Froch-Groves 2: Pushing barriers, planting seeds

A first preemptive seed planted in the referee’s mind for their mega-fight, George Groves’s trainer Paddy Fitzpatrick has drawn attention to Carl Froch’s not-so-nice line in the barge and the rabbit punch. But if Groves really wants a clean fight, all he has to do is box from distance and Froch will have it all to do.

George Groves understands his attempt to ridicule Froch on the Ringside show as a continuation of war by other means and contemplation of his role as psychological ’bully’ even sprang a faintly rueful smile. With the self-possession of an assassin that is about him always, Groves assures us that he harbors no ill-will once a fight is over. Cold composure, as his former trainer Adam Booth defines it. Clinical, scientific, precise. He views Froch as much too under the sway of brute feeling. The merest smuggled emotion for Groves is a crutch in the ring.

Froch, meanwhile, is deadly serious when he draws analogy with Rocky for what went wrong first time around. For Groves, this is just another ego trip for the self-proclaimed international superstar, more delusions of grandeur papering over the cracks – a world champion ‘falling apart’, who ‘can’t hold it together’.

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Though, recently, Froch found a more accurate description of the difference between the two, in bid to appeal to the boxing hardcore: ‘I’m a man’s man’. While he subscribes to such traditional sentiments, Groves, proudly unattached to his prideful hyper-realism, is unmoved by arbitrary notions for which he can find no use.

Froch shows a lack of grace when he revels in the psychological scars inflicted in the obliteration of Lucian Bute. Yet the sense from his camp is that Groves, here, has gone too far, been too unforgiving in his campaign to expose the comparative vulnerability in the champion.

Not content with emptying the contents of the medicine cabinet on top of him in the first fight, Groves has continued to rummage through every room in the house of Froch’s mind. He claims to have steered clear of ‘personal’ slights. Sure. As long as by ‘personal’ we don’t include questioning a classic working-class lad’s mental makeup, his inner strength, his temperament. That’s not personal. It’s a subpersonal ransacking of the soul. But this is a combat sport. Protect yourself at all times, keep it clean.

So what began as a champion’s staple plea for due deference to his standing in the game has become an irresistible clash of personalities. All the same, where every opinion on the mind games front seems equally valid, most agree that the first fight was stopped prematurely. Groves was listing but surely lucid enough to duck under a few more big swings, cling on, survive. His performance more than earned a stay of expiration.

Just as every contrary – ‘eyes rolling about’ – account then was spin, again it’s easy to spot holes in the Froch narrative. Robert MaCracken’s post-fight remarks seem to rule out the possibility that Froch ever took Groves lightly. And Froch’s claim that his mistake was recklessness in the early rounds and promise of a more measured approach, doesn’t speak to the preternatural frenzy that did for Bute, or actually even how the first fight unfolded.

Back then, it looked like his reticence from the opening bell – screw-uppercut tucked in scabbard – was due to a psychological hangover. And given the dramatic transformation that would be required for Froch to box to victory – deficits of both hand and foot-speed to overcome – one question looms for the champion: Can he gather up enough of his crazed energy, sooner rather than later, and pin Groves on the ropes?

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When Groves speaks of a ‘foregone conclusion’, he erases from the discussion the one opinion that is rarely wrong: i.e. the bookmakers. Yet listening to Booth break the first fight down for radio, if Groves had had the remainder away on his toes, it is hard to see how Froch could have won. There was little of the Cobra’s sinewy predation. Only when he gazed one way, and waded towards Groves to apply the final flurry did we catch glimpse of that stylish confidence, suddenly astir, all flailing, slow-motion and big pre-swing wind ups.

A Larry Holmes jab aside, you won’t find anything as exquisitely poised as this. The sensible money will be on the not-at-all-ugly kid. It is now very easy for Froch to look very old very fast.