Referee Howard Foster curtailed a national drama in Manchester Saturday night with a call that was every bit as anti-climactic as a power cut during soap hour. George Groves, 19-1, 15 KOs, a King Rat figure heading into his super middleweight grudge match with Carl Froch, had been a revelation – dropping his iron-clad rival in the opening act of a thunderous encounter while administering a frightful bombardment in the subsequent rounds. Froch, 32-2, 23 KOs, to his enduring credit, had once again hauled himself out of an abyss — brawling his way back into contention with an intransigence that has greased the wheels of a commendable career. Unfortunately, though, just as events had taken another dramatic twist in round 9, after Froch had stunned Groves with a left hand on the fly and then clicked into seek-and-destroy mode with his quarry up against the ropes, third man Howard Foster made a rash decision in pulling Groves out too early and in doing so, he smeared a stain across all three men’s careers.
For Groves, it was the final insult in a wearing week, one in which his unusual candour had, rather predictably, resulted in this likeable Hammersmith lad being marked out as the black hat. For, if the British despise one trait above all others in their sporting heroes, it is self-aggrandizement (Floyd Mayweather’s braggadocio-filled stage act, for example, could never have borne fruit had he hailed from Dudley rather than Detroit).
Pilloried at Thursday’s press conference after unveiling a strategy that sounded simplistic to the point of infantile, Groves had assured Froch: “I’m going to meet you in the centre of the ring… win the jab exchanges and then hit you with two right hands — just two — just to let you know that when I want, I can hit you with a right hand.” Groves was every bit as good as his word. The first provided the Nottingham warmonger with pause for thought. The second appeared to knock him unconscious – albeit for the briefest of moments.
As Froch — backed up and under fire — attempted to retaliate with a winging right hand, Groves popped him with a left hook and then instinctively followed up with a ripping right that caught the 36-year-old with his feet square and his defences errant. Froch took the punch flush in the face, narrowed his eyes and fell hard onto his backside (he had no recollection of being floored in the immediate aftermath). Quickly up onto his feet but remonstrating with unruly legs, Froch flashed a sickly grin at Groves who, on the verge of a genuine sensation, was unable to put him away.
Armed with superior speed and reflexes, Groves, 166 ½, would creep in and out of range and belt Froch with right hands whenever “The Cobra” looked to wind up his trademark heavy-handed combinations — destructive bursts that are usually slung from the hip with a style that is so rebarbative it is enough to cause an itch.
Outsped, outboxed and at times overpowered, Froch, 167 ¾, could only accept his lot — along with the booming right hands that were whistling about his skull, punches that would literally bounce off his head – in order to reply with anything of consequence. “The Cobra” employs sweeping hooks and uppercuts as triggers to wind up his unremitting volleys – like a soldier manning a Gatling gun. Groves simply refused to let him start the hand crank.
A typically ungainly rally from Froch in round 3 caused a mouse to swell under George’s left eye, however, and the Londoner roared back in the 4th with two swooping right hands. A real menace now, he flashed Froch — the self-appointed bully coming in — a devilish grin on the bell.
Froch bum-rushed Groves in the 5th to pick up his first points of the evening yet Groves was far from discouraged. He set about Froch in the next — a searing three minutes that featured both men trading freely in centre ring with Groves’ more accurate shots catching the eye. Froch, though, possesses a stubbornness that borders on ignorance. He continued to maraud forward manically behind two-fisted attacks that eventually buzzed Groves, forcing him bob, weave and cover up against the ropes.
Froch began bossing the clinches in the 7th and, crucially, started walking Groves down despite copping another vicious right in the process. The tide turned inexorably in the 8th with Froch rattling off idiosyncratic salvos that clumped into Groves’ head and torso. Foster, who had repeatedly warned both men for roughhousing, continued to split them for sporadic chats – not quite sure about who to warn and for what.
Visibly tired, Groves let it all hang out in the 9th and as the pair continued to war, Froch landed a stiff left that punctured the underdog’s sails. Seeing him list, he tore into Groves, who looked to be heading for dramatic defeat. Inexplicably, Foster suddenly leapt on the 25-year-old and bundled him away to unwelcome safety – ending a stirring contest prior to its natural conclusion at the 1:32 mark. Foster could be seen to mouth the words: “He was gone” in the aftermath – however, few could agree with the Doncaster official.
In a split-second of poor judgement, Groves became the people’s champion and Froch, through no fault of his own, the Sheriff of Nottingham. Jeered into the ring but cheered back out of it, Groves had lost the fight of his life but gained a nation’s heart instead after transforming from cocky winner to that most cherished brand of British sportsperson – the creditable loser. Yes, “Saint” George had been beatified.