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Un-Orthodox boxing blog

Demetrius Andrade: “I want to fight in the UK!”

Posted by Jack Sumner on July 25, 2014

WBO light middleweight champion Demetrius Andrade made his first trip to British shores for Matchroom Boxing’s bumper ‘Collision Course’ bill on July 12th, in support of gym-mate Vladine Biosse who featured on the undercard against rising super middleweight prospect Callum Smith. Working the corner for Biosse, Andrade watched on as his friend provided a tough test for Smith, but ultimately came up short against the highly-touted home fighter, who handled the dogged Cape Verde native with great maturity and ran out a clear winner with a disciplined performance.

Jack Sumner Demetrius AndradeBut Andrade (21-0, 14 KO’s) – who last month dismantled Blackpool’s Brian Rose in his first world title defence in Brooklyn, New York – was the subject of huge attention from the boxing public during his short stay on this side of the Atlantic. The Rhode Island southpaw has a growing UK fanbase in the wake of his seventh-round stoppage of Rose and his popularity soared to even greater heights with the humility he displayed whilst posing for pictures and signing autographs with fans in Liverpool.

Following Biosse’s defeat to Smith, Andrade re-emerged at ringside to catch the rest of the action and was later joined by Biosse to watch Anthony Joshua destroy Matt Skelton and Tony Bellew set up his expected rematch with Nathan Cleverly. Almost as dedicated a boxing fan as he is a boxer, Andrade appeared to be enjoying himself at the Echo Arena and expressed his interest in returning to a UK venue in the future, hopefully on the other side of the ropes.

“I’m having a great time over here, the fans have been great here in Liverpool, I’d love to come back,” Andrade told Boxing Mad Magazine’s Jack Sumner. “You know, I’d love to fight over here, I’m gonna talk to the promoter Eddie Hearn and hopefully in the future we can make that happen. I’ll talk to Eddie and we can get it done.”

Andrade’s next fight will be back in the States however, as he chases the big names in his division and the likes of Canelo Alvarez and Erislandy Lara, who clashed in Las Vegas just a few hours later.

“I think October (I’ll fight again), I’m looking to get out before Thanksgiving. It doesn’t matter to me (who wins Canelo-Lara) I’ll fight either one, I’ll fight anyone.”

The thought of Andrade fighting in the UK is a mouth-watering prospect for British fans, with the unbeaten 26-year-old American possessing the potential to go on and become a true pound-for pound great of the sport. Appearances from US megastars are few and far between on our shores, but whilst talk of Floyd Mayweather fighting at Wembley before he retires, or Andre Ward leaving home to fight Carl Froch are unrealistic, you get the sense that Andrade is a man of his word and his desire to fight all-comers, anywhere, is genuine.

Though he came out on the wrong end of a one-sided decision after being hit with Callum Smith’s heavy hands for ten rounds, Biosse echoed the sentiments of his countryman and went a little further to explain the desire to fight (again) over here: “You know what, the boxing fans here in Liverpool are really knowledgeable, they know their boxing. I definitely want to come back here and fight again. They appreciate what’s going on in that ring.”

They also appreciated both Biosse and Andrade, who judging by the attention they got in Liverpool, would be welcomed back with open arms.

 

 

 

 

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COLLISION COURSE COMPLETE!

Posted by Jack Sumner on July 25, 2014

Tony Bellew and Nathan Cleverly finally set up a long-awaited grudge rematch, as both men won in Liverpool on July 12th to secure a sequel to their bitter first encounter three years ago. The former light heavyweight rivals – now fighting at cruiserweight – are expected to share a ring again in November, but fans inside the Echo Arena on the night were almost treated to the inevitable fireworks right there.

Bellew Clev barny

Immediately after Bellew stopped Julio Cesar Dos Santos in the fifth round with a big left hook, the home favourite turned his attentions to Cleverly, who sat ringside, had earlier dispatched Argentina’s Alejandro Emilio Valori. Having to be held back as Cleverly – who won their first fight on a contested majority decision – taunted him from outside the ropes, Bellew then attempted to join his Welsh rival in the front row but was prevented from leaving the ring.

Once tempers had simmered down, the two were then separated by promoter Eddie Hearn during Bellew’s post-fight interview, but continued to bait each other with a verbal tirade. Both men have now had two successful outings as cruiserweights and settled into the division, with the prize on offer for November’s victor likely a world title shot in 2015.

