By Terence Dooley
The stage is set, the touch paper is lit, and if Monday is anything to go by the build-up to Carl Froch’s WBA and IBF Super middleweight title rematch against George Groves is going to be as storied as the preamble to their November encounter at Manchester Phones 4U Arena. Froch was dropped heavily in round one, beaten repeatedly to the punch and out-manoeuvred in the early rounds of their first fight, but “The Cobra” kept at it and eventually turned it around by stopping Groves at 1:33 of the ninth.
Referee Howard Foster’s decision to step in unleashed an avalanche of criticism and prompted Groves to lodge an appeal with the IBF. The New Jersey-based governing body upheld Groves’s complaint, confirmed a rematch agreement had been reached in an exclusive interview with BoxingScene and then Eddie Hearn secured the contest before announcing a May 31st date at London’s Wembley Stadium.
Monday’s press conference was the first official get together of many in the build-up to the fight. It coincided with the news that 60,000 tickets had been sold within an hour, which is a nail in the coffin to the notion that boxing is dead and buried.
Still, this positive news has been overshadowed by the increasingly gnarly banter flying back and forth between both camps. Not to mention the moment that Froch, 32-2 (23), shoved Groves, 19-1 (15), to one side during the now traditional Groves’s face-to-Froch’s-ear photo opportunity between the two.
#Shovegate has prompted a wave of discussion, criticism, psychological analysis—was Froch trying to remove the doubts left from fight one by metaphorically pushing Groves out of his brain via his left ear?—and outrage.
Throw in Groves’s decision to complete a Rubik’s Cube during Froch’s part of the press conference (was he invoking Derrida by “deconstructing” both the cube and Froch?), Lee Froch’s tête-à-tête with the Londoner, ample use of the words: “Boy”, “Son” and “Pillock”—a great English word, to be fair—and it’s a usual day at the Box Office for British boxing. Why has the Froch and Groves back-and-forth seem to have completely overwhelmed us to the point where personal judgements about both are being bandied about as liberally as confetti at a Moonie wedding ceremony?
A lot has to do with Twitter and social media; everyone has a moral position and an opinion, which isn’t a bad thing as long as it’s at least partially informed. Everyone has access to news sites, iFilm London and even Eddie Hearn—the show’s promoter enjoys Twittering—so the same questions get posed over and over, and in stereo.
Plus we can now pour over every facial tick, bodily gesture and the posture of both fighters for “clues” to the outcome of a fight that is months away. In fact, the particulars are only just getting into hard training, the result is more likely to be influenced or informed by an unseen injury or niggle picked up during the coming weeks than the History Today-esque: “You see that there. That’s you that is,” pre-fight palavers.
It started early with this one, as soon as Wembley was named as the venue there was an avalanche of online chunnering. Was it too big, too London-centric, too ambitious? Would it work, would it sell, what if it rains? Then the most ludicrous discussion of all: should it even take place in Wembley? That’s a moot point—it is and it will—so why discuss a factor that is now set in stone? It’s a big, event fight and it found the right setting, whether it’s the most pragmatic one remains to be seen.
Then came the ticket sales. When will they go on sale and to whom? Where can they be purchased? Will the computer systems crash (this is the U.K., of course they will)? What if touts snap up prime tickets?
Yesterday’s rapid sale of 60,000 tickets answered many of the questions, especially the tout and ticket sales site one, which reared its head when the tickets flew onto sites such as Stubhub and Viagogo in bulk. The scalpers and sites had a field day, clearly, and this led to an outpouring of rage, disappointment and failed expectations—it was like a Saturday night in suburbia, minus the soft furnishings and a glass bowl full of car keys.
The most onerous complaints came from self-anointed true fans, those who are convinced that too many tickets will go to casuals, the types who spend the whole night at the bar and only take their seats for the main event, but that’s enough about the national press journalists. It is understandable—if you regularly attend Matchroom shows and missed out then you will feel aggrieved, but putting tickets on general sale is a lottery. Casuals and touts can try for them and, barring a vetting system, get to them.
