Friday, November 29, 2013

A Look At The Froch-Groves Controversy

The 168lb. Super-Middleweight division one might argue has seen a global surge in popularity since the groundbreaking Super-Six World Boxing Classic tournament that ran its course from 2009 through 2011. Along with showcasing much of the division’s top fighters, the tournament also ultimately established eventual tournament winner Andre Ward as the top fighter in the division. An argument can be made however, that if Ward is considered the number one fighter in the division, then Carl Froch the tournament runner-up and three-time world champion of the Super-Middleweight division is certainly 1-A.

Since losing a close and competitive fight in the tournament finals to Ward in December of 2011 Froch has gone on to make a very good argument for himself as being the number two or 1-A fighter in the division behind Ward. Froch regained a portion of the Super- Middleweight title in his first fight following the completion of the Super-Six by destroying previously undefeated longtime IBF champion Lucian Bute in May of last year. There was an opinion going into that fight that Froch was an underdog. The basis of this was that Bute had successfully defended his version of the Super-Middleweight world championship nine times and with the exception of his first fight with Librado Andrade had not been really in danger of being dethroned. Froch however, would dispose of Bute in devastating fashion stopping the champion in five rounds. It was clear that Froch was underestimated by some.

Following his knockout of Bute, Froch successfully defended his title two times including a twelve round unanimous decision over former Super-Middleweight champion Mikkel Kessler in May of this year, avenging his first career loss which took place during the course of the Super-Six in April 2010. The impressive performance in the rematch against Kessler set up an intriguing bout between Froch and undefeated top contender George Groves that took place on November 23rd in Manchester, England.

Groves, undefeated in nineteen professional fights, with fifteen knockouts going into the fight with Froch had previously won both the British and Commonwealth Super- Middleweight titles in his career including a dominant performance in defense of his Commonwealth title over former IBF Light-Heavyweight world champion and former Froch opponent Glen Johnson in December of last year. Although some believed that the experience of the thirty-six year old Froch might be a crucial factor as this fight approached, there was no disputing that the twenty-five year-old Groves deserved his opportunity at the world title in what was the first world championship fight of his career.

Heading into this fight I thought based on the crowd pleasing styles of the two fighters that there was a good chance that there would be fireworks in this fight. It did not take long once the fight got underway for fireworks to materialize. Groves dropped the champion with a solid right hand in the first round. It was only the second time in Froch’s career that he was knocked down, the first being in his fight with Jermain Taylor in 2009. It was clear that Groves had the edge in terms of hand speed. 

Although appearing to be clearly hurt, Froch was able to survive the first round. It seemed that Groves could not miss Froch with his right hand. It was not just the hand speed of the challenger, but also the timing of his offense and lateral movement that was giving Froch trouble. Groves was able to win the early rounds by being the effective aggressor and getting his punches off first. The knockdown in the first round and Groves’ overall effectiveness appeared to shake the champion’s confidence.

Some of the questions that are bound to be asked when a fighter challenges for a world title for the first time are can they handle the magnitude of the event? Will they freeze? Clearly George Groves did not freeze and was not overwhelmed by the event. What was impressive was not only how Groves was able to bring the fight to the champion, but the concentrated tactical way in which he approached Froch.

In the fifth round Froch began to open up more and appeared to gain some ground in this observer’s eyes. Although both fighters had their moments in that round, it was Froch who seemed to be able to do a little more. At the end of six rounds however, Froch was clearly at a deficit and needed something significant to turn things around in his favor.

After a close seventh round that this observer scored even, Froch was able to win the eighth round based on aggression. It was clear at this stage of the fight that the champion was approaching desperation mode. He was able to rough Groves up periodically and appeared to be risking being penalized a point by Referee Howard Foster. 

Even though one might argue that such roughhouse tactics are basically bending the rules, Froch needed to do something to get into the fight. The fight was getting away from him on the scorecards. It was in the ninth round however, that the element of controversy would rear its head.

Froch staggered Groves with a right hand and followed up with a barrage of offense that caused Referee Howard Foster to stop the fight at 1:33 of the round. Although Groves was staggered and appeared to be in trouble, some argued that the stoppage by Foster was quick and that Groves should have been allowed the opportunity to see if he could fight through adversity.

Although this observer believes that the stoppage was early, it is important to remember that we as observers are not the third man in the ring. After studying the stoppage several times in the days following the fight, I believe that perhaps Foster may have seen something in Groves’ body language that may have indicated that he was in trouble. One must remember that in addition to making sure that fighters follow the rules of a fight, the referee above all is responsible for the safety of the fighters. Clearly this was a case of a referee exercising his discretion in stopping the fight.