Dubbed as “Collision Course”, the Liverpool card was essentially a prelude to the mooted Bellew-Cleverly return bout, with Hearn crossing his fingers at ringside hoping both his charges came through unscathed. But he needn’t have worried too much, as neither man faced a great deal of adversity in one-sided showings against their overmatched opponents.

Cleverly took to the ring first and initially received a respectful welcome from the home fans of his sworn enemy as he made his entrance to face the Argentinian Valori. A nice touch from a crowd that appreciates it’s boxing, but once the action was under way, the former world champion perhaps received too much respect from his opponent.

clev valoriCleverly (28-1, 14 KO’s) was in the ascendancy from the opening bell and dominated the first round, then in the second, scored a knockdown when he caught Valori with a hurtful left hook to the body after backing him to the ropes. The 31-year-old visitor made it to his feet and survived the round, but was gasping for breath and breathing heavily and from there, the writing was clearly on the wall.

He was finally put out of his misery just over a minute into the fourth, when the Welshman landed another hard left hand that dropped him again, and referee Terry O’Connor had seen enough. After the fight, as a parting shot to Bellew, Cleverly quipped: “Win your fight, I’m coming for you.”

Bellew (22-2-1, 14 KO’s) perhaps faced a tougher test on paper in Dos Santos, who had never previously been stopped in twenty-nine professional outings. But once the fight got under way, the Liverpudlian was immediately in control and looked comfortable throughout the first two rounds.

Dos Santos wasn’t so easily discouraged however and came back with some of his own fire in the third, landing with a couple of hard right hands and alerting Bellew to the supposed punching power that his record of twenty-three stoppages suggested. But his success was short-lived and after Bellew enjoyed a better session in the fourth, the pair exchanged left hooks in the fifth and Dos Santos was made to pay.

BellewBellew sent the Brazilian crashing to the canvas and although Dos Santos rose to beat the count, his legs betrayed him and the contest was waved off at 1:17 of the fifth round. Cue Bellew’s emotional outburst at the watching Cleverly and the pantomime finish that perhaps spoiled his impressive performance in the ring.

Sandwiched between Cleverly and Bellew’s performances was the latest outing of British heavyweight hope Anthony Joshua (7-0, 7 KO’s), who continued his exciting knockout streak with a two-round demolition of former world title challenger Matt Skelton. The 6’6” colossus has yet to be extended past the second round in any of his seven professional outings, with the 47-year-old veteran Skelton unable to take Joshua as deep as many had hoped.

In the build up to the fight, Skelton had taunted the 2012 Olympic gold medalist by comparing him to predecessor Audley Harrison, who also lifted super heavyweight gold but ultimately underachieved as a professional. But Joshua took it all in his huge stride and when he manhandled his more experienced opponent along the ropes – and almost out of the ring – in the opening session, it was clear that Skelton’s pre-fight assertions had had little effect on Joshua’s psyche.

He was bossing proceedings and took the first three minutes comfortably, punctuating the round with two big straight rights that drew telling smiles from Skelton before the bell. Skelton had some sporadic success with big rights of his own but they did little but boost confidence in Joshua’s ability to take a punch. Then in the second, the 24-year-old giant backed Skelton to the ropes again and unleashed a combination that finished with a big right hook to the head, dropping the Bedford Bear face first on the mat for a count of nine.

He barely beat the count, but it was academic anyway as Joshua moved in for the kill, a jab pushing his victim into a neutral corner before referee Steve Gray jumped in to save a giraffe-legged Skelton from further punishment.

The undercard featured a number of British boxing’s other rising stars, with the most notable standout being Callum Smith, the youngest and arguably most impressive of Liverpool’s four famous fighting brothers. The unbeaten 24-year-old took on American contender Vladine Biosse, who in his last fight had provided a tough test for J’Leon Love and backed by light middleweight champion Demetrius Andrade, crossed the Atlantic with ambitions of his own.

Perhaps the only things that Smith (12-0, 9 KO’s) had been lacking to this point in his professional career were rounds and a decent test, with the much-touted prospect dealing with every prior challenge with greater ease than his handlers had expected. But Biosse pushed Smith for the full ten rounds of what proved to be an invaluable learning curve and one in which the young Brit excelled, a mature and disciplined performance seeing him run out a comfortable points winner.

