There could be no complaints this time. It was one of those were the ref didn’t even bother taking up the count. Charlie Fitch was jumping in before George Grove’s body has come to a complete rest on the canvas floor. We could all see the left leg folded under his body and the right arm hanging listlessly on the bottom rope, but Fitch could see more. He could see into his eyes. The challenger was gone, the fight was over, and Carl Froch had retained his WBA and IBF Super Middleweight belts by way of vicious eighth round knockout.
Let’s rewind 45 minutes though. Groves was determined the psychological war would be drawn out until the first bell rang and that he would fire the final shot. He lingered in his dressing room for a few minutes after he got the call – not much of a delay, but no doubt enough for Team Froch to notice.
Act III Scene I of Henry V by England’s greatest playwright then beckoned St George out to battle. Shakespeare was a Stratford-upon-Avon native and his birthplace lies about 30 miles closer to Nottingham than Hammersmith. Regardless, he was in the Groves camp last night.
The challenger emerged on top of a red double decker bus. It was all very London 2012 opening ceremony. The bus travelled a few yards at the exact pace you would expect it to crawl through London traffic before Kasabian’s Underdog started up. See the local loves a fighter, loves a winner to fall. You’ve got the money and the power, I won’t go your way. I’ll be waiting in the shadows till the day that you fall. Was Froch listening?
Groves, perhaps finally admitting that walking is generally quicker than London public transport, alighted and marched to the ring. With teeth set and nostrils stretched wide, like a greyhound in the slips, he was straining to start. Once more unto the breach and all that.
The champion’s entrance was more understated. The Hearn family love a bit of strobe lighting and pyrotechnics to usher their sportsmen to their stage but Froch is old school and never looks entirely comfortable with the dartification of his noble art. A bit of clichéd Queen and AC/DC sufficed but I can’t help thinking he’d be better taking a leaf out of Tyson’s book, and in particular Chapter III: How to scare the living daylights out of Michael Spinks. Stripped to the absolute bare essentials and brimming with rage and intimidation beats We Will Rock You every night of the week.
In their first fight in Manchester last year, Groves famously entered to jeers and left to cheers. Much had been made of where the support would be this time around and in the challenger’s back yard. In truth, the boos for both men last night rang louder than the cheers. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions on what that says about society today.
Finally the physical war began. The first round this time was as tentative as their previous opening three minutes was explosive. Lots of pawing the air and edging in and out of range but little in the way of genuine action. All that was learnt was that Froch looked a different animal for this rematch. It was a sharper more deliberate Carl Froch. More Cobra-like if you will.
The ring was small and spongy, perfect for Froch to dominate the centre and try to dictate proceedings. In their first fight Froch left his jab in the dressing room but last night it was back in effect. Thrown from such a low starting position, it is an awkward punch to deal with and it certainly kept Groves more at bay than six months ago.
The flip-side of such a low left hand is, of course, an increased susceptibility to overhand right leads. Groves had spoken of a left hook deciding things this time but, unable to look a gift horse in the mouth, he happily landed a right on Froch every time the door was left wide open. Froch is too old a dog to be taught to keep his left hand up now, but it looked to me like perhaps he’d come to a compromise with long-time trainer Rob McCracken. If he wasn’t going to block the right hand, he would at least twist, turn or back away his head to soften the blow. There is no doubt Groves was catching him but, unlike the first fight, they never looked particularly damaging or hurtful.
There was the odd explosion, rounds three and seven spring to mind, when someone got caught and reacted with to-to-toe aggression for ten seconds, but it was never a war. In the fifth and sixth Froch looked bigger, stronger and more assured. He looked a champion. But then Groves rocked him with a left hook (as promised) in the seventh and it was a fascinating fight that could go either way again.
I’m yet to see the official scorecards to know how the ringside judges scored the first seven rounds but there was much disagreement amongst the boxing fraternity at large. Commentator Jim Watt had Froch dominating while Amir Khan at ringside saw it as the complete opposite. In truth, few if any of the rounds were clear cut and a case could be made for either fighter. Cases that can be made more eloquently and with more precision than I can make here. All I will say is that the champion dominated the centre of the ring and was never in trouble. A back-foot challenger has to do something special to take a belt on points in such circumstances.
Perhaps mercifully, the scorecards weren’t needed. Just as Paulie Malignaggi stated that when both boxers tire the one with better technique normally comes through to win, Froch detonated a right hand bomb on Groves’ chin. Nothing more than a freak commentator’s curse, for Malignaggi again proved himself an astute and interesting mid-fight analyst, but all the technique in the world won’t save you when caught flush by such a devastating punch.
There was a hint of concern in the Groves corner as the doctors gave him the once over and a helping hand with oxygen intake but thankfully he was soon on his feet again. He thought he’d been winning the fight but was magnanimous in defeat. Froch, having sort of proposed to his long term girlfriend (“I’ll marry you one day” stated the silver tongued devil) in the ring, said Groves should be proud of himself. It was genuinely nice to see the bitterness dissipate.
At 26 Groves will come again. At almost 37 Froch probably will too. James DeGale is demanding his shot but that might seem pretty small beer now and the Cobra dreams of a big fight in Vegas anyway. On the basis nobody in their right mind wants to step through the ropes with Gennady Golovkin at the moment, Julio César Chávez Jr. in Sin City could be a possibility. Another massive event but as Froch has happily admitted, nothing will ever top defending the title in front of 80,000 at Wembley Stadium. What a night it was.