6 Things George Groves Needs to Do to Dethrone Carl Froch
Circumstances have aligned to afford George Groves an enormous opportunity as he challenges for Carl Froch's IBF world-title and the lesser WBA "unified" belt on Saturday night at Wembley Stadium.
The betting odds don't quite make this a 50-50 fight but factoring in a small chance of a draw they put Groves' chance of winning at around 41 percent, with Froch's chance about 57 percent.
However, ever since the book was opened on this rematch more money has been going down on the underdog Groves, pushing the odds closer together, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see that trend continue as the fight approaches.
Groves only has one serious name on his record—James DeGale, who he beat in a battle of the novices—and perhaps never before has a British boxer at this stage of his career had the chance to compete on such a stage.
Nearly 80,000 fans are expected at the gate, before adding an estimated one million pay-per-view subscribers on Sky, and the US audience watching on HBO.
Therefore a win will put Groves in the frame for more mega money nights at home, propel him into position as the world's second-ranked super-middleweight behind Andre Ward and announce him to the American audience as one of the sport's most exciting young fighters.
Here are six things Groves needs to do to secure his epoch-making victory.
1. Plan to Go the Distance
As reported by the BBC, George Groves has said, "My trainer Paddy Fitzpatrick is talking about a five-round fight, I'm talking about a three-round fight."
At yesterday's press conference, Groves continued to confidently predict a stoppage win, adding that, "It'll be the left hook that finishes Carl Froch on Saturday."
Groves' fans will have to hope that this is a piece of kidology because if their man goes into the contest looking for a knockout, it is a strategy with a significant chance of backfiring.
While the stoppage in the first fight was premature, Groves was visibly tiring as the fight wore on, giving Froch the impetus to work his way back into it.
Furthermore, Groves was never really that close to stopping Froch, despite flooring him with a massive shot in Round One and following up with a mighty barrage of shots in Round Six.
After that, it is hard to see how Groves can expect to get Froch out of there, and the Nottingham man has never been stopped in a career that includes 11 world-title bouts.
Groves was ahead when the first fight was stopped and should actually have had a wider margin than the scorecards recorded. If he can win seven of the first nine rounds on Saturday, and then stay on his feet for the last four rounds, he wins the fight.
Given that Groves has superior speed and footwork to Froch, he should take advantage of his opponent's habit of being slow to start and put rounds in the bank.
If Groves charges after a KO win and fails to succeed, he will empty his tank and play into Froch's hands. He should instead look to replicate his performance against James DeGale and box smartly off the back foot, targeting a decision win.
His former trainer Adam Booth, aware that David Haye had poor stamina, recommended the heavyweight only throw a limited number of punches per round. That's the sort of discipline Groves needs, knowing both that he tires easily and that Froch comes on strong late in fights.
2. Establish the Jab
Throughout his career Carl Froch has been known for having a good jab. He throws it from insolently low such that you think it could be easily avoided but the punch comes at sufficiently unorthodox angles and moments that it lands often and deceptively hard.
In particular, in his 2010 bout with the feared puncher Arthur Abraham, Froch was able to control virtually the whole fight and keep his opponent at bay with sustained use of the jab.
However, in their first fight, Groves was able to turn the tables on Froch and largely win the battle of the jabs. Groves works out of a crouch stance, with his lead left often even lower than his opponent, and then he drives off the canvas to land fast, stinging blows.
Last time out Froch ate so many shots that he began pawing out nervous, tentative jabs in return, having been conditioned to be wary of what was coming back from the quicker, younger man.
Groves caused him so much trouble with the jab that it also helped setup the overhand right, the Londoner's most devastating punch, as Froch moved his head away from one trajectory and into another.
One question in this rematch is to what extent Froch's performance after Round One was affected by the heavy knockdown he suffered at the end of that stanza.
Froch was frankly poor for most of the contest but it is possible he didn't quite have his wits about him and that Groves was only dominating against a banged-up version of the champion.
Provided Froch doesn't get caught early again he may be sharper in this fight, which could make things interesting.
This time around Groves' ability to successfully establish his jab once more and control the centre of the ring could prove decisive on the night.
3. Continue the Psychological Warfare
Froch has admitted that in the first fight he was wound-up and "just wanted to fight"—a reckless instinct that may have contributed to him leaving himself wide open in Round One and getting knocked down.
It has been a noticeably more measured and calculated Froch in the build-up to this one, which suggests that the adjustment has been a positive one.
However, in spite of this improvement, Froch is still palpably irritated by Groves and it requires real effort for him to rise above the provocations of the younger man.
It is possible that the psychology sessions have only provided a thin veneer to Froch's exterior and that Groves can again get under Froch's skin when it matters.
That's certainly the London fighter's opinion, as reported by the BBC:
[In training camp] you can go into cave man mode, suppress your feelings and just go about your business. But feelings will emerge on fight night and you've got to somehow contain them.
