to cause wholesale late changes or panic in Froch’s preparations.
Groves has a varied and spiteful jab, and knows how to use it. He has a punishing long right cross, which Froch has already felt to spectacular effect. His speed is sensational. These have always been his primary weapons, and these will be the weapons Froch will have to neutralise if he is to prevail on Saturday night.
True, Froch might not expect too many left hooks coming his way, but the claim is reckoned by many veteran fight observers to be simply one last effort on the part of the challenger to mess with his opponent’s head. If he can get Froch to start thinking about left hooks, Groves’s gambit will have done its job.
Even so, the closer it gets to opening bell, the feeling around the fight game is that Groves is going to repeat the successful tactics he employed to beat his hated local rival James DeGale three years ago. And that is to box in bursts and stay on the move. Against a battle-hardened but sometimes one-paced veteran, it’s a strategy which makes a lot of sense.
There has been so much game-playing surrounding the buildup to what is unquestionably the biggest fight in British post-war history, that one important issue has gone largely unremarked.
Most weighins in British boxing take place around lunchtime the day before the fight. Froch and Groves stepped on the scales around 4pm, much to Groves’s annoyance.
The later weighin time will gave challenger three hours less time to recover from bringing himself down to the super middle limit. Froch is a natural at the weight, and doesn’t put too much on after being weighed.
Groves, physically bigger and more imposing, looks a natural light heavy, and has to work harder to make the 168 pound limit. If he struggles in the later rounds, those three lost hours might weigh heavy on his mind.
It’s possible to compile a long list of fighters past and present going one way or the other when discussing Froch and Groves, but a trio of names stand out. Michael Watson, Nigel Benn and Joe Calzaghe. Three of the best British super middles of all time are all siding with Groves (Calzaghe with some reluctance, as he questions the Londoner’s ability to cope with 12 hard rounds).
There were a few raised eyebrows a couple of weeks ago when Milton Keynes veteran Matt Legg was announced as Anthony Joshua’s next opponent on Saturday’s Froch-Groves bill. After five comfortable wins, all of them inside two rounds, the feeling was that the former Olympic champion needed to be stepped up a level or two.
With no disrespect to Legg – an honest pro who, at 38, will never experience an occasion or a payday like this again – he hardly fits the profile. Legg was worn down by an ancient James Toney is a Prizefighter tournament late last year, and you’ll get extremely long odds on his lasting as long against the fearsome power punching of Joshua.
So why no significant step up? Two reasons. Finding opponents willing to share a ring with Joshua isn’t easy, unless a lot of money is on offer. More significantly, the Watford giant has been nursing a few niggling injuries over the past couple of months, so may not be as finely-tuned as usual. His ultra-cautious connections don’t want him slipping up on a potential banana skin this early in his career, so Legg gets the nod.
Assuming Joshua comes through unscathed, the move up to the next level will probably occur on a bill in Liverpool in July. Former British champion Matt Skelton is the name being bandied around as the potential opponent.
Now 47, the one time world title challenger has been out of action since March, but has mixed in good company and isn’t easily intimidated. If he gets into a groove, his swarming, smothering style might force Joshua to work for his win. That was the theory when he boxed David Price for British and Commonwealth titles in November 2012. Price wiped him out inside two rounds.
If the Skelton fight doesn’t happen, two other names under consideration are Michael Sprott and Sam Sexton. But Skelton is thought to be a strong first choice.
Speaking of raised eyebrows, Brandon Gonzales left it late to arrive in the UK from California ahead of his IBF super middle eliminator against Londoner James DeGale. The American got off his plane from San Francisco on Tuesday morning, which received wisdom suggests is cutting it fine for a transatlantic boxing match. Apparently, the timetable was determined by Gonzales’ trainer, Virgil Hunter, who feels that this will give his man sufficient time to recover from any jetlag.
It’s risky, especially against an opponent who literally lives next door to the venue. For Gonzales, the distance to Wembley is close to 6,000 miles. DeGale can probably walk there in a little over six minutes. However, Hunter does have experience of a journey of this magnitude: this is his fifth time in the country.
If Gonzales does feel fatigue, it wont be the first time he’s been the recipient of questionable advice from his mentor. Last summer, he was comfortably in control against Thomas Oosthuizen, only to be told by Hunter to ease off over the last three rounds. Gonzales did as he was told, allowing Oosthuizen to pinch a barely deserved draw.
There’s a feeling in the DeGale camp that Gonzales is not yet prepared for the rigours of a championship-level 12-rounder. If jetlag does become a factor, they feel that a late stoppage could be on the cards.
Nick Halling is a commentator for Sky Sports.