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BOXING An epic battle of the wills

IT WAS 10 years ago — on November 25 2013 to be precise — that George Groves put in a performance against Carl Froch at the Manchester Arena that will go down in history as one of the most sensational and audacious ever seen in a British boxing ring.

All the way during the build-up to the fight, Froch had talked like a man who was going to roll over his young challenger like a juggernaut. The veteran champion was not only rattled but offended, you could tell, by Groves’s extraordinary confidence and self-belief.

Groves told everyone prior to the fight that he was going to come out, take the centre of the ring and engage with the four-time world champion. No-one believed him. Most believed his only chance lay in staying on the back foot and using his movement to avoid Froch’s power, while countering.

Yet Groves did exactly as promised, beating Froch to the jab again and again and countering with a right hand that soon began to find the mark, forcing the champion back. When Groves put Froch down on the canvas with a crushing right hand with just 10 seconds left of the first round, the fight looked all but over. However Froch confirmed his reputation as a fighter blessed with a granite chin by somehow getting up and surviving to the bell.

Regardless, his legs still looked to be gone when he came out at the start of the second, and over the next four rounds Groves proceeded to bully and batter him around the ring, in the process winning over a sellout raucous crowd that had roundly booed him during his ring entrance.

At this point, Froch looked like a fighter who’d turned old overnight, as he desperately tried to find a way back into a battle that he’d already looked to have lost. Groves, meanwhile, only grew in stature, delighting in proving the legion of doubters wrong in every exchange of punches.

Groves’s tactic of jabbing Froch to the chest was effective throughout, keeping the champion off balance while teeing up his right hand. The question — given the ferocious pace — was could he keep it up?

By the eighth Groves began to visibly tire as Froch sucked it up and appeared to catch a second wind. By now it was a ragged affair, both fighters now fuelled by sheer will and desire as they descended into that “boiler room of the damned,” which, if lucky, a fighter only experiences once or twice in his or her career.

No matter, even when Froch had him against the ropes, Groves remained in the fight, countering in between Froch’s by now ponderous punches as the fight approached the championship rounds. Pulsating, electrifying — words could not come close to capturing what everyone knew by now was a classic British domestic affair.

The crowd’s reaction — in the form of a crescendo of boos — when referee Howard Foster stepped in to stop the fight in the ninth after Froch hurt his opponent for the first time said it all. Foster did what he thought was right and with just seconds to decide, erred on the side of caution. In so doing, he deprived both fighters of the denouement such an epic battle deserved. Moreover he earned himself his own dubious place in boxing history.

Froch left the arena as the loser and Groves the champion in the hearts and minds of the crowd in the arena, and no doubt also the majority of the millions watching at home or in the multiple of pubs and clubs across the land screening the fight live.

Froch’s future career was, overnight, reduced to just two options: a rematch against Groves or retirement. Such is the cruel and unforgiving nature of the sport, despite Froch waking up on Sunday morning still the champion on paper, it was a fair bet he did not feel like one.

He was hurt, he later admitted, by the negative reaction of the crowd to his post-fight interview ringside. For a man as proud as he was in his pomp, and with a deserved reputation as a warrior in the ring, this was assuredly not how he would have want his storied career to end.

But how many more ring wars could a 36-year-old body take? Worse, in his heart of hearts, he would have known that he’d just had the hardest fight of his by then 11-year career as a pro.

The pride responsible for him opting to fight Groves again not for money but for legacy gives him the right, still to this day, to speak with authority on a sport in which legacy, sadly, has been subsumed by a tsunami of greed. Indeed, among the welter of former pros who’ve hung up the gloves and picked up the microphone to embark on second careers as pundits, Froch stands out as someone not afraid to call it as he sees it.

As for Groves, he refused to relinquish his dream of winning a world title after losing twice to his then nemesis. It was a quest which finally paid off when after the fourth attempt, he was crowned world super-middleweight champion upon defeating Fedor Chudinov at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane in May 2017. It was a torrid affair against the tough Russian, but in the end the Londoner was able to summon up the will to end matters in the sixth round.

Cheering him on at ringside was one Carl Froch.


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