It was, by the measure of the 80,000 fans in attendance, the biggest British fight ever. And it was Carl Froch, the man who currently rules the British scene, who established his conclusive supremacy on HBO over fellow British super middleweight George Groves with a fearsome knockout that was in no way as controversial as the stoppage in their first meeting.
Groves, as usual, started well, and Froch, as usual, started slowly. But this time, Froch wouldn’t find himself on the canvas in the early rounds. The pair exchanged jabs and the occasional power shots, but Groves more often got the better of it. Even when they began exchanging in the 3rd, Groves was landing the cleaner, faster, harder shots. After a sorry performance on the televised undercard by the HBO broadcasting team, Max Kellerman made a very sharp observation in the 4th, however: Froch was making Groves back up, rather than Groves circling and keeping the distance he preferred. In the 5th Froch won his first definitive round, digging hard to Groves’ body and trapping him against the ropes with salvos. He would repeat the feat in the 6th.
Groves, to his credit, shrugged off whatever exhaustion (mental, physical) that appeared to be gripping him and went on the attack. But Froch, it turned out, still had the momentum. In the 8th round, Froch would catch Groves with a shotgun right hand that dropped him like he had just been duck-hunted. This was a Knockout of the Year candidate, partially on how significant the fight was and partially because the right hand was so outstanding. Looking unconscious, with his left knee bent halfway up to his ear like he was human origami, Groves somehow made a bid to rise and protest the stoppage ruling the referee had issued halfway through the count. His protest had no grounds, as the administration of oxygen and stumbles around the ring minutes later showed; that he was even able to try showed what kind of humans boxers can be. Groves is a fine young fighter, talented and determined, if not a touch on the fragile side. A rematch with James DeGale, who won on the undercard — albeit via a premature stoppage over Brandon Gonzales, with British lightweight Kevin Mitchell getting same over Ghislain Maduma still makes sense and would be a rich encounter for both men.
Froch, so it happened, was right: Groves had faced the worst version of him in their first meeting, and this version, even at 36, was a better one. What can you say about a fighter like Froch? He doesn’t have Groves’ speed. He is all kinds of flawed. It’s rarely easy when he wins. But win he does, with a brain that is bigger than it’s given credit for, with a trainer in Rob McCracken who doesn’t get the kudos he deserves, and with an indomitable will that stands out even in a profession where enormous escalating willpower is required to step into the ring, to be a fighter for a living, to get to the elite level. He fights anyone (and has fought tougher competition since 2008 than anyone alive) and has beaten everyone he has faced but division champion Andre Ward. His rise to the top of British boxing has been too slow, the esteem he has earned from dismissive fans still, somehow, insufficient — not even on some pound-for-pound top 10 lists. But he belongs in the Hall of Fame and has obtained legendary status throughout the sport –not just in the U.K. — with, at least me.
There will be talk of a Ward rematch, or a meeting with Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., or Gennady Golovkin. Chavez is the one with the best risk/reward equation. HBO’s broadcast team floated all of them. All would work, and all would bring another big paycheck. For now, finally, can everyone just acknowledge that there is greatness in this bent-nosed, clumsy-looking warrior? And if he walks away now, could it get any sweeter?