Froch, Groves looking for closure

Rematch to decide who's best after controversial ending to first bout

Originally Published: May 30, 2014
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

The scene in Manchester, England, six months ago was a shocker as referee Howard John Foster moved in during the ninth round and suddenly stopped the fight between unified super middleweight titlist Carl Froch and George Groves.

Froch was awarded the title-preserving victory against his British countryman, but it would go down as one of the most controversial stoppages in recent boxing history. Even some of Froch's own fans were critical of Foster.

Groves, who had knocked Froch down hard in the first round with a clean right hand, was ahead on the cards and had been outclassing the slower Froch for most of the fight. He was tagging him repeatedly with right hands and appeared on his way to victory.

But as soon as Froch got Groves in mild trouble during the ninth round, knocking him off-balance, Foster intervened and called off the fight.

Foster's decision robbed Groves of a potentially glorious victory and Froch of a possible clean knockout. Instead, it was a mess.

How controversial was the outcome? After Groves protested the result to the IBF, one of the organizations whose title Froch holds, it ordered a rematch. In doing so, the organization cited "inappropriate conduct" by the referee as the reason.

After hemming and hawing -- and considering a summer showdown with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. -- Froch finally accepted the rematch. The event has mushroomed into what will be one of the biggest fights in the storied history of British boxing.

While the arena in Manchester was packed with 21,000 for the first fight, a record British crowd of some 80,000 is expected at Wembley Stadium in London when Froch (32-2, 23 KOs) and Groves (19-1, 15 KOs) meet in their grudge rematch Saturday (HBO, 4 p.m. ET/PT). Capacity had originally been set for 60,000, but such huge ticket demand prompted Matchroom Sport promoter Eddie Hearn to open more of the stadium.

"I still can't believe that we'll be walking out in front of 80,000 fans, boxing fans and non-boxing fans," Froch said at this week's final news conference. "I've prepared for this fight like no other fight before. Unbelievable shape. Just perfect shape. I'm extremely confident.

"I think every fight in every professional boxer's career is equally as important. This one, because of the stage in my career, because of these two world titles, because it's an immediate return against George Groves, has an air of importance.

"This is by far the biggest fight of my unbelievable career. I know what I need to do and I know how to do it."

For the record, Froch, of course, said he believed the stoppage in November was proper.

[+] EnlargeCarl Froch, George Groves
Dave Thompson/PA WireGeorge Groves, right, had Carl Froch in trouble until the ninth round.

"I hit George Groves with an overhand right hand that he didn't see coming, and his legs stiffened and he stumbled toward me," Froch said. "He grabbed my legs, the ref saw that and I saw it. George was gone. He was in serious, serious trouble. I shoved him off of me, backed him up against the ropes, landed a right hand, a left hook landed, another right hand, another left hook. He was stumbling looking like he was trying to do something, and he was gone looking at the floor, his arms was slumped and his head was slumped.

"I would have preferred the fight to have gone on longer because I was on top, I was in control, I was doing what I do -- I was punishing him and lining him up for the big finish."

Groves, who had so much success the first time around before the untimely ending, dismissed Froch's assertion and is also filled with confidence.

"I could've gone 12 rounds the first time. The referee shouldn't have stopped the fight," Groves said. "That's why we're here right now.

"This couldn't be more perfect really. I'm going to become world champion in [my hometown of] London. I'm fortunate that I'm in that situation. Saturday night I will arrive, fully, properly. No stone will be left unturned. We are fully prepared."

The HBO broadcast will open with same-day taped coverage - about a six-hour delay -- of Simpiwe Vetyeka (26-2, 16 KOs) of South Africa making his first featherweight title defense against The Filipino Flash, Nonito Donaire (32-2, 21 KOs) from Cotai Arena at the Venetian Macao in Macau, China.

On the Sky Box Office pay-per-view in Great Britain, the Froch-Groves II card also will feature England's 2008 Olympic gold medalist James DeGale against Brandon Gonzales of Sacramento, Calif., in a super middleweight title eliminator in which the winner will earn a mandatory shot against the main event winner, England's Jamie McDonnell faces Tabtimdaeng Na Rachawat of Thailand for a vacant bantamweight title, British lightweight Kevin Mitchell meets Ghislain Maduma of Montreal in an eliminator for the right to challenge world titleholder Miguel Vazquez and 2012 British Olympic super heavyweight Anthony Joshua faces Matt Legg in a scheduled eight-round bout.

The 36-year-old Froch, who will be making the fourth defense of his third title reign, and Groves, 26, disrespected each other throughout the buildup to the first fight, and their dislike for each other has only intensified in advance of the rematch. 

Groves has called the result of the first fight a "daylight robbery" and is anxious to get back in the ring with Froch.

He said he will come out with bad intentions and believes he will win inside three rounds in a violent fight, a nod to the legendary three-round middleweight championship classic between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns nearly 30 years ago.

"[It] can only be a three-round fight," Groves said. "Britain will have its own Hagler-Hearns to talk about for years to come."

Groves even predicted how the fight would end.

"It will be the left hook that finishes Carl Froch on Saturday night," he said.

Froch took Groves a bit lightly going into the first fight. After all, he had been in many bigger fights, including his knockout victory of Lucian Bute to win a title in 2012 and in his May 2013 rematch with Mikkel Kessler, not to mention the Super Six World Boxing Classic final against Andre Ward, a decision loss.

Nottingham's Froch, who said he has worked with a sports psychologist ahead of Saturday's fight, said he learned his lesson.

"I'm guilty of not giving George Groves the respect he deserves in the first fight," Froch said. "It was difficult to because he was talking so much trash. George Groves had not boxed anyone ranked in the top 15 in the world. That's the facts. He still hasn't beaten anyone ranked in the top 15 in the world, because the only person he did fight was me, and let's not forget that result. It was a round nine stoppage. But I do need to give him a little more attention, a little more boxing respect and go in there totally focused and totally prepared, which I wasn't in the first fight.

"I get to do it all over again, but this time I'll finish the job properly, finish it conclusively and leave no question marks. I'm so excited that I'm going to give George Groves an absolute pasting in front of such a big crowd on a massive event. I cannot wait."

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