Carl Froch enters Manchester’s MEN Arena Saturday to square off against George Groves in battle between local heroes with potentially global ramifications.
The gulf in status between the two combatants – one a member of standing in boxing’s international class, the other a British export in waiting – is a reminder as to the type of continuum on which all prize fighters find themselves. On one end of this continuum is the local: a world of neighborhood boxing gyms operating on shoestring budgets, where fame only goes as far as a two-line blurb in the community weekly. New York City, Youngstown, Cuauhtemoc–it could be anywhere. On the other end, the global: a level of status transcending borders but most closely associated with Las Vegas, a city anchored on barren Nevada land but so self-contained in its neon excess that it might just as well exist ethereally or in the minds of men. To scale the heights of the sport, as is the dream of any fighter, is to fight one’s way from one pole to the other – from the local to the global. Even Muhammad Ali was the “Louisville Lip” before he was ever “The Greatest.”
Fights, too, take on a quality falling somewhere along this geographic scale. For George Groves, 19-0 (15), while the pageantry surrounding Saturday’s contest will no doubt carry an all-English feel, the violence produced in the ring will, to his mind, be of a strictly cosmopolitan variety. Having feasted on largely local opposition up til now, the 25-year-old will have reason to take the first bell as signal of his ascendency from British prospect to super-middleweight player. And though only one anthem will be heard Saturday night, Groves will, nonetheless, feel the eyes of the world upon him.
Meanwhile, Carl Froch, 31-2 (22), a man for whom claiming the scalps of divisional elite is by this point programmed muscle memory, describes the context of the bout in different terms. “This is a British title defence really,” Froch said. “Tony Dobson. Robin Reid. Bryan Magee. All them fighters are British level. All come with their own little story. They come with their own confidence, and their own idea of what’s going to happen. And they all get beat, in style. So this is another British title defence for me. Even though it’s for two world titles. For me it’s still a British title defence.”
While Froch is not shy in touting his supra-national credentials, his forecast of the fight’s eventual outcome reverts quickly to a quintessentially English brand of practicality, his description echoing less the nuanced flash of some of the sport’s other internationally recognized names and more the sequential simplicity of a Nottingham assembly line: “I’m going to knock him out. I’m going to hit him on the chin and he’s going to fall over.”
Like his opponent, Groves is unlikely to be of two minds regarding his mode of victory. The Hammersmith man will need to employ the full extent of his considerable mobility and pick his spots wisely if he is to make Froch a liar. Though an adept practitioner on both offence and defence, Groves is at his most vulnerable when attempting to transition between the two. His shakiest moments have come during exchanges, where his power lacks the deterrent necessary to keep opponents from reaching out for an already questionable chin held aloft.
Avoiding prolonged exchanges will not only shield the liabilities in Groves’ arsenal, but also go a long way to denying Froch the conditions under which he thrives. The lanky Briton will often attack with what appears to be reckless abandon, at times diving in from obscene ranges with right hands and uppercuts that leave him off balance and squared up. Yet while conventional wisdom pushes opponents forward to punish what they see as a moment of vulnerability, Froch responds by forcing his gangly arms to conform to impossibly short routes aimed largely at his opponent’s head, while in the process snapping an impressive amount of power out of what are otherwise arm punches. This rather unseemly but strangely effective inside game is facilitated by a granite chin that allows him to absorb enough of the inevitable incoming fire necessary to get his shots off.
Unfortunately for Groves, any decision to avoid trading leather with Froch presents the risk of handcuffing his own strengths. While lacking in the physical tools that would allow him to overwhelm his opponents with power or speed, the man known as “St. George” compensates with educated combination punching to impose himself on foes. Groves uses a potent, well disguised jab thrown from a low angle to mask his level of attack and bait opponents into committing on defence, directing powerful followups into the holes that appear. When thrown in numbers, his shots come off fluidly and have proven capable of felling lesser opposition. But when thrown in isolation and without the covering fire of the jab, right hands have a tendency to turn laborious, leaving him open to counters. While Groves is capable of doing damage primarily with his left hand by hooking off the jab and doubling up to the body and the head, he’ll need to bring his right hand into play if he is to neutralize the heavy, persistent jab of Froch.
Should he find a way to keep exchanges to a minimum while still utilizing the right hand to good effect, George Groves will stand a chance of forcing the type of fight that is a world title bout in more than just name.