Saturday, 31 May 2014

No Holds Barred's Boxing Preview: Carl Froch vs George Groves

The first fight between these two was met with scorn by many boxing fans who claimed George Groves had no right to share the ring with a four-time world title holder. Those fans had their reasons, after all Groves' best opponents up until that fight had been fellow British novice James DeGale, continental-level Mexican contender Francisco Sierra, and a past-his-best Glen Johnson. This is no longer the case as George Groves proved with his stellar display against Froch in their first fight last November.

George Groves' combination of boxing skills, hand speed and power, proved too much for Froch in large chunks of the fight as Groves floored the champion in round 1 before building what most fans seemed to believe was a comfortable lead heading into round 9. It was not to be for the challenger that night as Britain's Howard Foster controversially stopped the fight as Froch continued to apply pressure and punches.

The war of words is now over, the referee is neutral (American Charlie Fitch), and the fighters have weighed in. Now all there is to do is fight. Fans seem to be split down the middle on who they think will win: Some preferring Froch's power which eventually led to victory last time out, and others preferring Groves' speed and boxing ability which built up a good lead heading into the last round the two shared a ring.

Personally, i think the fight could go a couple of ways which i will try to breakdown now:

Froch managed to win last time out due to his stamina which has always been one of his main attributes. He has never struggled to make weight in his 12-year professional career as far as i'm aware, and getting rounds under his belt has always been a breeze (he has fought 240 rounds in 34 bouts as a pro). It was his world class stamina which kept him in the fight despite being outboxed for much of the first half of the fight, whilst his relentless pressure and application of power punching late on are what eventually broke Groves down. Considering Groves had only fought 95 rounds against far inferior opposition to that Froch had faced going into their big showdown (Froch had fought 104 rounds against world class opposition), and taking into account Groves doesn't have anywhere near the experience of Froch, it's plausible to think Groves fought the wrong fight and then gassed late on.

Critics of Froch will say he was being outboxed by Groves before he forced the stoppage but this isn't abnormal for him considering he often starts slow before building momentum as the fight goes on (see fights with: Pascal, Taylor, Kessler and Groves). Some have even pointed to his 'lack of power' claiming he has only stopped 4 of his last 11 opponents. However, it must be remembered that his opponents have been of the highest calibre and 11 of them on the trot no-less. How often do we see that level of opposition being fought one after the other? Not very often at all. Many boxers take a 'warm up' bout before a big fight, whilst others will take a year or so off of fighting the top opponents as they rebuild their career after a loss, for example. Not Carl Froch. Froch's opponents during this time included the rugged and future WBC light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal, one of the best super middleweights of his generation in Mikkel Kessler, the elusive Andre Dirrell, the resilient and almost unmovable Arthur Abraham, chin-of-steel Glen Johnson, and arguably the world's number one boxer in Andre Ward. When faced with opposition like this it is very rare a boxer will be able to win inside the distance. Froch's ability to put opponents away was certainly seen in his fights with Jermain Taylor, Lucian Bute, Yusaf Mack and George Groves though. In fact, it might be worth mentioning that Froch has stopped 3 of his last 4 opponents.

As for Groves, he has one major advantage: Speed - and they say speed kills. Groves caught Froch out in their first fight with his speed and timing. The shot which put Froch down in round 1 was not anticipated and certainly wasn't part of Froch's gameplans. It's arguable that had Groves stuck to the boxing and managed to avoid getting into an all-out-brawl (which you would imagine favours Froch) that Groves might have held on for an unlikely points decision. Groves was winning going into round 9, even according to the judges who had it closer than the fans, and Groves will be buoyed by this. The plan for Groves is how to stop the Froch onslaught late on. I do not think either guy will be going full on for an early stoppage win as it doesn't suit either guy. I think both guys will be prepared to dig deep and ride the fight out into the championship rounds or thereabouts. The later the fight goes, the more it favours Froch who has the stamina, experience, and relentlessness i mentioned earlier. Groves must bring with him a plan which will help override anything Froch is planning.

The obvious critic of Groves is that he was stopped, whether people think Howard Foster was right or not. It's also important to mention that Groves isn't the first fighter to feel the sting of the Cobra's fangs late on. Groves could very well be stopped once again in the rematch no matter how long he prepares for the fight. His stamina is not as good as Froch's but that doesn't mean it hasn't improved or that he hasn't worked on it. Groves also needs to keep his defence tight all night as we don't know just how tough he can be, whereas we all know how tough Froch is.

In conclusion: I believe Froch's greatest enemy right now might be father time. He is nearly 37 and has been fighting for 12 years as a pro. On top of this, throw in the fact this is his 12th fight against world class opposition on the trot and it's obvious to any boxing fan that the battle scars are going to start showing at some point soon; it happens to all the best boxing warriors. Another point that could be emphasised is that we know Froch gathers momentum as the fight builds but do we know the same for Groves? So far, i'd say no - although this could change over the years as Groves gains experience. For example, i distinctly remember James DeGale winning later rounds against Groves despite the latter building a slight advantage as the fight started to enter the championship rounds. If Groves does indeed fade late, then a fully fit and focused Froch will be highly favoured to win late on. Finally, one glaring advantage Groves also has is that Froch is unlikely to change now at 36 whereas Groves, 10 years his junior, has plenty of time to learn new things and modify his style. Froch has pretty much fought his entire pro career the same: getting hit a lot, throwing leather in return, losing early rounds, pressuring opponents late on... If Groves and his team have worked on the perfect gameplan we could see this Londoner pick up two world titles in his hometown, inside London's greatest sporting arena, and in just his 21st bout.

The one thing we all hope we don't see is any controversy. The draw seems to be stuck in my head.

Verdict: I'm going for the outsider in this fight. As i concluded above, Groves has the speed advantage, the boxing ability, and perhaps he also has the willingness to modify what went wrong first time around. If he does, he might pull off the win and be crowned world champion in his home city. GROVES by split decision.