By Oliver Goldstein
Before a record-breaking 80,000 fans in the first fight at the new Wembley Stadium, George Groves arrived on a double-decker bus only to be sent to the deck himself, as Carl Froch, now 33-2, with 24 knockouts, provided conclusive evidence of his superiority at last. Having been denied the opportunity to produce such affirmative judgement in their first fight in Manchester, Froch, of Nottingham, England, on this occasion retained his 168-pound title belts with a knockout victory of the most devastating variety.
These were not the nights that the Football Association built the new Wembley for, but, in the twilight hours of a fresh Saturday night, it felt nonetheless that the stadium, magnificent not only in its capacity, but also in its beauty, had finally found its rightful partner. Boxing is not beautiful in its nature, and neither Carl Froch nor even George Groves, whose fighting style could be described as a kind of ragged sleekness, would lay claim to beauty. But at its best, boxing is doubtlessly magnificent; and when men like Froch and Groves meet, moreover, its particular brand of violence seems barely a pulse from the aesthetic. On this night, the action proved less frequent than their previous encounter, and long spells of feinting were often punctuated only by jabs and occasional crosses. But the conclusion, provided by a thudding right hand that collapsed Groves’s legs beneath him, was infinitely more satisfying.
Certainly, the powerbrokers behind this occasion knew they were dealing with a fight of unprecedented magnitude in post-war Britain. Sure, as many have noted, all sorts of superlatives are thrown around nowadays to provide hype for a sport that has slipped ever further from its cultural and sporting heyday. But this rematch, which gained its magnitude after Groves had rushed, rag-dolled, and nearly ransacked Froch in Manchester in November, before Howard Foster’s now infamous stoppage, deserved all the fervor and more. Froch, who had fallen off a lofty career peak in the first bout, when the cheers that had followed him to the ring turned swiftly to boos in its aftermath, had a significant reputation to restore. His opponent, Groves, had a first world title to capture.
But Froch, who has forged a memorable career despite considerable disadvantages, presented a significant challenge to surmount, even after Groves had so nearly incapacitated him in their previous encounter. Yes, the Nottingham fighter, with his basic approach and disregard for defense, had seemed an easier puzzle to crack than the Rubik’s Cube taken by Groves to press conferences before the bout. Froch’s style is hardly complex, after all, built on virtues like pride, ruggedness, and spite, but lacking in the nuance shared by many of his contemporaries. Nonetheless, with the benefit of time, focus, and added motivation to affirm his credentials once more, Froch was able to prepare a different enigma for Groves to solve.
Indeed, while Groves had insisted beforehand that the first round of this meeting would resemble the curtailed tenth of the last, the circumspection that Froch brought to the ring evidenced a significant change in approach. This was not furious, no matter the declarations made before the fight, but rather considered and cautious: Froch had no desire to surrender his senses in the opening round again, while Groves likewise proved reticent to bite. Even after the 26-year-old Londoner checked the champion with a short left hook, Froch refused to cede his strategy to whimsical violence.
Nonetheless, the silence of 80,000 spectators can prove pervasively loud, and when intermittent whistles began to circulate through the tremendous throng, Froch started to fire. To Groves’s credit, he was again equal to the task, and his sharpness on the counter and slickness inside guaranteed an early lead. When his right hand, ominously cocked beside his jaw throughout, started to land with authority, a different ending seemed possible.
Froch, so often unwilling to persist with trainer Robert McCracken’s instructions, was this time ready to tarry. The sixth, so pivotal in November, and punctuated memorably by Froch’s shock in the corner, passed largely without note, and Groves, after shunting his opponent’s head back in revelatory fashion in the seventh, could hardly have seen the ending awaiting him. As Froch pivoted from back foot to front while feinting his jab, Groves fatefully relaxed, allowing a right cross to crash viciously home on his jaw, disrupting sense and sensation and thought, and delivering his legs to the canvas. If the shot came out of the ether, then Groves was left staring thereto, his dreams now a matter of the Wembley sky and a knockout loss. Carl Froch had his victory.
Groves will undoubtedly come again. Though his slate, now 19-2, tells only of losses in his two biggest fights, he has yet proven himself a worthy competitor. Other opportunities will loom on the horizon.
Nonetheless, in Froch, he found an opponent who could not be deterred. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, that first bout, and in particular its turn in the late rounds, seems increasingly prophetic. Then, an unprepared Froch proved impossibly persistent. This time, a prepared one was simply too much. The 36-year-old veteran can now look forward to a possible third bout with Mikkel Kessler, while names like Andre Ward and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. are never far from his lips.
Yet on this night, after eight tense rounds, Froch finally terminated a rivalry that has dogged him for months. With that thudding stoppage, he might have found the most compelling evidence for his growing legacy yet.