Froch Vs. Groves II: TQBR Roundtable, Psychological Warfare Edition

There have been few melt downs quite as magnificent as the one depicted in the video above, when a naïve Kevin Keegan fell prey to the mind games of arch-schemer Sir Alex Ferguson at the business end of the 1995-96 Premier League season. Keegan’s team, the swashbuckling Newcastle United, had at one point enjoyed a 12 point lead in the title race. The Geordie Messiah’s rant, however, preceded their collapse in the home straight, allowing Fergie’s Red Devils to complete an improbable comeback.

Poor “Mighty Mouse.” He’d have loved it as well…

In this TQBR Roundtable — which is a bit like the one from Arthurian legend had George Lucas recreated it (so entirely virtual) — the team grabs a chinwag ahead of Britain’s biggest boxing match of all time. Carl Froch vs. George Groves II has already been a battle of wit and nerve but who will prevail when it descends into jabs and uppercuts?

We’re joined atop the TQBR red London bus (currently passing Charing Cross) by: Tim Starks, Alex McClintock, Sam Sheppard, Jeff Pryor, Matthew Swain and Patrick Connor.

With 80, 000 tickets sold, Froch vs. Groves II will attract one of the largest live gates in boxing history. As a contest, is it likely to merit those numbers?

Tim Starks: What could live up to that billing? That’s double the size of last year’s biggest U.S. crowd, and 10 times the size of a really, really excellent crowd in the United States in general. But the first fight was a tremendous style clash with dramatic swings and I don’t see why this won’t be a sensational fight no matter which way it goes. If it’s like the first half of the fight, with Groves putting on a masterful performance throughout — only this time he pulls it off for the whole 12 rounds — it’ll be excellent because we’ll know how dangerous Froch can be. If it was just a bad showing by Froch and he starts this fight the way he finished the first meeting, it’ll be confirmation of how underrated he is to still be beating guys as good as Groves at his age and after all these wars. If it’s like the first fight, great, all I ask is that it skips over the controversial ending part. The only way it sucks is if Froch just looks so old that Groves waltzes to a victory. That strikes me as the least likely scenario, though.

Matthew Swain: I think it’s unfair to compare the crowd size to fights in the U.S., Tim. Calzaghe filled Millennium Stadium on more than one occasion for a mismatch. The U.K. has an especially devoted fan base, and since the only other things they have to watch are soccer and “Downton Abbey,” is it any wonder they turn out for the fights en masse?

Now that I’ve offended everyone in the U.K., I very much doubt the paying fans will go away disappointed. This fight won’t be an all-time great, but it should be dramatic and feature several shifts in momentum. I’ll take Froch in another come-from-behind victory that everyone is buzzing about afterwards.

Sam Sheppard: It’s a fascinating match-up in the truest sense of the word. While it won’t resemble a chess match, I have no doubt that the man who prevails on Saturday will be the one with the better game plan. Both fighters are more or less elite, so to ensure victory they will have to outfox– rather than outbox – their opposite number. I think Groves is absolutely correct when he says there’s more than one way to beat Froch, but I also think Froch is right to claim Groves can’t last the full 12 round with him. I believe if Groves wins he does so relatively early.

And I don’t think the comparison with the U.S. is unfair at all. People held up the Canelo Alvarez/Austin Trout attendance as an irrefutable sign that U.S. boxing was in rude health last year, so I don’t see how this is any different. Granted many of those in attendance will be what we call “football fans,” but the increased exposure for the sport is nothing but a good thing. Many in attendance will simply show up, sing songs, drink a lot of beer, and not really know anything about boxing. But that’s not to condemn them, in fact I plan on doing at least two of those things myself. I mean, it used to be the same for Ricky Hatton – you only have to look at the amount of money bet on him to win whenever he came to Vegas (completely oblivious to the level of opponent) to see that.

Patrick Connor: I agree with Tim in a few ways: that the fight will be likely be entertaining, but also in that that it will probably have difficulty living up to the hype. I also agree that the least likely outcome is Froch getting old and/or steamrolled. But 80,000 people is an impressive gathering for just about anything, and especially so in boxing. A few different potential outcomes play out nicely, and there’s no reason to believe these two won’t lock horns early on in the fight.

Jeff Pryor: I agree with all of you fellas, it can’t live up to the billing. That said, I was a part of a 50,000+ crowd for the first American Football Monday night game after 9/11 and that amount of people riled up is the loudest thing I’ve ever heard. As it turns out Burt Reynolds was there and when he graced the jumbo-tron that triggered the loudest cacophony. Though there are no moustaches involved in this bout, the atmosphere should be astounding and if the fight lives up to the first go around, never mind the unreal expectations, then it should be a memorable night.