Some may indeed argue that perhaps the fight could have been stopped in the first round when the champion Froch was knocked down and appeared badly hurt. Although it is perhaps a valid argument, it again boils down to a referee’s discretion. There have been times throughout his career where Carl Froch has been staggered and hurt, but rallied back to win fights most notably against Jermain Taylor. Based on his ability to take punishment and recover, Froch was given the benefit of the doubt. This observer believes however, that had Froch been put into a position where he was clearly incapable of defending himself that the fight would have been stopped.

The stoppage of this fight is somewhat reminiscent of two noteworthy fights that were stopped prematurely in the eyes of some. Many will remember the first fight between former Heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and Donovan “Razor” Ruddock in March of 1991.

In a fight where Tyson was able to score knockdowns of Ruddock in the second and third rounds, the exciting battle was stopped in the seventh round after Tyson landed a barrage of punches to the body and head which sent Ruddock staggering back to the ropes. The bout was subsequently stopped by Referee Richard Steele. The stoppage was followed by a riot between the camps of the two fighters. 

A more recent example was the October 2011 WBC World Lightweight championship fight between Jorge Linares and Antonio DeMarco.  In that fight although Linares was taking a beating throughout he was able to win most of the rounds. The end came in the eleventh round when DeMarco was able to get Linares on the ropes and appeared to have Linares defenseless prompting Referee Raul Caiz, Sr. to stop the fight. Although the fight was stopped justifiably in the eyes of this observer, some contended that the fight should have been allowed to go on as Linares appeared to be getting ready to attempt to return offense as Caiz stepped in.  This clearly was not the case as Linares was staggering with his head down to his right along the ropes when the fight was stopped and was not in position to launch any offense much less defend himself. What was overlooked by some in the immediate aftermath of that fight was the class of Antonio DeMarco who while being announced as the new Lightweight world champion consoled a battered Linares in his corner. An example of class that should be applauded by all.

Although some may feel that the Froch-Groves fight was stopped prematurely it is also worth noting that in recent months there have been four cases where fighters have suffered severe injuries, with a commonality of perhaps the injuries being caused due to fights being allowed to go on when maybe they should have been stopped. 

By now most Boxing fans are aware of the tragic circumstances of Heavyweight contender Magomed Abdusalamov who suffered a terrible beating in losing a hard fought ten round unanimous decision to Mike Perez earlier this month. In that fight Abdusalamov sustained several injuries including a broken nose, broken cheek, and broken hand. Abdusalamov however, was put in a medically induced coma after doctors discovered a blood clot on his brain. A part of Abdusalamov’s skull had to be removed to reduce swelling, as well he also suffered a stroke while being in a coma. Abdusalamov still remains in a coma as of this writing.

There are other tragic circumstances however, that may not be known to many Boxing fans that have also taken place. Light-Heavyweight contender Daniel MacKinnon of New Zealand who was stopped by fellow New Zealand contender Robert Berridge on the undercard of the David Tua-Alexander Ustinov bout collapsed in his dressing room following the fight and had to undergo emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain. MacKinnon has continued to improve since the surgery and was discharged from a New Zealand hospital earlier this week.

Featherweight contender Jose Carmona also suffered severe injuries in his knockout loss to former multi-division world champion Jorge Arce resulting in Carmona having to undergo two brain surgeries. There is no update as of this writing on Carmona’s condition.

The tragedies that have plagued the sport in recent months have also resulted in a tragic death. Super-Bantamweight contender Frankie Leal died three days after his fight with Raul Hirales in October due to an injury to his brain suffered during the bout. 

Although some may be tempted to criticize Referee Howard Foster for the stoppage of the Froch-Groves fight, in light of the tragedies that have befallen the sport of Boxing in the last several weeks, you cannot fault a referee for exercising his discretion in looking out for the best interest of a fighter. Despite the belief of some that Foster acted in the best interest of Froch by stopping this fight, this observer strongly disagrees.

George Groves gave everything he had in this fight and proved that he belonged on the world level of the sport. Groves has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of and in some ways the loss to Froch could be better for him in the long-term as it will likely open more lucrative opportunities for him in the Super-Middleweight division, most likely a rematch with Froch.

Even though Carl Froch is still considered one of the two best fighters in the division, George Groves has proven that he belongs in the discussion. Although Froch may be looking for an eventual rematch with Andre Ward, I believe a rematch with Groves is warranted and should happen as soon as possible. 

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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