It’s good to know that nights like this still exist on Bash Boulevard.
Froch and Groves first met on November 23rd at the Phones 4U Arena in Manchester in front of a capacity crowd. Groves jumped out early by decking Froch - who is normally sturdy as they come - in the first round with a booming right hand. Froch had dismissed “Saint George” coming in as a neophyte and beneath him in the boxing hierarchy but Groves showed that despite his relative inexperience, he is a world-class operator. For much of the night, Groves’ quickness and slick boxing skills tamed “The Cobra.”
Simply put, Froch, now 36, looked, well...old. He was consistently getting beaten to the punch and out-maneuvered in the ring. For the first half of this championship battle, Froch, whose recent résumé is as solid as anyone’s in boxing, looked like a shopworn warrior who was succumbing to the wear and tear of a storied career. He looked slow, stiff and more mechanical than usual as he flailed away futilely at the more athletic and fluid Groves.
But Froch, a man as persistent as he is salty, began to slowly chip away at Groves, getting to him in the later stages of the fights and finally hurting him in the ninth frame. No stranger to late fight heroics (just ask Jermain Taylor), Froch was seemingly setting the stage for another thrilling comeback...when referee Howard Foster prematurely intervened by stepping in and halting the fight. Foster immediately became the English version of Richard Steele, a good referee, who, unfairly or not, will be defined by a split-second decision that determined the fate of a fight that hung in the balance.
At the time the fight was stopped, two judges had Groves on top by a score of 76-75 but the consensus was this fight was far more one-sided than those cards conveyed. The irony is if Foster would have waited another 10 seconds, there might have been a conclusive ending from Froch or Groves would have gathered himself to box his way to a well-deserved decision. A fight that should’ve ended with exclamation marks instead concluded with question marks. But it’s because of the controversial nature of this stoppage that there is so much anticipation for the return engagement.
During the spring, there was plenty of conjecture about Froch, who has built a sizable fan-base and become a boxing icon in the U.K., facing Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in the States in what would have been a pay-per-view event. But it seemed that the public at large in England - whether partial to Froch or Groves - wouldn’t sign off on any other fight but a rematch. For all his new-found popularity, Froch simply could not ignore Groves and this rematch. So yes, while there might have been big business abroad for Froch, he wouldn’t get the blessing of his people till he finished business with Groves.
And Groves was willing to take the small slice of the pie to make this rematch a reality. Even when the IBF ruled that he was entitled to a mere 15 percent of the purse, Groves understood that this was the price for retribution. Within hours of going on sale, tens of thousands of tickets were sold and HBO eventually made the decision to air this fight live on Saturday afternoon (4:45 p.m., ET), a rarity for this U.S. network. However, perennial malcontent Andre Ward derided this match-up as a “domestic fight” (http://www1.skysports.com/boxing/news/12183/), which is interesting given that for us Yanks, Froch-Groves is actually an “international fight,” tentatively one of the most well-attended fights in years. To put this into perspective, it would take right around four or five fights at the MGM Grand involving Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao to draw what these two will this weekend.
While Froch and Groves are battling for the IBF and WBA belts, there’s still no denying who the top dog at 168 is, the aforementioned Ward, who’s currently in semi-retirement as he continues to litigate versus promoter Dan Goossen. But to paraphrase what Tom Hauser said about the contentious rivalry between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier: these two Brits are fighting for the championship of one another. Simply put, this match-up borders on pure contempt and hatred between them. They can’t stand to be in each other’s presence as was shown once again in this “The Gloves Are Off” segment, the U.K.’s version of HBO’s “Face Off with Max Kellerman”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Art © Pat Killian
Liverpool and Manchester United have nothing on Froch and Groves (and for the record, I had to ask my Twitter followers from Jolly Ol’ England for their fiercest football rivalry. Since I’ve actually heard of these two clubs, I went with this comparison).
Like Ali and Frazier, then Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales long after, Froch-Groves is about a grudging respect but a mutual admiration society they are not. This ain’t Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward, whose bond grew after each fight to the point of real friendship. Froch and Groves will never like each other. It’s why there is such an interest in this rematch. All too often, boxing is too much of a business and not enough of a sport. This here is much more than business and long ago, had gotten very personal. For HBO Sports, this truly is a “Game of Thrones,” only it doesn’t involve the Lannisters and the Starks. This is boxing’s ultimate blood feud.
This is why it’s televising this “domestic fight.”
And it’s why this is one of the most anticipated bouts of the year - internationally.
It was an interesting night on Showtime from the Bell Centre in Montreal as light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson had to rise from the canvas in the ninth round (after flooring Andrzej Fonfara twice earlier) to hold off the late charge of his game challenger. As you watched this, you couldn’t help but think that perhaps this was why he eschewed a potential bout against the hard-hitting Sergey Kovalev on HBO for a safer harbor on Showtime and a date against Bernard Hopkins.
But really, all that is conjecture. What really matters are the fights that actually take place and their results. Showtime secured the fight it wanted and HBO, which spent a lot of money in 2013 developing Stevenson’s brand, didn’t.
This is why, whether the masses like it or not, Stevenson-Hopkins will come to fruition but not Stevenson-Kovalev in the near future.
In the semi-main, the power-punching David Lemieux destroyed Fernando Guerrero in three rounds. Lemieux might be a flawed fighter but he also brings a lot of heat and excitement to the middleweight division. In the past, he’s been saddled with issues regarding discipline and work ethic but you can’t deny that he makes for fun and exciting fights. Word is that before the Stevenson-Kovalev fight was kiboshed, a bout between Lemieux and Curtis Stevens was slated to be the semi-main on that card. Yeah, what could’ve been.
In the Showtime opener, Jermell Charlo put on a rather pedestrian performance in outpointing Charlie Ota over 12 heats.
I thought HBO’s “2 Days” episode on Ruslan Provodnikov this past weekend was simply excellent. There’s a reason it was twice as long as usual (30 minutes this time) and it was worth watching every second...Petr Petrov is really a solid little fighter; isn’t he?...Jhonny Gonzalez got past Clive Atwell this weekend in Mexico with an 11th round technical decision...R.I.P. to Matthew Saad Muhammad. They don’t make ‘em like this guy any more...Floyd is now battling with T.I.? I suggest he stay away from the “Source Awards”...Really enjoyed the pilot episode of “Gang Related” on Fox. This looks like a very promising series...
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