The Man Who Would Be King
Boxing history is littered with examples of fights that were subsequently viewed as a ceremonial “passing of the torch” through the lens of time…
Although Rudyard Kipling’s classic novella set in British India has very little (if nothing) to do with boxing, the title struck me as quite apt for what could unfold at Manchester’s Phones4U Arena on what is likely to be a bitterly cold autumn evening in northern England.
The holder of the crown, Carl “The Cobra” Froch (31-2) will have a plan for the young pretender to his super-middleweight throne. “Saint” George Groves (19-0) has shrewdly engineered a shot at Froch after a series of somewhat cynical moves for a fighter at 25 years of age; changing promoters three times and trainers twice but none can argue with the payoff. He’s pushed (and punched) all others aside in the quest to be the premier 168-pound contender in the country and has goaded the champion sufficiently enough to have him chomping on the bait to fight him rather than simply biting it.
Froch may be wondering how this upstart has managed to get to the front of a line he thought began with Andre Ward after avenging his first career loss to Mikkel Kessler; I thought the Viking Warrior deserved slightly more from his rematch in May this year (which was an absolute spectacle and will live long in my memory) but the writing was on the wall earlier that evening as Groves bobbed, weaved and then devoured Noe Gonzalez in five rounds. Froch must’ve watched the bout with more than a passing interest from his dressing room before batting the thought away.
Hence the title is apt.
Boxing history is littered with examples of fights that were subsequently viewed as a ceremonial “passing of the torch” through the lens of time; a fresh-faced Joe Calzaghe beating Chris Eubank in 1997 is the best parallel to what could happen on November 23. Calzaghe admitted almost a decade later in 2006 that his slug with Eubank was one of the toughest fights of his career and there is no reason that either Groves or Froch should have illusions of a quick night’s work. If Groves is thinking the advantage of youth will overpower an aging pro who will crumble before him he’s mistaken, as is Froch playing the wily old-timer ready to dispatch a rapscallion back to his classroom.
If The Cobra wins, he’ll hunt down Ward and will do whatever it takes to make the prospect of vengeance become a reality, but if Saint George goes marching in and leaves the night with both the WBA and IBF titles, I fear that those titles will never leave these shores and Groves will command fights in England as Ricky Burns commands fights in Scotland. Emperor Eddie Hearn is quickly learning the value of exclusion and the swapping of titles between promotional stable-mates is no bad thing when the fans come to you in droves to watch your cards.
All the distractions will be cast aside, however, when those two enter the ring. And in my opinion, the man with the greater enmity, which I consider now to be somewhat genuine after months of simmering tensions, superior conditioning and trench warfare experience will prevail.
So how do they match up?
Let’s be clear, Groves is not hype. His resume to date is solid but lacks the marquee names needed to sell his particular brand. He’s billed as all-action and to a certain extent all-English, a throwback thoroughbred to a bygone era. Union Jacks, St. George motifs, London born and raised, he appeals to the inner patriotism of the British fight fan.
His ringcraft however, isn’t what I would particularly deem “British” in the sense that he has a much bigger tactical arsenal than most. He does the basics incredibly well; he has a piercing jab, moves his head and can escape from tight spots with his footwork. And it’s in these areas that he should be laying out his gameplan. He possesses enough power to keep Froch in check but not enough, in my opinion at least, to break an iron chin. I think he would have studied Froch-Ward in great detail but to a lesser extent, Garcia-Matthysse. Box, box and then box some more. Elusiveness, pivoting after the jab, feinting to draw him to the right hand, punch and clinch, all these weapons should and will feature from Groves on the night.
What Groves lacks (and what Froch is going to try and take advantage of) is his lack of experience in trench warfare. You could say James DeGale was Groves’ toughest fight to date and that would be true to an extent and the grit he showed there will be carried over. But true trench warfare isn’t about throwing wildly and hoping to connect with haymakers, it’s about the ability to continually absorb punishment and you wouldn’t be unfair to conclude that this is Groves’ biggest weakness.
Let’s be clear, this isn’t the fight Froch wanted, although he’s changed his tune slightly when reminded of the fact he did the same thing to Calzaghe, namely, call out a champion in his prime. It’s also fair to say that Froch does look miffed, which could be interpreted as nerves, when the two have come face-to-face on occasion. Their appearance on Ringside together was an exercise in awkwardness; Froch only seemed to become more assured when Eddie Hearn sat in between them later in the show.
His gameplan however, won’t be as cagey. This fight is about proving an emphatic point, to whom, I’m not sure. He’s well liked and admired by the fight public, he definitely isn’t boring and has looked much more confident in selling a fight to the public with the necessary bravado as is required these days. The performances, however, have ranged from losses to Ward and Kessler, an arguable decision against Dirrell versus spanking Bute, and a sensational win against Jermain Taylor as high water marks.
On fight night? Nothing we haven’t seen before. Froch is going to come out, be a little bit elusive and awkward before letting those long, range finding jabs go. He possesses the physical advantage that could see him win a very comfortable decision but I think some ego might spur him on to go headhunting after he’s settled past rounds 3 or 4. Equally, this lack of diversity may prove to be his downfall and turning it into a firefight too quickly could see him take some punishment and Father Time might decide to step in instead of the referee.
Consensus seems to have the analysts and fans genuinely split, making this a great pick ‘em. My opinion is that we could see the perfect gameplan from Groves but the result will depend on his ability (and Froch’s willingness) to let him execute it. Froch hasn’t coped well with pure technicians, fighters who don’t come to him and mix their approaches. He’s best in a slugfest, standing and trading with his hands by his sides, his head cocked at an angle. Although Froch’s physical advantages may play a part, I think Groves will make a frustrating target to hit and edge ahead in the early rounds. If Groves starts to tire, Froch will come storming back on the cards but if not, those wild swings will leave him open to all sorts of trouble.
One of the toughest calls I’ll have to make, but I’m going to enjoy watching every second in what could be British Fight of the Year.
“Saint” George Groves by SD!
Follow Mohummad Humza Elahi on Twitter@mhelahi