Excuse me mixing up my saints (and species of snake… and countries) in the headline… I was struggling for one.
Regardless of my own linguistic frailities, come Saturday much of the boxing media will be focused on China and a certain Manny Pacquiao making his comeback. But a significant amount will also be looking to England and an intruiging 168lbs bout between Carl “the Cobra” Froch and “Saint” George Groves.
People have come to know Froch well over recent years. At first glance he’s a brawler with decent power, an iron chin and an unbreakable will and to this day some people have written him off as simply being nothing more then that. But the truth is, that’s not the case and while no-one is mistaking him for Willie Pep reborn he has a certain amount of class and guile in his ring craft. He can use his jab well, put together powerful combinations, box on the inside and outside and has some underrated footwork. There are still holes in his game of course; his punches have a little too much loop to them, his head movement (and general defence) is at best limited, he still has a tendency to lunge forward into shots and he struggles to transition quickly between ranges and from offence to defence… but over the last few years he’s shown quite how talented his is.
Groves is a lesser known proposition, to a large extent because he ended up on the promotional Wasteland known as BoxNation after what should have been his biggest win (as described in an article on DeGale and Grove here). Now with Matchroom, he’s had a couple of keep busy wins which were more about keeping his name out there and shedding any rust then they were about getting him in the ring with challenging boxers. Stylistically Groves is generally a boxer/puncher, looking to establish his jab and set up his power shots with some decent movement and speed, supported by some underrated body work. That said he’s shown the ability to play a variety of roles in his bouts, from a front-foot destroyer to someone who essentially sticks and moves. He’s always looked a solid prospect outside of two weaknesses; frequent injuries that have cost him momentum and title shots and a somewhat questionable chin and defence. Much like Froch his head movement is an afterthought and more than one of Groves’ bouts have featured him either being dropped or rocked pretty badly and having to come back to win.
So how does the bout go?
Groves’ long time trainer and mentor Adam Booth is no fool and almost always comes up with an effective game plan. Whether his boxers can fully implement the plan is a different matter but the plans themselves are sound. He’s wasn’t going to risk one of his star pupils being given a beating (and be under no doubt, Froch delivers beatings) which could damage him long term without thinking he has a good chance to win. While Groves has since replaced Booth with his long time corner man, I think the seeds of the gameplan would have been planted while Booth was still pulling the strings (mixing yet more metaphors…)
Considering how Froch looked against Dirrell and the plan Groves successfully pulled off against DeGale I think we’ll see something similar. Brawling with Froch is a poor idea for anyone, especially a boxer like Groves, but Froch struggled immensely with Dirrell’s lateral movement, spoiling and general skill at avoiding him. That’s not to say Dirrell did much in turn; he was seemingly far more interested in making Froch miss and look bad then he was in actually looking good or landing much himself, but it did show the weaknesses in Froch’s style. There’s no reason to suspect Groves can’t do something similar, frustrating Froch with constant lateral movement, sticking him with his jab and occasionally picking him off with a right. When Froch does come into the pocket, especially with his charging lunges I expect Groves to step into it and spoil before looking to work Froch’s body and then break away, reset and start again. Groves will look to make Froch miss… and then make him pay.
Can he do it?
I don’t quite think so. The Froch of today may be a somewhat similar boxer to the Froch of the Dirrell bout but he’s more cunning than he was then and more willing to avoid simply tumbling forward hoping for a brawl. Froch’s jab isn’t a classic by any means but he’s started to use it a lot more, either as a weapon or a distraction and he generally picks his moments to wade forwards as opposed to previously where he charged in with clubbing blows at any given opportunity. While his last victory over Kessler may have at times comes down to a brutal brawl there was some real craft in how he outclassed Abraham and Bute. Moreover, I’m not sure Groves has it in him to play the matador for 36 hard minutes. His most recent bouts have generally gone a handful of rounds and the two times he’s gone 12 rounds have both been at a relatively low pace; Glen Johnson was too old to really challenge or pressure Groves while his bout with DeGale was tense but featured relatively little action. Froch won’t allow the pace to be low; even if Groves is successful at stalling him early he’s going to have to work and keep working to stay in the bout. That said, whether deliberately or not, Groves does have a tendecy to come across as smug and has spent much of the build up to this bout needling Froch. An angry Froch is a pretty scary thought in general but an angry Froch is also more likely to throw technique and gameplans out the window and just try to brawl, leaving openings for Groces to exploit. And then we should perhaps look at Froch’s age… while Bernard Hopkins continues to redefine what we consider an “old” boxer, Froch is still creeping up there and with his all action style he’s taken a lot of punishment in his bouts. There’s always a chance he simply looks old and unable to pull the trigger come fight night.
But I don’t think that chance is high enough to back Groves.
Both boxers have the power to hurt each other; Froch has a good chin but tends to leap into punches while Groves has always been a little vulnerable and has a worrying tendency to cut and swell up which will affect him as the bout goes on. That said, considering the styles they’re likely to use I think if Groves does hurt Froch it will only be from landing a near-perfect counter as Froch comes in, while Froch is more likely to be able to hurt Groves whenever he lands a right.
My prediction is that for much of the bout it is a close and awkward affair, with Froch playing the aggressor while Groves attempts to neuter him and pop him on the counter, often making Froch miss and look clumsy. Towards the end Groves may even be ahead but Froch comes on with a late surge, peppering Groves with his jab and finally starting to land his right hand with some regularity. This late run either gives Froch a late stoppage or a narrow but clear decision win.