This Saturday, Manchester’s Phones4u Arena will host the biggest British boxing event of the year, as Carl Froch defends his IBF and WBA super-middleweight titles against unbeaten upstart George Groves. Televised on Sky Box Office, the eagerly anticipated clash has developed into something of a grudge match with genuine needle between the protagonists and in recent weeks has really captured the imagination of the British public.
Froch (31-2, 22 KO’s) will be involved in his eleventh consecutive world title fight, continuing an outstanding run that began with his victory over Jean Pascal to first win the WBC crown in 2008. He was last seen avenging one of only two defeats, outpointing Mikkel Kessler in their rematch in May this year and since his last reverse – to pound-for-pound star Andre Ward two years ago – seems to have improved to a higher level despite his relatively advanced age.
Having recently celebrated his thirty-sixth birthday, you might have expected ‘The Cobra’ to begin to show signs of decline, but his improvements well into his thirties are testament to the excellent physical condition he remains in all-year-round. He also remains a hungry fighter, wanting to secure his legacy amongst the elite fighters his homeland has produced, something that has severe importance as he prepares to fend off the challenge of a talented young pretender to his throne.
Groves (19-0, 15 KO’s) has climbed to the higher echelons of the 168lb division in a short space of time, turning professional a few weeks before Froch’s first world title fight with Pascal. The 25-year-old collected British and Commonwealth titles on his ascent through the rankings and along the way scored a handful of particularly noteworthy victories, inflicting bitter rival James DeGale’s first defeat and impressively stopping Paul Smith inside two rounds.
Last December, Groves thoroughly dominated veteran Glen Johnson to a shutout unanimous decision, a man who had pushed Froch to the wire in losing a majority verdict only eighteen months prior. The ‘Road Warrior’ had retired in the interim and a month shy of his fourty-fourth birthday had not won a fight since losing to Froch, but Groves’s performance was sensational nonetheless and confirmed his arrival on the world scene.
With three knockout victories since, albeit against relatively modest opposition, is Groves ready for what is by far-and-away the biggest test of his career? Is it a case of too much, too soon against a battle-hardened warrior in Froch who still appears to be at the top of his game? Will we see a changing of the guard, or will the world-title custodian continue his distinguished reign?
Many a knowledgeable insider will be happy to tell you that ‘boxing is all about levels’ and if this is solely the case, then judging by what we’ve seen so far, there’s only one winner here. Froch has operated at a much higher level, the highest level, and remains there after a very long time. Alongside his proven class and experience, Groves’s record pales in comparison.
Yet ‘The Saint’ is still unbeaten and on the upward curve of his career, so we’re yet to know how good he can become. He’s faced difficulties but come through them all and at least from a self-belief standpoint, would see no reason why he can’t rise to his biggest challenge. He’s a very talented fighter, with a great jab, a lot of power and good punch selection and by virtue of one of boxing’s other maxims – ‘styles make fights’ – could be particularly problematic for Froch.
Groves has fast hands and moves fantastically well and we’ve seen those attributes trouble Froch in the past in the case of Andres Dirrell and Ward. If he can utilise these advantages to attack Froch from varying angles and use his feet to spin safely out of range of his long arms, he could start to pile rounds up and furthermore begin to frustrate the champion.
I think Groves will box his way into an early lead and at least until the middle rounds do a good job of evading ‘The Cobra’s’ pressure, but to do so for twelve rounds against a relentless athlete like Froch is a big ask. However, I think if Groves can start well and stay disciplined, an upset victory on points is a possible outcome.
Ultimately though, I think Froch’s toughness, conditioning, punch resistance and punching power will eventually drag the historically hot-headed challenger into his fight. He’ll begin to wear Groves down and although I think he’ll need to come from behind on the cards to do so, I think he’ll catch and hurt him eventually and finish the job brutally in the later rounds.