Callum’s brother Stephen was also on the card, staying busy with a points win over Mexican contender Pedro Navarette, as he awaits a world title shot against WBC super featherweight champion Takashi Miura. Smith won 78-75 over eight rounds and didn’t look his sharpest throughout a drab affair, but that can be expected with his world title tilt almost guaranteed for later this year.

One fighter who did look sharp however was Rocky Fielding, who could be on a collision course of his own with Callum Smith, joining his fellow Scouse super middleweight in the win column with a fifth-round finish of former George Groves foe Noe Gonzalez Alcoba. In what was probably the most entertaining clash of the night as long as it lasted, the two traded periods of ascendancy and at times both looked on the verge of triumph, but it was Fielding who ended matters when a left hook floored Gonzalez in the fifth and a flurry of punches forced the stoppage.

Elsewhere there were wins for Olympians Luke Campbell and Anthony Ogogo, who both kept their unbeaten records intact in scheduled six-rounders. Campbell got rid of some ring rust in outpointing the awkward Craig Woodruff 60-54 in his first outing for five months, whilst Ogogo impressed stopping Wayne Reed in round five after dominating from start to finish.

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Is Kell Brook ready for Shawn Porter?

Posted by Jack Sumner on June 25, 2014

Unbeaten British welterweight prodigy Kell Brook will finally fight for a world title this summer, after Golden Boy Promotions received the signature of the IBF’s mandatory challenger to fight champion Shawn Porter at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Originally scheduled for August 9th, speculation arose earlier this week that negotiations for the fight had collapsed, with reports circulating that Porter was yet to sign the contract.

Porter-fist-poseGolden Boy’s Vice President and matchmaker Eric Gomez moved quick to release a statement claiming that Brook-Porter would definitely go ahead however, assuring fans that the fight would “take place within the next couple of months.” There seems to be a number of issues to iron-out, such as the use of random drug-testing, and there’s still no date confirmed at the time of writing, but noise from both camps suggest that confirmation will arrive imminently.

It’s not unchartered territory for Brook, who after a protracted rise to the higher-echelons of the sport seems to have waited an awful long time to finally nail down a world title opportunity. The 28-year-old’s attempt at realising a lifelong dream will come effectively two years after he initially earned his mandatory position, with a three-round blowout of Hector David Saldivia way back in October 2012.

That win gave Brook a shot at then titleholder Devon Alexander, with whom a meeting was scheduled for the 19th of January last year, but in training for the fight Brook sustained an ankle injury and the transatlantic battle of stylists was pushed back until February 23rd. Further injuries to Alexander and Brook respectively then ultimately led to the cancellation of the fight, with Alexander instead routinely defending his title against Lee Purdy and Brook’s future, at that time, left uncertain.

But the Sheffield star bounced back and having eventually gotten over the disappointment of missing his world title chance, returned to the ring to stop Carson Jones in a rematch, before signing off 2013 with a four-round mauling of former titleholder Vyacheslav Senchenko. Those victories retained his standing as the IBF’s number one contender and following an eighth-round stoppage of Alvaro Robles in a tune-up on March 15th, Kell was back in line to face the champ.

This time however the IBF had a different ruler. Whilst Brook was rebuilding, Alexander scheduled another title defence for December of last year. Enter Porter, who upset the odds and wrested the crown from the St Louis native in surprisingly dominant fashion, with a bullish display of aggression and variety en-route to a unanimous decision verdict.

With the mandatory against Brook looming, Porter then scheduled a voluntary defence in the meantime, agreeing to take on popular former two-weight titleholder Paulie Malignaggi in April. In one sense an eliminator to fight Brook with the IBF ruling that Porter or Malignaggi do so within ninety days of their bout, British fans perhaps hoped that Porter had bitten off more than he could chew, preferring the 33-year-old ‘Magic Man’ as an opponent for Sheffield’s unbeaten hope.

Familiar with them since he fought Ricky Hatton, the Brooklyn native possessed a sizeable fanbase in the UK and aroused hope that should he emerge victorious, a fight with Brook on British shores would be a realistic possibility. There were many who thought stylistically he could pose serious problems for Porter, who in hindsight may have been flattered by his win over a potentially below par Alexander.

porter malignaggiBut if the victory over Alexander had been Porter’s coming out party, then his fight with Malignaggi was an unadulterated confirmation of his surest assets. Spiteful and venomous from the get-go, the 26-year-old from Ohio demolished his much more experienced foe in just four rounds, administering a brutal beating along the way. Admittedly never one of the sport’s true elite, Malignaggi had been a world-level campaigner for a number of years and fought a long list of the top names in and around his division. Nobody before had been able to bully him the way that Porter did.