Is it unjust? Yes, it probably is. Is it avoidable? No, it is not. If you missed out only to see tickets appear online with overinflated prices then you will be annoyed, angry even, but you are not compelled to buy the overpriced tickets. Indeed, if you hold out until close to the day then you will pick up tickets at face value—that’s what my Liverpool FC supporting mate Josh Woogs, @JoshWoogs, tells me, and it is good enough for me.
Even Eddie Hearn’s statement that he will push for 20,000 more tickets hasn’t eased matters. Think about it, the touts and ticket sites will snap a large amount of them up as well, so there will always be complaints over the ticket issue. If you want to put it into perspective go and talk to England fans who want to watch World Cup Games, where a large amount of tickets go to corporate clients. Speak to fans that have supposed a band from the Dog And Bucket days only to be denied tickets at the Box Office when their boys hit the big venues.
Big events generate big demand; tickets go to sites and touts, who get greedy and overstock. It is probably such a shock and an issue to us simply because huge boxing events do not happen as often as football games and concerts, which means that the demand is even more focussed and frenzied.
The first fight, the animosity, the venue, tickets and #shovegate have all created a timeline butchering avalanche of talk about this event. The fight itself has become lost in the midst of all of this and the examination of the minutiae surrounding it has led to the heightened state of Ennui that is a side effect of immersion in the online world.
Now, I don’t mind the intricacies of boxing, I study rules, laws, regulations and fights week in and week out, but the examination of every throwaway gesture has reached the point of overkill. A lot will happen between now and the first bell, so it’s hard to nail down whether Froch has “lost it” or if his pack mentality has bolstered Groves’s chances—it’s unlikely that yesterday’s fracas will have any bearing on the final result.
We saw all this before the first fight—especially when the two met up on Sky’s Ringside show—with some arguing that Froch’s head had gone, and others claiming that Groves was floundering and out-of-his-depth. Come the first bell neither claim proved to be true: Groves rose to the occasion and Froch kept his head throughout the tough early going to get back into the fight.
Pre-fights do tend to bring out the amateur psychologist in all of us, as does the Internet. We’re all guilty of the same sin, engorged on our own opinions and the weight we give to them, but all that is said and done before the weigh-in is mere hype and ephemera. It means little or nothing and we shouldn’t judge fighters personally based on the avatars of themselves that we glimpse in a heightened reality for a few minutes or hours at a time prior to a fight.
The real point of interest comes when they hit the scales and the ring, that’s when fights are won and lost. Many experienced men have lost their cool on the scales—Ricky Hatton’s uncharacteristic throat slitting gesture when making weight for Mayweather spoke volumes.
A Stockport-based boxer called Danny Harding upset 2004 ABA lightweight titlist Chris Pacey courtesy of a four-threes decision in 2006. Then the two were pitched into a rematch in 2007. Pacey talked a good pre-fight, but Harding did not really say much until the weigh-in.
When they stepped on the scales, Harding, 6-0, faced off against Pacey once again and felt certain that the second win was all but secured: “When I saw him at the weigh-in, I could tell that his arse had gone,” was Harding’s typically blunt assessment of their final face-to-face. All that had preceded it was a pointless preamble.
Over the next few months, Froch and Groves will come out with differing variations of: “I am going to win” and “No, I’m going to win”. It will sell papers, ramp up hits and attract potential viewers, but tell us next to nothing about the fight. If you have gone for one guy, you will probably stick with that guy. If you have tickets then you will be able to attend. If you don’t get tickets then speak to my man Woogs.
Now it is signed it is time to turn to the most important aspect of this rematch, the fight itself, and to what we know, the endless permutations of what could be and try to predict the intangibles before making a final decision when both men get on the scales. Anything else is just empty air, as empty as the rhetoric in the preceding paragraphs (I'm stunned that you actually made it this far, yous are suckers for this topic) or the talk that will be pumped out by both camps, with the odd outbreak of: ‘Is this really PPV worthy?’ thrown in.
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