Andrew Harrison: It’s rare for a rematch, especially a sequel to a spectacular first fight, to live up to expectations. The undercard doesn’t add much sparkle either; however, the tickets were sold long before that had been pondered and so there wasn’t any real incentive for Hearn to show benevolence there (plus the majority of fans won’t emerge from the bars until Michael Buffer clears his throat).

I just hope that with all of the new eyes trained on the sport (and new money being shelled out on pay-per-view), it isn’t a huge letdown, although it’s difficult to imagine how that would occur.

I thought “Downtown Abbey” was an American thing? Like Hugh Laurie…

Alex McClintock: Eh, probably not. But as Jeff said, when you get that many people together it almost becomes an attraction in itself. Even if it’s somewhat humdrum, it’ll be bumped up a few notches by the feverish excitement of 80,000 cheering poms. That said, it’s highly unlikely that this fight is going to suck. The entire stadium will be screaming at the men to engage and, well, have you ever had to say no to 80,000 people?

Groves announced he had signed a long-term deal with German company Sauerland Promotions last week, even though he would probably have been able to negotiate better terms if he were to beat Froch on Saturday. Is it a move that suggests Groves isn’t nearly as confident as he’d have everyone believe?

Tim Starks: I actually don’t think he’s very confident. The Face Off-style encounter where he tried to get into Froch’s head with that unfriendly handshake showed to me that he was still stinging from the March shove by Froch. And then Froch got the better of him in Groves’ own stunt, with the classic “We can all pull about a bit if you want” remark and the fact that he was actually the stronger man in the exchange. I have no idea whether the Sauerland move is evidence of how under-confident he is, but it hadn’t occurred to me until you asked that it might be. I’d file it under “maybe,” but point to other things more.

Matthew Swain: I can’t say one way or the other. If he wins it will look premature. If he loses it will look like he was scared. I’m guessing he was just making a business move. I wouldn’t read too much into it.

Sam Sheppard: I actually think both guys are being more introspective than usual. I sense nerves and a semblance of doubt in each of them. Froch has openly talked about retirement as a consequence of this fight, which seems odd, while the question raises a good point about the timing of Groves’s deal with Sauerland. I get the impression that both guys are frustrated to an extent. Groves will be annoyed that he hasn’t been able to rile Froch to a greater extent – especially given the shove all those weeks ago, which seems to indicate Froch was on the verge of a full on meltdown. I agree with Tim in that the handshake during their face-off seemed like a rather desperate attempt to rile his opponent. Ditto Froch, who still seems uncomfortable when confronted by Groves, will likely be annoyed with himself for continuing to let his opponent get under his skin, albeit to a lesser extent than last time.

The mental strength Groves showed in the last fight, after entering the ring to resounding boos and having been abandoned by his trainer just weeks before, was extraordinary. I was reminded of it while watching Ruslan Provodnikov’s episode of 2 Days on HBO at the weekend. Some fighters are just impregnable in that sense. But I think it’s impossible to tell just how someone will react to a crowd that size in the grandest stadium in the country. Neither guy will have faced anything like it before, despite Froch’s untold experience. Even Ruslan might get a little nervous!

Patrick Connor: Groves hastily making a pre-fight career move reminds me of Hasim Rahman’s rejection of a multi-fight deal with HBO prior to getting flattened by Lennox Lewis in their rematch. Groves is riding a wave of popularity based on knocking Froch down, and it may actually wind up being a sane move if he is stopped by Froch — presumably more legitimately this time — for the second time in a row. I’m not sure that it necessarily speaks to his confidence or anything, though, as both guys seem to believe in themselves plenty.

Jeff Pryor: I think he’s hedging his bets signing with Sauerland preemptively. The stoppage last time was quick, but not by much. There’s a difference between fighting at an elite level for an entire fight and fighting at an elite level for half a fight. There has to be some doubt in Groves. It’s similar to last weekend’s Adonis Stevenson fight. Had that been a 15 round fight, as in the old days, Superman looked like he would have come crashing back to earth. When Groves’ speed edge waned with fatigue, Froch started connecting and shaking Groves up. He started great, ended badly. He’s got to re-prove to himself that he can hang for a full fight. And that he can match wills with Froch.

Andrew Harrison: I’m with Jeff here. Groves, as one would expect from an Adam Booth protégé, is meticulous and cold-blooded. Froch proved a difficult nut to crack first time around, despite that wonderful start. Groves has positioned himself perfectly whatever Saturday’s result: win and he’ll have an experienced team behind him for future negotiations; lose and he can regroup away from the limelight, with the likes of Arthur Abraham and Mikkel Kessler readily available for his comeback. And he’ll be well paid either way, of course.

