Carl Froch vs. George Groves: 5 Talking Points for Fight Month
The biggest British fight of the year, and arguably for many years, is now three weeks away, as Carl Froch and George Groves will once again contest the honour of being the best super-middleweight not called Andre Ward.
According to promoter Eddie Hearn, over 75,000 tickets have been sold with the last few thousand available to fans who book as part of a coach package.
Whether or not the fight sells out at 80,000, it looks to have broken the post-war attendance record of 55,000 held by the 2008 fight between Ricky Hatton and Juan Lazcano in Manchester.
Froch may reflect on the strange economics of boxing, having fought genuine world-title fights in front of small crowds and off mainstream TV. It has been this rematch against an otherwise untested domestic pretender that has ignited public interest—he stands to earn a career best payday.
For Groves, who fought on the Froch-Mikkel Kessler undercard just one year ago, this is an almost unbelievable rise to prominence, and perhaps never before in boxing history has a fighter with such a short resume headlined an event of this magnitude.
As the fight approaches, here are five talking points to keep you busy.
1. Who Has More to Lose?
In the simplest terms, Carl Froch has the most to lose. He enters with one and a half (the IBF proper and the WBA 'unified') title belts and a pretty much universal ranking as the second best fighter in the division.
But if Froch loses, what does he actually lose? Approaching his 37th birthday, any defeat can be written off as that of a fighter suffering the inevitable decline of aging and would be unlikely to affect historical rankings of his career.
Froch will make enough from this fight to retire on and, perversely enough, a Groves win would provide him a more lucrative future (i.e. a trilogy fight with the Londoner) than he would get as a winner moving on to face Andre Ward again, or even the money-spinning Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Kevin Mitchell of The Guardian estimates Froch's purse at £8m compared to '£1m-plus' for Groves. That might overstate the gap between the two fighters' takings but it tells the story.
Win or lose, Froch can cash out of the sport, but Groves is still some way from earning the kind of bumper payday his opponent is now seeing.
Were Groves to lose more legitimately this time, it would put him into career limbo. The reputation he established amongst UK fight fans with his excellent performance last time would be undermined and his global rankings would suffer.
Furthermore, given the power Groves showed in the first fight, he would always be a danger to any champion, and they would each likely seek to avoid facing him, placing him in boxing's dreaded 'who-needs-him' club.
It could easily take Groves two and a half years to get back into title contention, especially whilst he continues to operate without the backing of an influential promoter.
So, whilst Froch himself is probably unable to even consider the thought of losing to the younger man, were he a more circumspect character, he could take some comfort in realising the greater pressure is on his opponent.
2. Has Groves Won the Psychological War?
There's no question that George Groves pushed Carl Froch's buttons in the build-up to the first fight and Froch was riled up at perceived disrespect from the challenger, as well as simply not believing that Groves had earned the right to challenge for his titles.
To what extent that carried over into the fight is debatable. There are some fight watchers who attach undue significance to the tenor of press conferences and other exchanges between fighters, with a sub-section of late money punters who obsess over body language during ring walks to guide them.
That said, this is a pairing where both sides have paid real attention to mind games—Groves proactively and Froch reactively—and if psychology is ever a telling factor in a match-up, then this is it.
You can certainly argue that a wound-up Froch looking to make his loudmouth challenger pay walked onto that big shot in the first round that put him down—an amateurish mistake you would not usually expect from him.
Word that Froch has been seeing a sports psychologist in preparation for the rematch can be interpreted either way.
Perhaps Groves has so unsettled the Cobra that he will always have the upper hand; perhaps Froch has recognised a weakness from last time and is taking appropriate steps to correct it.
There is also the possibility that Groves and his camp are overstating their case as regards the mental warfare, as well as its importance.
Paddy Fitzpatrick, Groves' trainer, told Steve Bunce on his ESPN podcast, that, after consulting a psychologist and a psychiatrist, they concluded Froch was, "more traumatised in the sixth than any other round...if his mind goes back to that round again, the trauma will be triggered."
The plan, presumably, it to trigger that trauma—the same traumatised Froch who then came back into the fight and forced a stoppage?
