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MANCHESTER, England -- Carl Froch recovered from a first-round knockdown to retain his WBA and IBF super-middleweight titles with a ninth-round technical knockout of George Groves in an engrossing fight on Saturday.
Referee Howard Foster infuriated Groves and a packed crowd of 21,000 at Manchester Arena when he stopped the fight after Froch finally landed some meaningful punches that left the challenger wobbling for the first time.
"I feel that the ref got it wrong," Groves said. "There's no way it should have been stopped. It's a bitter pill to swallow."
Groves, who picked up his first loss in 20 fights, protested that he was OK almost immediately after Foster declared the fight over, and skulked around the ring shaking his head and mouthing: "That's rubbish."
He did appear to drop his hands as Froch unleashed a barrage of blows and then stumbled into Foster, perhaps explaining the referee's decision.
"What do you want to see," Froch asked, "a kid unconscious on the floor and carried off on a stretcher? At 25, that could have been a career-ender for him."
Groves was a big underdog but after a confident, commanding performance that often exposed the 36-year-old Froch, he was roundly cheered by a crowd which wanted to see more of a fight that was developing into a British classic. Members of the corner teams squared off soon after the fight ended as emotions threatened to boil over.
"I think I'm a victim of my 'chinny' reputation and a victim of Froch's supposed punch power," Groves said before demanding a rematch.
Froch registered his 32nd win in 34 fights but he was never comfortable as Groves commanded the center of the ring from the start -- as he said he would -- and unsettled the champion with his speed and movement.
Relations between the fighters had grown increasingly bitter, with Froch losing his usual cool demeanor and becoming riled by what he perceived as a lack of respect shown by a young upstart. As it turned out, it was Froch who showed Groves disrespect, underestimating his worthy opponent.
A pro-Froch crowd even turned against its man as he celebrated his win.
"I'm devastated that I got booed out there in the arena," said Froch, his face swollen and covered in bruises.
It was Froch's 11th straight world title bout. He has fought a number of the sport's top competitors in Andre Ward, Mikkel Kessler and Jermain Taylor since 2008. Many were saying it was a fight that Froch didn't need, with his reputation on the line against a hungry boxer whose awkward style was likely to cause problems.
All that experience counted for nothing early on, with Groves sending Froch to the canvas with a right jab in the first round. The bell saved a wobbling Froch as Groves went in to finish him off.
Groves looked right at home in the biggest fight of his life, leaving Froch unsteady on his feet with a barrage of punches in the second round and then rocking him back in the third.
A frustrated Froch was warned twice by the referee and looked out on his feet by the time he returned to the corner after the eighth round.
However, he connected with a barrage of punches in the ninth, finally wobbling Groves, and the referee thought the challenger had taken too much punishment.
"We are going to look back at it and see if anything can be done," Groves said. "This won't sit easy with me."