Alex McClintock: I think perhaps it does. Boxers are a special breed, but it’s the rare fighter who doesn’t even consider the possibility of himself losing, so signing with Sauerland because of doubt might not prove anything. The question is how fighters deal with that doubt once they get in the ring. We know how Froch responds. Groves’ mindset is more of a mystery.

There’s been huge media emphasis on the mind games both rivals have employed in the build up. Is the psychological warfare we’ve seen purely a promotional gimmick or is it likely to play a part once the opening bell rings?

Tim Starks: There’s still time between now and fight night for Groves to regain his psychological mojo, if indeed he has lost it. I enjoy the parlor game of body language as much as the next guy; I don’t put much stock in my assessments, is all. If any of the psychological warfare is authentic (I tend to think it is — Froch is pretty good at this game and the one time he got a little psyched out, it was by Andre Ward, a fight he lost) then yes, it has to play a part in how the fight plays out. There’s a long history of this kind of warfare affecting performance, one of the most famous being how psyched out Michael Spinks was before he fought Mike Tyson. Groves also has to know that no matter how swimmingly things might be going for a time against Froch, another Frochian deluge might be just around the corner. That said: I’m sure both men also know that the warfare helps the promotion. It’s just that I think it’s all mostly genuine, at worst an exaggerated version of what they both are trying to accomplish anyway.

Matthew Swain: I’m relatively certain that if you decide to play mind games with a person, Carl Froch is the last guy you want to engage. Not that he’s particularly clever or devious, but very few people believe in themselves as blindly as Froch. Even against Ward, he never quit trying. If Groves is going to convince Froch he can’t win, he’ll have to render him unconscious to do so.

Sam Sheppard: I don’t think the mind games are fabricated. Groves has done this sort of thing throughout his career, as evidenced by the exasperation of James DeGale and Paul Smith, to name but two. I believe he’d act this way regardless of his opponent, and I’d love to see how an egomaniac like Ward would respond a bit further down the line!

So I think the mental aspect will play a part for the opening couple of rounds, when the early success Groves is able to have will set the tone for both corners. Especially if he once again calls the exact punch he will use to hurt Froch, as I believe he has promised to do at some point this week.

Patrick Connor: I’m not sure what the motivation is behind all the mind games, in terms of promotion. Are the odd, usually-awkward encounters between Froch and Groves on their press tour organic? They seem to be too weird not to be. But if they would seem to help one guy more than the other, I’d imagine that would be Carl Froch, who simply has more experience on this level of the sport, and until proven otherwise, looks to still be in good form. Froch has recovered from being hurt or knocked down to win fights before, and while he can only go to the well so many times before it runs dry, he’s simply in a better position to deal with all the extracurricular stuff.

Jeff Pryor: I think Tim’s call out of the handshake stunt is very fitting. Froch stayed bemusedly cool and then yanked him back across the table. As they sat and tried to look tough and smile, the look on Groves face was like he’d just eaten a big mouthful of shit. All of the back and forth will likely amount to nothing. When the bell rings I think each man will be wrangling more with their own demons from the previous fight. If Groves is able to start fast and shake Froch early, or if Froch can do the same to Groves, the screws will tighten on the other and self doubt will play a factor. The pre-fight back and forth shenanigans while sincere, won’t factor much in the outcome in my view.

Andrew Harrison: Funny you should mention a mouthful of shit…

Groves has done a number on Froch. Saying that mind games won’t make a ha’porth of difference once the opening bell sounds.

The brouhaha they’ve kicked up was fun for a while… then slightly dull… and now downright irritating. Although Eddie Hearn claimed this week that his own personal “Field of Dreams” moment had been responsible for the record attendance (“book a massive stadium and they will come”), the highly publicised to-ing and fro-ing has become a talking point that the public have latched onto.

Alex McClintock: It’s certain to play a part. Froch isn’t a headcase in the sense that he always believes in himself 100% of the time, he’s a headcase in the sense that he has the ability to talk himself out of his doubt. He was, after all, a sports psychology major. Groves, on the other hand, doesn’t have that proven ability. He’s not anywhere near as experienced a pro as Froch and is coming off his first loss, which had to be demoralising, no matter the circumstances. Groves could either rush out, foaming at the mouth at the opening bell or fight scared — neither would surprise me. It would surprise me if he was 100 percent OK psychologically, though.

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