3. Can This Fight Live Up to the First?
The first fight was incredibly dramatic, for all the right reasons in Round 1, for all the wrong reasons in its last stanza, Round 9, when referee Howard Foster jumped in before a truly satisfying conclusion.
Perhaps no image conveys that contest's excitement better than this still of the Sky pundits Glenn McCrory, Amir Khan and David Haye reacting to the knockdown.
Few sporting moments could cause such shock amongst its cognoscenti and, in the rematch, a similar felling of Froch could not be so jaw-dropping now we know it can be done.
The huge public demand for this contest is based on the expectation of another cracker and the characteristics of the fighters—Groves dangerous early, but Froch more resilient later on—would seem to lend credence to the hype.
There are some fighters who simply mesh well and who can't have a bad fight together. Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez are perhaps the best recent example, with Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe or Rocky Graziano and Tony Zale going further back.
That said, the most comparable British fight—the rematch between Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn at Old Trafford in 1993 proved a disappointment. After Eubank's decisive Round 9 TKO the first time, they fought a cagier, inconclusive draw.
It's hard to see this one staying cagey and if the fight is to fall short of expectations, it would probably come in the shape of an early KO, in the vein of Pacquiao's third fight with a faded Erik Morales.
In that incarnation, is Froch the old fighter who no longer has it, or is Groves the fighter getting stopped a second time in more convincing fashion? Such is the uselessness of history as a guide to the future.
4. Is James DeGale Ready to Challenge?
DeGale takes on the unbeaten American fighter Brandon Gonzales in a fight that is being billed as a final eliminator for Froch's IBF title.
Since losing to Groves in a tight contest back in 2011, DeGale has largely been treading water and Gonzales represents a step up in opposition.
DeGale is expected to win, but it is also important that he wins in a convincing, and entertaining fashion, such that fans leave the stadium clamouring for him to challenge the winner of the main event.
The 2008 Olympic gold medalist has enjoyed decent exposure on Channel 5 but hasn't always delivered fan-friendly performances—going twelve rounds with Hadillah Mohoumadi and Fulgencio Zuniga before only closing the show against the unheralded Gevorg Khatchikian in Round 11 last time.
Hearn has been making the case that his new charge thrives on the big occasion, with the Olympics as case study No. 1, and that we will see a rejuvenated DeGale at Wembley.
After the Eubank-Benn rivalry heated up the British scene in 1990, it was red-hot and event-level fights followed involving the ill-fated Michael Watson and Irish tough-man Steve Collins.
DeGale has the perfect opportunity to follow those footsteps and get himself into the exciting (and lucrative) mix, but he needs to deliver against Gonzales to make it happen.
5. How's the View Back There?
Eddie Hearn has pulled off a major promotional coup by selling 75,000+ seats for this fight and bringing the first ever boxing match to the new Wembley Stadium.
The public have really bought into this event and even if the two fighters aren't the absolute best in the division, the atmosphere should be second to none.
All the same, there's little that can be done to change the fact that stadia, especially mega-stadia like Wembley, are not well-suited for boxing.
This panoramic photo of the logistical rehearsal overemphasises the distance from the back seats to the ring, but the point is made—it's a long way away. What's more, the additional screens look disappointingly small.
Wembley has good screens at the two ends, but they force fans to choose between watching the actual fight and following it second-hand, unlike the superior setup at the US equivalent AT&T Stadium, which boasts massive central screens.
As a one-off event, fans will get their money's worth for simply being able to say "I was there"—especially with the cheapest seats priced at only £30, a sum which doesn't get you very far at all in terms of live entertainment these days.
It will, though, be interesting to see the feedback from the paying customers. If they rate it a good experience overall, we may see the likes of DeGale versus the winner at similarly massive venues.
Or perhaps the reaction will be more lukewarm, and this fight will remain a one-off historical outlier as, once the novelty value wears off, fans decide the home viewing experience is superior.
At any rate, with the benefit of modern stadium design, nobody will have so bad a view as some at boxing's first true mega-fight—Jack Dempsey versus Georges Carpentier in 1921.