Thursday, May 29, 2014

Froch vs. Groves: The Rematch

The November 2013 fight between three-time Super-Middleweight world champion Carl Froch and top contender George Groves is remembered by many for the somewhat controversial way that the fight ended.  Groves, who was undefeated in nineteen professional fights heading into the encounter, was making his first attempt at a world championship against a fighter who has been a cornerstone of the Super-Middleweight division for several years in Froch.

The quick handed Groves made his presence known almost immediately dropping the champion with a solid right hand in the closing stages of the first round. Groves’ timing, hand speed, and lateral movement were the story for much of this fight. Although Froch was able to rally in the second half of the fight, the opinion of most, this observer included was that the challenger was ahead in the fight as it entered the ninth round.

Froch was able to land a right hand that staggered Groves. The follow-up barrage by the champion caused Referee Howard Foster to stop the fight in controversial fashion. Although he was clearly staggered, Groves did not go down from the barrage and the stoppage was seen by most, including myself as early.

Some readers might remember my comments in the days following the first fight last November. Even though it was my belief that Foster stopped the fight early, it was clearly a case of a referee exercising his discretion. Despite my opinion that the fight was stopped prematurely, I did state that it was possible that Foster may have seen something in Groves’ body language that might have indicated that he was in trouble and prompted him to stop the contest.

The circumstances however, of which this fight ended has certainly left unfinished business between the two fighters. I concluded my thoughts last November by saying that although some may have been of the opinion that Foster acted in the best interest of Froch by stopping the fight in the manner he did, I strongly disagreed. I went on to say that a rematch between Froch and Groves was warranted and should happen as soon as possible.

Sometimes it can be all too tempting to focus on the negative aspects of the sport. No sport is perfect and Boxing has certainly had it’s share of controversy throughout it’s history that can and often has left a negative impression on fans. The beauty of Boxing however, is that when controversy in a fight arises there is always the potential for a remedy known by one word, rematch.

Even though many of the sport’s detractors have often criticized Boxing’s respective governing bodies, the International Boxing Federation (IBF) does deserve credit for taking action in ordering an immediate rematch between Froch and Groves earlier this year. If nothing else, by the IBF ordering an immediate rematch as quickly as it did, it shows that the sport’s governing bodies are not oblivious to controversy when it occurs and in the case of the IBF has shown that it will take steps to remedy a controversial situation.

Quite frankly, a rematch needed to happen not only for Boxing fans, but more importantly for the fighters themselves. A rematch offers the perfect opportunity for Froch and Groves to settle unfinished business.

The key to this fight in my mind will be whether Froch can negate George Groves’ speed and timing. In the first fight, Groves consistently beat Froch to the punch and was able to make him miss, make him pay, and catch Froch in between his offense. It will be interesting to see whether Froch will be able to utilize timing in order to negate Groves’ quick hands and neutralize his lateral movement.

It is hard not to argue based on how the first encounter between the two was fought that George Groves does not have an advantage heading into the rematch. Froch however, was able to have his moments occasionally throughout the fight before the controversial stoppage. Groves was able to outbox Froch for the majority of the first encounter, but was willing to get in and mix it up with the champion.

As the rematch approaches I believe it will be in Groves’ best interest to attempt to box Froch from the start and attempt to avoid getting into a rough toe to toe battle where one might argue Froch has an advantage. There is also the possibility that the anger over the stoppage of the first fight could influence how Groves approaches the rematch.

It could favor Froch if Groves elects to go toe to toe, perhaps looking to catch Froch early like he did in the first fight when he knocked him down and had been badly hurt in the first round. It was not however, Groves engaging toe to toe that led to the knockdown. It was Groves’ timing that set up Froch for the right hand that dropped him. If Groves can repeat the tactical, measured way that he approached Froch in the first fight and avoid being baited into a toe to toe battle, we could see a new champion emerge.

Perhaps the biggest element of this rematch is not who will be able to make any tactical adjustments from the first fight. A key element will be focused on the third man in the ring. American referee Charlie Fitch will be charged with the task of officiating the rematch.

It will be interesting to see how Fitch will respond if circumstances emerge where a fighter appears staggered, but is still on his feet as Groves was when the first fight was stopped or if one of the fighters appears to be badly hurt as Froch did early on in the first fight.

If this fight does not go the distance, it is my hope that at minimum there will be a conclusive ending that will not center too much on questions regarding a referee exercising his discretion as to when to stop the fight. Fitch, who has previously officiated five world championship fights arguably has the most important assignment of his career in refereeing this rematch.

No matter what happens when Froch and Groves meet for the second time on Saturday night, the magnitude of this rematch can be demonstrated by where it will take place. Wembley Stadium will play host to it’s first fight card since 1995 when British legend Frank Bruno won the WBC Heavyweight world championship by defeating Oliver McCall and the first card to take place since the stadium reopened in 2007.

With some expecting between 60,000 to 80,000 in attendance for the rematch between Froch and Groves, it is my hope that the rematch will be remembered as a memorable night in Boxing history for the right reasons. Whether or not the fight lives up to the magnitude of the event remains to be seen.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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