In years to come, Carl Froch and George Groves will probably reflect that they were the best things that ever happened to each other.
After years of tough fights at world-title level, Froch finally has a dance partner who interests the British public and against whom he can earn the kind of pay-per-view money his friend and contemporary, David Haye, enjoyed in his heavyweight run.
As a young fighter looking to prove his mettle, Groves has the perfect opportunity against Froch on Saturday, an opponent well-known to fight fans as a tough, top-level guy, but over whom Groves has significant stylistic advantages.
For now, however, the two men are locked in acrimony, counting the days before they can assert themselves as Britain's premier super middleweight, and all at the expense of the vanity and well-being of the other.
When domestic rivals square off there is a contest beyond the match won and lost in the ring, and that is the one held in the court of public opinion—to be more popular, better liked, the moral victor.
The first Froch-Groves fight was the perfect example of this. Groves had been seen as arrogant and disrespectful in the buildup, a cocky upstart somewhat delusional about his own abilities. Consequently, he was booed into the ring.
When Groves' predictions came true to an impressive extent in the opening rounds and he found success with the jab and the overhand right—sensationally flooring Froch in Round 1—the crowd realised that, upstart or not, Groves had not been exaggerating his fighting calibre.
After Howard Foster's untimely intervention in Round 9, Groves was cheered out of the arena as a courageous underdog who had blitzed his way into boxing's top circle before being denied the chance of victory by an overzealous official.
Meanwhile, Froch gave post-fight interviews praising Foster's call which were a little dismissive of the fans' new favourite and refused to forgive Groves for his pre-fight antics.
Froch was at least mildly concussed when talking after the fight, but few gave him the benefit of the doubt for his words. If the public had been 80-20 in favour of Froch before the fight, they now seemed 80-20 for Groves.
As with popular acclaim, Groves won the battle of psychological warfare last time around, having riled his opponent by spending the buildup undermining Froch's ring record and confidently asserting that victory would be his.
Froch recently told the Nottingham Post:
"I carried a lot of anger into the first fight with George and it certainly impacted on my performance. He got under my skin and when I was inside the ring, I just wanted to fight him rather than box him."
The way Froch was caught in the first round—bombing forward after Groves had started well, leaving himself wide open—could well be interpreted as the mistake of a fighter fighting on pride rather than strategy.
As to the question of whether Froch out and out hates his young challenger, he was clearly angered by the way Groves demeaned his record, even if Groves was only adding legitimate questions marks to Froch's performances against the likes of Jermain Taylor and Andre Dirrell.
Froch sees Groves as someone who is trying to pull the rug on his career achievements and legacy. He is also a little bemused, even a little hurt, as to how the 26-year-old won the crowd and the plaudits after a fight where Froch showed superhuman powers of recovery to get back into the contest and force the (controversial) stoppage.
In the other direction, there is definite animosity from Groves toward Froch, but it is perhaps simply because Froch is the man who stands in his way rather than any personal complaint he has against the champion.
Groves has a certain spitefulness to him, some unnamed grievance with the world at large, which may be an unattractive personal quality, yet no bad thing in a hungry young challenger.
Another British super middleweight who caused a stir, Chris Eubank, remembers later in his career being told by Prince Charles, "You know, Chris, I can't believe how much you've mellowed" — the Groves of 2014 is decidedly on the unmellowed side.
Recognising that Groves had bested him in the mental warfare before, Froch has been seeing a psychologist in preparation for the rematch.
In the many promotional appearances this time around a more composed and restrained Froch has appeared. He is still palpably bothered by Groves, but to some extent, he has regained control of the situation so that Groves and his taunts begin to look a little silly.
A telling exchange came on the Sky Sports faceoff when mediator Johnny Nelson asked for fight predictions:
Groves: "I will knock Carl Froch out on May 31st, and I'll tell you which punch I'm gonna do it with on fight week."
Froch: "Let me guess—it's gonna be a left or a right."
Groves tried to plant a seed of doubt in Froch's mind that he had the killer punch all planned out, but the Nottingham man didn't take the bait, instead keeping cool and coming back with a tongue-in-cheek remark.
The faceoff and the buildup more generally are rather reminiscent of David Haye vs. Wladimir Klitschko, with the older champion visibly annoyed by the London arriviste but still able to keep it together.
In fight week for that one, Haye and his entourage, which included Groves and trainer Paddy Fitzpatrick, were convinced that they had Klitschko's number, having played game after game in a windup campaign that frequently went below the belt. Klitschko won anyway.
There is more than a hint that Groves is a little too caught up in his ideas of psychological warfare, especially with his mantra, "Everything for a Reason," which sounds like something from a Californian self-help charlatan.
Fitzpatrick 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 No. 6 is another Groves meme, with the underlying belief that they can revive this "trauma" in Froch. This one is plain laughable. Froch was hurt in that round, but traumatised people don't tend to bite down on their gumshield and fight back convincingly enough for the referee to step in to their favour.
It will now be interesting to see how the fans split their affections on the night. After last time, you would expect a pro-Groves crowd, especially in his hometown of London. But the exhausting intensity of his press antics may have begun to swing people back toward Froch.
For all the bluster, the facts remain the same. Groves is faster and can beat Froch to the punch, especially with the overhand right which finds its home past Froch's low-held left. Froch has deeper reserves of stamina, and unless Groves conserves his energy better this time, he will be in trouble down the stretch.
Groves does have very good power, but Froch has more than very good punch resistance. Last time, Groves decked him with a monster shot—but Froch got up. Groves is predicting an early KO win, even though he couldn't manage it when he hit Froch with a blow he didn't see, and harder than Froch thought he could punch.
In Round 6, Groves unloaded perhaps the heaviest bombardment of punches seen in 2013—and Froch stayed on his feet. Unless Froch sustained long-term damage, it is hard to see him being stopped this time.
If Groves boxes cautiously, picking his spots and only using as much energy as required to win rounds, he should be able to win a decision. However, if he tries to enact his bold words (which he did follow through on last time), he may play into Froch's hands by emptying his tank.
After years of one-sided megafights involving Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao (and never both), it is refreshing to have such a competitive encounter capturing the imagination and attracting 80,000 fans to the stadium and many more on pay-per-view.
This one is genuinely too close to call, and it is difficult to imagine the fight passing without serious drama. And whatever the result, it would be no surprise to see a third bout and the rivalry continue.
Carl Froch vs. George Groves II airs Saturday, May 31 live on HBO from Wembley Stadium in London. The telecast begins at 4:00 p.m. ET/PT
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