When Carl Froch and George Groves met last November, the prevailing wisdom was that "The Cobra" was about to inject his venom into talented but inexperienced prey. "Saint George" replied by boldly predicting he would drop Froch with a right hand early -- and then doing just that.
From that point forward Froch vs. Groves blossomed into one of the most pulsating contests ever staged in a British ring and going into the ninth round Groves led by five points on one card and one point on the other two. When Froch stunned Groves in the ninth, referee Howard Foster, one of England's best referees, experienced a lapse in judgment and stopped the fight without giving Groves the same chance to recover that he granted Froch in the first round. The ending ignited a firestorm that eventually spawned this rematch, one of the most anticipated second acts in British boxing history.
Will Groves summon another inspired effort or will Froch finally assert his class and quiet his critics? Statistical factors include:
The Original Act: Despite Groves' lead on the scorecards, it was Froch that held the lead in terms of raw numbers. Mostly because he threw so many more punches (573-389), Froch led 157-134 overall and 105-77 power. But Groves struck far more precisely as he prevailed 34%-27% overall, 28%-19% jabs and 42%-35% power. The knockdown and the head-snapping blows projected an image of dominance that the numbers simply couldn't convey by themselves.
Making a Point The Second Time Around: When Froch is determined going into a rematch he can be dangerous. Irked by having to defend his championship in Denmark instead of his beloved Nottingham due to Super Six rules, Froch got exactly what he feared -- a unanimous decision that snatched the belt from around his waist. Despite out-landing Kessler 224-193 overall, 114-96 jabs and 110-97 power and averaging 80.1 punches per round to Kessler's 56.8, the judges saw Kessler a 115-113, 116-112 and a ridiculous 117-111 winner.
With the rematch staged in London, Froch was comfortable and determined to put on a show for his adoring crowd. He upped the work rate to 86.2 punches per round while holding Kessler to 41.4, worked the jab furiously (55.7 thrown/10.5 connects, more than double the 23.5/5.1 super middleweight average) and overcame Kessler's superior accuracy (39%-25% overall, 31%-19% jabs, 55%-37% power) by out-landing him by big margins (261-194 overall, 126-104 jabs, 135-90 power). After 12 rounds, the judges got it right (118-110, 116-112, 115-113) and Froch added Kessler's WBA belt to his IBF strap.
Running the Numbers: When Groves is on his game he administers leather showers that often turn torrential. While Froch was able to limit Groves' output, others weren't so fortunate.
In stopping Noe Gonzalez in five rounds last May 25, Groves averaged 74.8 punches per round (including 40 jabs and 14.4 jab connects per round) to set up cavernous connect gaps of 135-32 overall, 72-4 jabs and 63-28 power as well as accurate punching (42% overall, 52% power).
"Saint George" followed a similar blueprint in out-pointing 43-year-old Glen Johnson. Averaging 73.6 punches per round to Johnson's 32.2, Groves used the jab to control range (36 thrown/5.2 connect per round) and to accumulate decisive connect margins of 231-115 overall, 63-29 jabs and 168-86 power. That said, Johnson managed to land 38% of his power punches to Groves' 37%, but the ease with which Groves was winning may have accounted for his defensive laziness.
Groves showed his mental fortitude in two other fights. In July 2012 Groves sustained a vicious gash over his eye in round three against Francisco Sierra but he fought through it and produced a wicked hook that eventually led to the fight's end in round six. He out-landed Sierra 114-63 overall and 79-37 power while landing an impressive 50% overall, 40% jabs and 56% power. Fourteen months earlier against fellow prospect James DeGale (who Groves also defeated in the amateurs), Groves prevailed by majority decision in a tense affair rife with pre-fight needle. While struggling with his accuracy against the southpaw DeGale (28% overall, 20% jabs, 35% power), Groves out-landed DeGale 122-92 overall, 40-24 jabs and 82-68 power despite averaging just 36 punches per round to DeGale's 35.1.
Whatever tension Groves felt in those fights will be magnified exponentially against Froch. Will he have the grit to perform under such pressure?
Prediction: Froch may well have overlooked Groves before their first fight but that won't be the case here. When riled, the Cobra can be a fierce character and that ferocity will come out against Groves, who may pay a big price for his prickly pre-fight statements. A properly motivated and supremely conditioned Froch still has enough in the tank to defeat his ambitious rival by decision.