None of the trash talk super middleweight George Groves has spewed at Carl Froch tops the promise he made prior to their November, 2013, fight. What makes that oath so significant? How does it stand alone among several threats Groves pledged? Because unlike all but the blandest of pre-fight guarantees (where men who deal in hurt so boldly assure it), this one came true.
Groves promised to meet Froch in the center of the ring, win the battle of the jab, and crack him with two right hands; two being sufficient proof he would land any number at will. Groves kept his word, punctuating a prophetic first round with a right hand that showed Froch the other side. It was an auspicious start for Groves: he understood his opponent, understood himself, and most importantly, understood what friction would transpire between the two. Keeping his own promise, one inherent in his own insolence, Froch came to and stopped Groves eight rounds later. Their sudden history has bound these men since then.
Many felt the stoppage premature, and a sense of dissatisfaction coloured Froch’s improbable triumph. In boxing, dissatisfaction of that sort—so different from the dismay that follows many an underwhelming event—is as lucrative as it is rare; a fact not lost on those tapping the sports’ remaining healthy veins. Business both good and unfinished demanded a rematch.
That rematch is slated for Saturday, where an undulating mass 80,000 people strong will funnel into London’s Wembley Stadium expecting, at the very least, a little satisfaction. Satisfaction will be on the minds of the fighters too.
No one enters the ring with Froch, 32-2 (23), without suffering what satisfies him; a rule made all the more impressive by the strength of his opposition. He avenged a loss to Mikkel Kessler in a slugfest last May, ended Lucian Bute’s tenure as an elite fighter the previous year, and even in defeat, gave Andre Ward reason enough to over-complicate negotiations for a rematch. Froch, Nottingham, UK, is the best kind of fearless: the kind that makes a mockery of fighters hiding behind prudence and the pandemic of lowered expectations. It should come as no surprise that Froch is a proven draw in the UK. Nevertheless, he leaves his luggage packed by the door. Indeed, Froch’s resistance to a Groves rematch was prompted in part by whispers of another American invasion, with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the target.
And then there is how he fights. Wonderfully belligerent, Froch, 36, uses his awkward style to confound and concuss. He takes his lumps in exchange, too, which only adds to the quality of the product. Given his much coveted crack at his former sparring partner, Groves brought all of these characteristics to bear, particularly the latter. And yet, despite being outclassed for much of the fight, Froch is unlikely to swallow hard at the thought of what might unfold when Groves gets his second chance. Froch does not think himself invincible—his enlisting a sports psychologist is proof of that—but he knows he need not be to destruct Groves. Besides, Froch knows as well as Groves does the adage that says if you stop a man in the first fight he will fall faster in the second.
There are exceptions to this rule, and with a handful of adjustments, Groves can become one. Groves, London, UK, needs to use his nimble footwork to exit at angles rather than back straight up or be pushed to the ropes. He owned Froch in the middle of the ring, but when Froch lumbered forward or trapped Groves on the ropes, the older, slower fighter got bruising. Nor can Groves, 26, trust his guard should Froch nail him down. Groves need only study Froch’s five round wipe out of Lucian Bute to appreciate the peril of letting “The Cobra” probe for weakness. Froch’s strikes are too unorthodox to defend with gloves and arms alone. A fighter with Groves’ mobility need not expose himself to that sinister exploration. In those moments when retreat is impossible, Groves must commit to clinches, lest Froch—as he did last year—work him over inside.
On offense, Groves needs to throttle back his enthusiasm. Driven by malice and that right hand windfall, Groves expended too much energy in the first half of the fight. Froch took his Sunday punch; Groves should set a twelve round pace. Nor can Groves linger in the pocket like he did in the last fight. Yes, he landed some blistering punches early, but as “Saint George” faded, as his punches grew wide and his movement less sharp, Froch used these exchanges to claw back into the fight. Groves, 19-1 (15), cannot get greedy this time. If he boxes at range, firing quick bursts before angling off, his superior athleticism can carry him to victory.
And then there is Groves’ secret weapon. Ironically, this weapon lies not in his own arsenal, but in Froch’s. Froch measured and found Groves wanting. Stupendously confident, Froch could enter the ring believing that, despite the warning signs last November, there is little need to adapt (and given his age, perhaps little room to). Groves must exploit that arrogance, capitalizing on the assumption that change and experience make him no better.
Groves should be better Saturday. Whether he will be the better man, however, is a question that only the fight can answer. And there is no better path to truth than that.