Able to boil down to welterweight from a middleweight’s frame and vastly improved from the talented if unspectacular prospect he had once been, following his ferocious first title defence, Porter has suddenly been portrayed as a 147lb Mike Tyson. Brook has waited a long time for his opportunity and now it will finally come his way, but after Porter’s destruction of Malignaggi, few are envious of the task he has at hand.

A professional for eight years, many moons have passed since Brook (32-0, 22 KO’s) was first earmarked as a potential superstar. Hailing from the same Wincobank gym that produced the likes of Johnny Nelson, Herol ‘Bomber’ Graham and a fighter that a young Brook idolised in ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed, the brash and exciting youngster set tongues wagging when he claimed a Lonsdale belt outright less than thirteen rounds after winning the British title.

But five years have passed since then and it’s almost four years since Brook bested Michael Jennings in a WBO eliminator, which should have begun his assault on the world stage. Now looking back, the cut-induced stoppage of Jennings was something of a false dawn, with what seemed like a never-ending conveyor belt of preliminary bouts standing between Brook and his long mooted world title challenge.

It’s been the source of much derision, which is unfortunate for Brook, but understandable particularly in this fickle age where social media rules. Fans have become frustrated with his development and tired of the countless times when it was deemed Brook’s crowning was just around the corner. In his first bout with Carson Jones he was on the ‘Edge of Glory’, against Hector Saldivia we were told ‘This Is It’, but, until now, a world title shot has not materialised. Much has been of the fact that since Kell first became a mandatory, newly-crowned IBF bantamweight titleholder Paul Butler has turned professional and gone on to win a world crown.

Of course, Brook cannot be blamed for the collapse of the Alexander fight through injury, but there are those who suspect that the ankle ailments were nothing more than convenient get-out-of-jail-free cards for a fighter who felt he was not ready to mix with the best. The delayed announcement of the Porter clash has been met with jeers and eye-rolling by the anti-Kell Brook society on Twitter, who’ve made Matchroom supremo Eddie Hearn all too aware of how they feel.

One man who could perhaps chair that club is Brook’s longstanding rival Amir Khan, a fighter with his own fair share of detractors but a successful world-level operator for a number of years. In Khan’s mind, Brook doubts his ability after some of the scares he has encountered along the way and isn’t, nor ever will be ready to win a world title.

“Brook-Porter is not going to happen because Kell doesn’t think he can win it,” Khan told BBC Sport in May, “I don’t think Kell has got the bottle to take a big fight like that – he’s always been all talk when it comes to the big fights.” There’s clearly no love lost between Brook and Khan, who offers a jaundiced view of his compatriot, but you have to credit that the former light-welterweight king has plenty of material with which to base his damning verdict.

If Khan and his anti-Brook army are correct, perhaps the doubt began with Kell’s first meeting with Jones back in July 2012, where he put was through the grinder and had to dig deep to survive a gruelling twelve-round war of attrition. Brook dominated the fight’s early rounds, compiling a healthy lead on the scorecards by the sixth and looking a class above the journeyman-turned-fringe-contender. But from there, it all turned rather sour.

brook_jones

Brook dominated the early rounds of his first fight with Carson Jones, but was put through hell by the American down the stretch.

It’s long been suspected that Brook has stamina issues and simply may not be a twelve round fighter, evidence of which began in round seven of what was truly a fight of two halves. If Brook had dominated the first six rounds, Jones was on top for the majority of the last six, breaking Brook’s nose in the eighth and down the stretch looked on the brink of claiming a stoppage in his opponent’s backyard.

Kell hung on in a reassuring display of heart if nothing else and at the fight’s conclusion was adjudged to be a majority decision winner, with close scorecards across the board. In the aftermath, Brook and his camp blamed poor preparation for what they saw as a lacklustre performance and a result that was far too close for comfort. Brook handled Jones easily in their rematch last year en-route to an eighth-round stoppage and ever since the scare on that summer’s night, his diet and conditioning has reportedly come under greater focus. Hopefully it was just that, a blip, a wake-up call and a lesson learned, but the worrying fact remains that a fighter of Jones’s calibre was able to cause Brook so many issues.

