- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Super middleweight titleholder Carl Froch has been ordered by a sanctioning body to give his British countryman George Groves an immediate rematch in the wake of their highly controversial fight in November, although Froch could instead vacate one of his belts and potentially face Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in another big-money fight.
The IBF said Friday that Froch has 90 days to fight Groves again or he would be stripped of his 168-pound belt, although he still holds a version of the WBA title. Froch could defend that title against Chavez, as long as Chavez makes it through a March 1 rematch of his controversial decision against Bryan Vera.
Matchroom Sport promoter Eddie Hearn, Froch's promoter, said he is interested in making the Froch-Groves rematch but that he and Top Rank, Chavez's promoter, have also been in discussions this week for a potential summer HBO PPV fight in Las Vegas.
Froch (32-2, 23 KOs), 36, retained his belts against the 25-year-old Groves (19-1, 15 KOs) on Nov. 23 in a heavily disputed ninth-round knockout victory.
Froch, who had been knocked down in the first round, was trailing on all three scorecards when he hurt Groves in the ninth round. But Groves was firing back and had not been knocked down when suddenly referee Howard John Foster shockingly stopped the fight, causing an uproar. Even many of Froch's own fans criticized the stoppage.
In the weeks following the fight, Froch refused to entertain a rematch, but Groves appealed to the IBF for one. Groves' appeal was heard on Jan. 15, during which the fight was reviewed. On Friday, the IBF ordered the rematch based on "inappropriate conduct" of the referee.
"There were a number of reasons presented in his appeal presented as evidence of inappropriate conduct by referee Howard Foster," the IBF wrote in its ruling. "However, the one argument presented to the panel that they could make an educated decision on was that the referee simply misinterpreted George Groves' evasive techniques as being an indication that Mr. Groves was in 'trouble.' ... The panel felt that in the ninth round, Groves should have been allowed to continue as he did not appear to be seriously hurt and was counter punching and attempting to move the action away from the ropes at the time of the stoppage. In addition, the referee waived off the fight from behind Groves instead of in front of him and did not look into his eyes. Groves showed no signs of being hurt after the stoppage. In sum, the panel felt it was an improper stoppage.
"After a review of the information presented to the panel, it has been determined that there was inappropriate conduct by the referee that affected the outcome of the fight. Based on the foregoing the IBF is ordering an immediate rematch between Carl Froch and George Groves."
The IBF said the fight must take place by April 24 and that neither boxer can take any other fight in that time frame. If contracts are not signed by Feb. 8, the IBF said it will order a purse bid.
But Froch is certainly free to vacate the IBF belt and pursue any fight he wants. If Froch gives up the title, Groves would fight the IBF's next leading available contender for the vacant belt.
According to Hearn, he made Groves a seven-figure offer for the rematch, but Groves turned it down, although Hearn did not disclose the details of the offer.
The November fight drew a sold-out crowd of 21,000 at the Phones 4u Arena in Manchester and was on pay-per-view view in the United Kingdom. A rematch would undoubtedly be even bigger. But a fight in the United States against Chavez would also be significant for Froch.
"I spoke at length with HBO [Thursday] night. We are working on numbers with Top Rank and HBO. The Chavez fight is very appealing," Hearn told ESPN.com. "I'm aware of the demand and the size of the [Froch rematch] in the UK. The animosity between Carl and George is making negotiations difficult. No doubt there are some exciting times ahead."
Before Hearn and Top Rank can get serious about a Froch-Chavez fight, however, Chavez (47-1-1, 32 KOS), 27, a former middleweight titleholder from Mexico, has his rematch with Vera first. Chavez, who missed weight and was not in top condition, won a highly controversial 10-round decision against Vera on Sept. 28.
"Anything about a Froch-Chavez fight obviously depends what happens March 1, which is a huge fight," Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti told ESPN.com. "But Eddie has reached out to us and there is interest on our part. Froch has a title and we think it's a big fight in the summer, but it depends on if Chavez wins and how he wins on March 1. Everything depends on March 1. We won't get into details yet but there is interest on both sides for a Froch-Chavez fight."
Froch put out a statement on Friday addressing the situation.
"There has been plenty of speculation over the last few weeks regarding my future," Froch said. "As it stands we are looking closely at two options, George Groves and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. [Thursday], we made a seven-figure offer to George Groves for a second fight that would have seen him earn around double that of the first. Disappointingly, George rejected this offer so we are continuing our talks with Top Rank and HBO regarding Chavez Jr.
"I understand the demand for the Groves fight in the UK, but also the demand in the U.S. for the Chavez fight. Talks are ongoing and no doubt some further news will break soon. I'm happy to fight anyone, as I have done throughout my entire career."
Groves responded with his own statement, saying that the offer for the rematch was not to his liking.
"I am unsure why Carl Froch has released a statement implying I do not wish to take the fight, as I was under the impression we are still in negotiations," Groves said. "The Matchroom offer in question came with many stipulations and options I felt were unsatisfactory. I am currently awaiting an improved offer from his promoter, as well as speaking to other promoters interested in promoting this fight.
"If I didn't want to fight Carl Froch then I wouldn't have invested so much time and money into appealing with the IBF over the dubious outcome of the first fight."