He's going to be experiencing an awful lot of new things on fight night - fighting in front of 80,000 people, away from home, against a hostile crowd, against a guy he can't beat. I wouldn't want to be in his place.
If Groves can do as he says he will and control the centre of the ring, as he largely did in the first fight, it could put Froch in an unwelcome state of deja vu.
Groves' declaration that the left hook will be his killer punch was meant to unnerve Froch, who would be expected to already be wary of the overhand right that did the most damage before
Furthermore, if Groves can wind Froch up on the night—perhaps with the staredown he used in the first fight, perhaps with the well-judged word in the ear in an early clinch—and get the champion off his game plan, it might provide him with telling opportunities.
4. Don't Fight off the Ropes
It is true that Howard Foster stopped the first fight prematurely, but Groves was in sufficiently bad shape that it is understandable that Foster would be considering jumping in.
A fighter who is out on his feet but held up by the ropes constitutes one of the most dangerous situations in boxing because it allows his opponent an essentially free shot which the prone fighter is likely to take on the full, without any defensive head movement.
Some of the worst knockouts in boxing history have occurred in this way, such as Ray Mercer's win over Tommy Morrison, which is not viewing for the faint of heart.
It is possible to acknowledge that it is preferable for referees to step in too early than too late in these instances, whilst still recognising that Foster got it wrong.
Groves was actually throwing back before being stopped, which usually saves a fighter, but, on a tactical level, this is the wrong thing for him to do on the ropes.
Carl Froch is at his most dangerous when he has his man trapped, as he showed in his full destroyer mode when he got the better of Lucien Bute two years ago.
Plenty of people had written Froch off before that date, as many have this time, but he pulled out one of the best performances by a British fighter at home to claim a world-title for a third time.
If Groves gets backed up on the ropes he either wants to use his nimble feet to get out of there, or use his extra bulk in the arms and shoulders to tie Froch up in a clinch.
Throwing back against Froch in that position opens Groves up to be hit by real bombs—and that's what, rightly or wrongly, did for him in November.
It is crucial that Groves does not try to fight off the ropes again.
5. If Froch Is Hurt, Go for It
This might seem to contradict point one, of planning to go the distance, but hear it out.
George Groves needs to be ready to go 12 rounds because there is no guarantee Froch will be as sloppy as he was last time, leaving himself wide open for the knockdown punch in Round One.
However, if you go back to that fight, you see something surprising. After going down, Froch was in bad shape returning to his corner at the end of the first round and looked shaken up on his stool.
But when the bell went for Round Two, Groves started extremely cautiously and failed to test just how quick Froch's powers of recovery are.
Groves came out and only really threw single, rangefinder jabs—it was a full 30 seconds before he threw a right hand, the punch which had decked Froch.
It is possible that Froch only needed the minute between rounds to get his legs back and his mind clear but because Groves didn't lay it on him, that is impossible to judge.
Unofficial punch stats have Groves throwing 50 punches in Round One, and then only following up with 38 in Round Two.
Perhaps Groves was shocked to have hurt Froch so badly and was therefore unprepared for the situation, or perhaps he simply feared becoming overeager and taking a big shot the other way.
Either way, he did not fully take advantage of his early success and perhaps this is why he thinks he can stop Froch in the opening rounds on Saturday.
Certainly Groves needs to press the attack button better if he hurts Froch badly again. Such a situation may only give Groves a one-minute window to force a stoppage, a time frame which should not be long enough to empty his tank.
If he fails, he can revert to the 12-round plan. The risk payoff of laying it on in that circumstance means that if he has Froch going, it is worth risking return fire to go for the KO.
6. Don't Feel the Need to Be Macho
Whereas avoiding fighting on the ropes is a tactical adjustment, this one is related but more of a psychological adjustment.
If you go back to the first fight and look at Round Six, you can see what Groves should alter. He had dominated the action, landing a devastating flurry early on.
When Froch come on later in the round, Groves dropped his hands, inviting Froch in and tried (albeit quite successfully) to evade his shots in the Pernell Whitaker style.
On Sky Sports commentary, Jim Watt, who had been talking Groves up, decried this as "crazy stuff" and "the foolishness of youth".
Watt added the advice which Groves should apply throughout the rematch—"all he has to do is see the round out and put another one in the bank."
Groves should just seek to win rounds with the minimal effort required. It is unlikely to be to his advantage to initiate a tear-up.
In particular, if Groves has a points lead going into the final rounds and he is tiring, he needs to go on his bike and try to stay out of range when possible.
That isn't very macho and is unlikely to be popular with the live crowd, but Groves proved his bravery and then some last time out and he ended up getting stopped on his feet. Carl Froch has proven time and time again that he is a dangerous opponent when his back is up against the wall.
Boxing is a macho sport and fighters wouldn't be fighters if they liked taking a backward step. However, for the sake of the victory and his career, Groves might have to do exactly that to eke out a decision win.
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