A skilful, dynamite puncher with terrific speed and reflexes, Brook does however leave gaps defensively and isn’t the most active of fighters in terms of his low punch-output. Though he may have run out of gas, Brook allowed an active pressure fighter like Jones to outwork him for long periods in the fight. Shawn Porter is leagues above Jones as a pressure fighter, not to mention as a fighter altogether and can match Brook in areas that Jones didn’t.

On the evidence we have to go on, Porter will be the aggressor come fight night, something that is routinely rewarded by judges particularly on American shores. Trained by his father Kenny, Porter is an undoubtedly well-conditioned athlete and again on what we’ve seen, would appear to trump Brook in both fitness and strength. He’s got fast hands, is vey mobile, versatile and can probably match Brook for speed. Although a quick glance at his record would not indicate a puncher, he demonstrated against Malignaggi that he has the power to take out a world-class fighter who’s always displayed reliable punch-resistance.

Another concern is Brook’s overall level of opposition up to this point. He’s beaten all who’ve been put in front of him and compiled some impressive looking numbers, but his biggest scalps are Jones and Senchenko. Porter’s victories over Alexander and Malignaggi ensure he’s been in with the better adversaries and not only that, but he beat them both convincingly.

Porter (24-0-1, 15 KO’s) will enter the ring as the favourite and rightly so. Particularly on American soil, the world title Brook has long been waiting for won’t come easy. But to flip the scrutiny, it’s worth noting that whilst the American represents a difficult task for one of Britain’s brightest hopes, there’s also plenty that can offer reassurance in the coming weeks.

Brook Senchenko

Brook stopped former world champion Vyacheslav Senchenko in four rounds in his biggest test to date.

Brook has had his struggles, but it’s not too long ago that Porter received the only blemish of his professional career, fighting to a draw with Julio Diaz only eighteen months ago. Forgotten in the wake of his more recent form and rematch victory over Diaz, it’s clear however that Porter isn’t the invincible beast that many are inevitably portraying him as since his win over Malignaggi.

Also, whilst both wins were impressive, the man who failed to qualify for the 2008 U.S. Olympics team faced light-punching foes in both of his biggest fights. Alexander and Malignaggi between them don’t have as many knockouts as Brook, who took out Saldivia with a jab and clearly possesses world-level power. At his slick, sharp best, that power might be enough to dissuade Porter from bulldozing in and even if it doesn’t, Brook’s powerful counter shots are a priceless commodity against such an aggressive foe.

As with any unbeaten and largely untested fighter a question-mark remains. We simply don’t how Brook will fare at the highest-level. What we do know however, is that at twenty-eight and after a particularly long and winding road to the top, if Kell Brook isn’t ready for Porter now, he never will be.

 

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Deadly Cobra strikes on British boxing’s biggest night

Posted by Jack Sumner on June 4, 2014

After six months of build-up and in front of an electrified crowd that was 80,000 strong, the opening bell sounded and referee Charlie Fitch made way for Carl Froch and George Groves to finally resume what they had started last November.  The combatants didn’t quite pick up from where they left off, as the early exchanges set the tone of what would become a far cagier affair, but a memorable night nonetheless and one that will go down in British boxing history as Froch retained his super middleweight titles with a brutal eighth-round stoppage at Wembley.

Froch-Groves-topIt was a career-defining performance by the Cobra, one that displayed all the grit and intangible quality with which he had become associated, but also some of the boxing ability and undeniable skill with which he is less synonymous. After the long, hard road he took to recognition, Froch is now one of the most marketable stars on the world boxing landscape after selling out his national stadium and still in possession of his WBA and IBF crowns.

It wasn’t easy though, despite the emphatic finish. As in their first meeting, the challenger more than played his part in a memorable encounter. Groves dominated the early rounds of their 2013 barnstormer – punctuating the first round with that heavy knockdown – and got off to a good start here, although the opening session this time around was much closer to call.

The Londoner probably edged it, generally getting the better of what little action there was but clearly aware that the explosive tactics that had surprised Froch last time out would be reckless, going against his pre-fight boasts. Groves is a terrific fighter with bags of potential and still riding the upward curve of his career having just turned twenty-six, but his assertion that he would stop Froch within three rounds seemed very optimistic.

