HBO Boxing Year End Picks: KO of the Year

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders are taking a look back at 2014. Here, they make their selections for the best KO on the network this year:

More: HBO Boxing Year End Picks

Kieran Mulvaney: Carl Froch KO 8 George Groves

After their first meeting ended in a controversial stoppage, Froch left no doubt in the rematch, icing Groves in front of a massive Wembley Stadium crowd with a picture-perfect KO. A little stutter-step, a feinted jab and then a massive overhand right that poleaxed the Londoner: it was as sweet and definitive an ending to a prizefight as you'll see. Honorable mention to Andy Lee's one-punch stoppage of John Jackson.

Eric Raskin: Andy Lee KO 5 John Jackson

It was a virtual coin flip between Lee-Jackson and Carl Froch's violent rematch knockout of George Groves, but the deciding factor for me was how comprehensively Lee was losing when he uncorked the miracle counter right hook. Aesthetically, the two best HBO-televised knockouts of the year were a dead heat. So Lee's stiffening of the previously unbeaten Jackson at Madison Square Garden wins on the strength of its shock value.

Hamilton Nolan: Andy Lee KO 5 John Jackson

Jackson outboxed him. Jackson was landing at will. Jackson systematically hurt him, and finally moved in for the kill… and caught one crazy Andy Lee punch thrown from off the ropes on a prayer, and it was over. Craziness.

Nat Gottlieb: Nonito Donaire KO 6 Nicholas Walters

Featherweight Nicholas Walters took Nonito Donaire's early fire and then turned it around by pummeling the Filipino into a bloody pulp before he blasted him in round 6 with a thunderous overhand right to the side of the head. Donaire managed to get up, but was so dazed and confused the ref waived it off.  A decisive beat down of a onetime superstar.

Oliver Goldstein: Carl Froch KO 8 George Groves

How to right the wrong of one of the most disappointing early finishes in recent history? Carl Froch insisted before his second meeting with George Groves that their first was heading toward a fairer conclusion when Howard Foster screwed the pooch, and this time around delivered when he crashed Groves into another dimension at Wembley in May.

This bout lacked the excitement of their initial tussle, when Groves had thrashed Froch about the ring for seven or so rounds, but its ending was truly memorable, as Froch feinted a left, let Groves bite, then let rip with a right for the ages.

Tim Smith: Terence Crawford KO 9 Yuriorkis Gamboa

Terence Crawford's stunning 9th round of Gamboa. It was a stepping stone fight for Crawford. It was as Crawford KO'ed Gamboa and stepped right into the spotlight as one of boxing's brightest new stars.

Diego Morilla: Wladimir Klitschko KO 5 Kubrat Pulev

Bulgaria's Pulev was tall, bulky, strong, yet agile and skilled, and had the hunger and the credentials of a young Klitschko: an Olympic medal, an unbeaten record and a defiant attitude. Perhaps that's why it was so impressive to see him go down in such a devastating fashion. Klitschko is known for 1-2-ing his foes into submission, using his pawing jab to set up his ramming straight right to then lay a progressive beating on his opponents. But using his often neglected left hook, he sent Pulev to the canvas a total of four times to score his most devastating KO to date.

Michael Gluckstadt: Andy Lee KO 5 John Jackson

How can you not love Andy Lee? He's not the most skilled middleweight, nor the most powerful, but he may have the most heart (a dubious conceit in other sports, but one that certainly exists in boxing). In front of a packed house at Madison Square Garden on the Cotto-Martinez undercard, it looked like we were seeing Andy's end as an elite boxer. Jackson was outworking him and outclassing him, and just when it looked like he was about to finish the job, Lee reached down and unveiled a storybook right hook that ended Jackson's night before he even hit the canvas. Another, similar miracle punch later, and Andy Lee finished 2014 as a middleweight title holder instead of an afterthought.

Affirmation: Froch Knocks Out Groves in the Eighth

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. 

London Through The Lens

Take a scenic look at the many sites around London, England, through the lens of HBO Boxing photographer Ed Mulholland.

Froch vs. Groves 2 happens live tonight from Wembley Stadium on HBO Boxing After Dark, starting at 4pm ET when Simpiwe Vetyeka takes on Nonito Donaire at a split-site location in Macau, China. 

More Fight Week Coverage

Watch: Carl Froch vs. George Groves 2 Official Weigh-In

Carl Froch and George Groves met for the official weigh-in at London's Wembley Arena on Friday, May 30. Froch vs. Groves 2 happens Saturday, May 31st, at 4:00 PM ET/PT on HBO Boxing After Dark.

Photo Gallery: Froch vs. Groves 2 Weigh-In

Photos: Ed Mulholland

Carl Froch and George Groves stepped on the scales at Wembley Arena Friday evening ahead of their highly-anticipated rematch, set to kick off Saturday afternoon at Wembley Stadium (4pm ET, 9pm local on HBO Boxing After Dark).

Final weights from London:

Carl Froch: 167.9 lbs

George Groves: 166.4 lbs

Follow more fight week coverage on Twitter and join the conversation with #FrochGroves2

Watch: The Final Froch vs. Groves 2 Press Conference

Carl Froch and George Groves met for the final press conference on May 29th at Wembley Stadium in London, England. Froch vs. Groves 2 happens Saturday, May 31st, at 4:00 PM ET/PT on HBO Boxing After Dark. 

More Fight Week Coverage

Photos: Final Froch vs. Groves 2 Press Conference

Photos: Ed Mulholland

Select photos from the final press conference between Carl Froch and George Groves, held Thursday afternoon at Wembley Stadium in London, England.

Froch vs. Groves II happens Saturday at 4 PM ET/PT on HBO Boxing After Dark.

More Fight Week coverage

CompuBox Analysis: Carl Froch vs. George Groves

 By CompuBox

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.