And in the second Groves was down. . . but not from a punch, rather a push from Froch as the fight momentarily broke out into a wrestling match. The champion received a ticking off from referee Charlie Fitch but also enjoyed some genuine success in the round and was scoring with his jab. As the round reached its climax, another close session swung Groves’s way as the challenger countered Froch’s jab with a big right and did more damage with a hard left hook – the punch that Groves predicted would finish the fight in his favour.

The round that Groves predicted came next, but it was that lethal counter right hand that was the pick of his arsenal, with two of them landing hard to catch the eye of the judges. But the flame-haired puncher won’t be putting Mystic Meg out of a job anytime soon as there was no inkling of a potential stoppage. Froch came marauding forward with a flurry and backed Groves up to the ropes. The action was heating up and there was nothing to split them as they headed back to their corners.

Froch was holding the centre of the ring and forcing Groves back with his rapier-like jab to set up his attacks, but for all Froch was throwing plenty missed the target and the Saint was boxing well off the back foot and was out-landing, even out-jabbing the Cobra by increasing numbers. The fourth was one of those rounds where the subjectivity of boxing’s scoring system comes into play, a swing round, dependant on ‘what you like’.

The fifth was a huge round for Froch as Groves was forced back to the ropes again but this time courtesy of a hard right hand and the challenger looked hurt. A series of vicious digs to the body did little to help his cause and towards the end of the round Froch snapped Groves head back with a jab. The early rounds had been tight and a couple of them difficult to score though with Groves ahead in the eyes of most observers, but Froch was coming on strong.

The centre of the ring was his territory and Groves was constantly being backed up, Froch landing more and unleashing combinations. Groves had developed a mouse under his right eye that substantiated the period of dominance that Froch was enjoying.

But that was broken in the seventh as Groves fired back and a stiff jab forced back Froch’s head and jolted the legs of the champion. His boxing was coming together again and he landed his landed his right hand often, Froch came back with another flurry against the ropes but Groves had the last word and finished the round in the ascendancy.

Froch was tagged by a retreating Groves and made to swing at thin air by a now confident looking challenger early in the eighth. At a time when many supposed Groves would be fading, he appeared to be getting into his groove. But that would be shattered when he backed up to the ropes once more. Froch pressed forward and with a combination he’d been timing for a few rounds got Groves attention with a left-hook before crashing home with a devastating right hand that relieved Groves of his consciousness and left him sprawled on the canvas.

His head lay beneath the bottom rope and his left leg was bent back under his body in a worrying state. After a couple of stationary seconds, Groves came to and beat the count, but was in no position to continue and Fitch had seen enough and waved the contest off to jubilant scenes in the Froch corner. There could be no complaints about a controversial finish this time around. Few in the stadium could have any complaints and all involved in staging the event rejoiced over it’s scale and success, plus the platform it had given to boxing.

Wembley

What a platform it had given to Froch too, who could now be set for a career farewell in Las Vegas, probably opposite Julio Cesar Chavez Jr in November. Groves too, although it won’t feel like it right now, will have benefited from the spectacle.  He’s now suffered back-to-back defeats but impressed on both occasions right up until the finish and his profile and marketability on both sides of the pond has grown tenfold. He still has much of a career ahead of him.

 

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Froch-Groves II: Mind Games

Posted by Jack Sumner on May 21, 2014

Just over a week remains before Carl Froch and George Groves meet in the most lucrative rematch in British boxing history, as the protagonists attempt to settle the score from their controversial first encounter last November. Wembley Stadium plays host to the grudge clash that will unfold in front of 80,000 spectators, all hoping for a more conclusive ending after the debatable finish we saw six months ago.

Froch-Groves-top

Clearly behind on the judge’s scorecards and having suffered a heavy knockdown in the opening round, Froch rallied to score a come-from-behind stoppage of Groves midway through the ninth. But the intervention of referee Howard Foster looked horribly premature with the challenger barely taking a clean punch despite coming under unanswered fire from the champion and especially given the way that Groves had dominated the early rounds and had Froch hurt on a number of occasions.

For the first six rounds of the fight, it was Groves who looked like the unified beltholder and Froch who looked like the inexperienced upstart. The Sheriff of Nottingham was tentative and pawing with a jab that Groves countered with ease. Whenever Froch tried to assert himself and drag the contest into a slugfest at close range, Groves habitually beat him at his own game and exposed the gaping holes in the champion’s defence.

Groves was always going to cause Froch problems with his superior movement and speed but the reigning IBF and WBA super middleweight champion didn’t look himself in there. The shock of being floored so heavily in the first session may have been a contributing factor of course, with Froch taking some time to regain his composure after being caught cold with his feet square on.

GrovesFrochBut in the wake of the first fight another theory has been authenticated by none other than the Cobra himself. Froch now readily admits that in the build-up to their first meeting Groves had got under his skin, wound him up and this, combined with a lack of respect for his challenger, resulted in a potentially disastrous cocktail of annoyance and complacency. For weeks before the fight Groves had been chipping away at Froch’s ego by getting the better of the verbal sparring whilst remaining composed and assured as his opponent built up walls with his conceited outbursts.

The challenger’s cerebral attack is not dissimilar this time around. He now knows he can get to Froch mentally. For this second promotion however he’s upped the ante, setting the precedent at the press conference by solving a Rubik’s cube as Froch fielded questions about the return bout. Froch was simply trying to keep a cool head in front of the cameras; Groves meanwhile was the epitome of cool.

And later Froch’s temperament would boil over, as they reconvened on the Wembley pitch where they will meet on May 31st. As they posed for the obligatory face-off, Froch – instead with his cheek turned the man he could not bare to look at – snapped and shoved Groves hard in the chest. The 36-year-old claimed that he hadn’t lost his cool and that the push was merely an attempt to ‘make some room’ between he and his bad-breathed challenger. But that was exactly the kind of petulant response Groves will have been looking for. Just as in their first fight, round one in the battle of mind games was a 10-8 triumph for the Londoner.

Groves has always been good at pre-fight psychology. He was similarly able to keep his composure under a self-assured tirade from James DeGale and win the verbal exchanges in the lead-up to their bout. It’s an ability that was nurtured when the 26-year-old from Hammersmith was under the tutelage of the thinking man’s trainer Adam Booth and a behaviour that has often been observed in Booth’s former heavyweight titleholder and Groves’s friend and former stablemate David Haye.

Now training with the calming influence of Paddy Fitzpatrick, Groves has maintained that aura and will enter his unfinished business with Froch with a degree of contentment. If the first six, maybe seven rounds of last November’s bout are anything to go by, he knows he is at least capable of beating Froch, something that was merely a belief beforehand. He comes into the rematch knowing that he is a world class operator and knowing that by making a few adjustments, Froch’s world titles are within his grasp.

He’ll also care little that he is once again the underdog and will perhaps take solace in the fact that the odds are dramatically closer than they were before the last fight. Groves is happy to take on the world if he has to; Froch, the promotional might of Matchroom Sport, the pro-Froch support that will not be as vociferous as it was last time around. In Groves’s eyes, he at least won’t have to take on a referee this time.

All of which he is happy to continually remind Froch. Judging by that press conference and their first appearance on Wembley’s hallowed turf, it appeared as though Froch was taking the bait.

Carl-Froch-001Froch is nothing if not meticulous however. A well-conditioned athlete three-hundred-and-sixty-five days of the year, he has been the consummate professional throughout his long stay at the sport’s top level. He leaves no stone unturned, records a detailed diary of all his training camps and if there’s something to work on, he works on it. That’s why for this encounter, he’s enlisted the help of a sports psychologist.

To many, including Groves, this is a sign of weakness and yet more material with which to mock the ageing champion. But for a proud man like Froch to admit that he let his anger cloud his judgement last time and to publicly admit that he is seeking help, sounds pretty ominous. There certainly isn’t any complacency this time around and since that sole indiscretion on the Wembley pitch, Froch has successfully been able to keep his cool. He’s remained unusually quiet in the build-up for this fight, indication that behind closed doors he is training doggedly for the most important fight of his life. He’s spending more time away from his Nottingham home, with trainer Robert McCracken at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, incidentally where the psychologist in question helped prepare many of Britain’s successful 2012 Olympians.

Early signs were that Groves was winning the mental battle, but then again he was winning the physical battle last November but ultimately came unstuck. Whilst his protests at the early stoppage are justified, it’s also true that Froch had weathered the worst of the Saint’s storm and was coming on strong as the fight entered the championship rounds.

Just as Groves looked like he had broken Froch in the ring, he looked like he had broken Froch mentally at the outset of this promotional circus, but like he did in the fight the champion has hung on and remains in the battle. Judging who has the mental edge right now is as difficult as judging the outcome of this incredibly intriguing rematch, with a case that can be made for both men. We’ll have the answers to all our questions next Saturday.

 

 

 

 

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