So by now, I’m sure everyone is aware of the controversy over Carl Froch stopping George Groves on Saturday night.
I’ve deliberately avoided writing anything too substantive on the subject for a day or two. All too often people immediately reach for their keyboards (a testament to the times we live in) whenever something like this happens and before you know it there’s a thousand voices screaming a thousand things. I wanted a chance to sit back, clear it from my mind (helped out by Pacquiao’s performance the same night) and then rewatch the entire bout a few times before putting my thoughts on paper.
But anyway, let’s focus on the big point straight away.
The stoppage was early. Not quite ridiculously early, but pretty close to it. Early even by Britain notoriously quick standards. It was early and it was wrong and it should never have happened. Let’s keep that in mind throughout.
George Groves impressed me. He’s always impressed me but this was by far his best performance. The opening few rounds were a beauty to watch. I expected him to be far less aggressive and box a tactical, safety first bout but he opened up by being both aggressive and tactical. The opening round knock-down was a beautiful combination of physical gifts, technical skill and clever preparation. Watch the knockdown from the first round below…
And then watch the knockdown from Round 3 of Froch’s bout with Jermain Taylor
What you see is essentially the same thing. A left hook is thrown over a low and lazy Froch right, connecting with Froch’s chin and forcing him directly into the path of a Groves/Taylor straight right that puts him down hard. It was a beautifully planned, beautifully prepared and beautifully executed combination.
Throughout those early rounds Groves stayed in a low crouch and used his jab web. He picked Froch off coming in, countered with hard shots and avoided the Cobra’s wild, swarming attacks. Froch was reverting to type, the poise and control he’d shown against Bute, Abraham and even Kessler during their rematch disappearing to be replaced by the blood and guts warrior he once had been. But as good as Froch is at being a blood and guts warrior it’s difficult to beat a boxer of Groves’ quality doing it… and so it was, with Groves winning.
But not comfortably.
First the jab started to disappear. Then the crouch. And soon Groves wasn’t boxing Froch. He was fighting him. And trying to fight Carl Froch is a fool’s errand for anyone. When you take everything else away from Froch you’re left with an iron chin, sapping power and an unrelenting will to win. He is a man made for brawls and while Groves was very good at it, he wasn’t Carl Froch and he was starting to take more and more punches.
I’ll be clear here. I still had Groves ahead on the scorecards as that pivotal ninth round came. I had him further ahead then the official judges had it. But I also thought Carl Froch was going to win. The simple fact was the bout had started to turn in his favour. It was his sort of bout fought at his sort of range. Groves was still doing damage, still landing powerful straights and hooks but he was starting to eat more bodyshots, to take more punches to the head, to have to hold on when before he would slip away, to have to cover up when before he would throw a punch and move. I saw signs of him breaking down and I genuinely believe that if the bout had continued Froch would have legitimately stopped him.
But we never got to see that because the ninth round came along and then this happened.
I’ll reiterate again, the stoppage was early. I can somewhat understand what Howard Foster (the referee) saw and how he thinks it made it an appropriate time to step in. From his position he sees Groves eat two big right hands in a row, one of which sags him back into the ropes, and then a left hook which twists his head. He then appears to stagger forward into Froch who’s still punching him. I can see why Foster thought that was an appropriate time to get involved.
But I disagree utterly. Look at an extended clip of the stoppage from the other angle.
From here, one can see that at least one of those “big right hands” doesn’t land cleanly. One can also see that virtually up to the moment of the stoppage Groves was intelligently defending himself… he was ducking, rolling, slipping, covering up and even firing back. The stoppage didn’t come at the end of a sustained burst of offence from Froch where he had Groves reeling all over the ring, it was on of the first truly clean sets of punches he’d landed. I can understand why the referee thought he had to stop it. But he was wrong.
As is the way with such things a number of arguments have been raised by people on both sides of the divide. Many are hyperbolic and some are downright foolish but I think there are some points that should be made about them.
Argument 1: If the referee thought Groves was hurt he should have given him a standing eight count rather then stop the bout.
In general I am against standing eight counts for safety reasons but in this case I think one might have been appropriate. Unfortunately however, it wasn’t an option available to Howard Foster. The bout was contested under the British Boxing Board of Control’s rules and regulations which can be read here and make no allowance for standing eight counts. In addition, the bout was for the IBF Title and the IBF specifically disallows standing eight counts as can be read here (see page four). Howard Foster couldn’t give a standing eight count even if he had wanted to.
Argument 2: Froch would have legitimately finished him in the next 15 seconds anyway so the stoppage was justified.
Here’s the thing; we don’t know if he would have done. Froch says he was lining up the uppercut and Groves did look vulnerable but we don’t know if he would have landed it. We don’t know if he could have continued to hit Groves cleanly, we don’t know if Groves would have slipped it or covered up or had a strong enough chin to take it. We simply don’t know what would have happened in the next 15 seconds. Would Froch have finished him? Maybe. But maybe not. And there was too much on the line for a “maybe” to end the bout.
Argument 3: Froch was breaking him down anyway, so it doesn’t matter.
Essentially an extended version of the above argument. And once again I disagree with it. Yes, I agree Froch was breaking Groves down and yes, I even think that he would have won if the bout continued. But that’s the point. I think that, I don’t know it and as much as I like to believe I can understand and appreciate what’s going on in a bout, I’m not always right. Maybe Froch was now in the ascendency and he’d have kept hammering Groves with heavy punches until he collapsed. Or maybe this was the last burst of sustained aggression that Froch’s 37 year old body could produce and he’d become more and more ragged while Groves was able to get back into the bout. Once again we don’t know.
Moreover, this wasn’t a one-sided bout where for 10 rounds Groves had been hammered away at without any real return fire, staying just about competitive enough to prevent an earlier stoppage. If those were the circumstances I could somewhat agree with the referee stepping in, even if the moment he chose to do so was technically early. But that wasn’t the case here. Groves was ahead and was still competitive in each and every round, even if he was starting to take more and more punishment. Yes, he was taking punches… but yes, he was also sending them back. The bout was on a knife-edge with many questions to be answered… could Groves survive a trademark Froch late rally? Could Froch maintain a rally at his age with the punishment he’d taken? We never got to answer those questions.
Talk with inevitably turn to a rematch and there doesn’t appear to be any good reason not to have one. Neither Groves or Froch have any better options lined up and the only realistic boxer who could interfere (Ward) appears to have other matters to deal with. The controversy from this bout means the next will have considerable hype and media attention (something the conspiracy theorists are starting to latch onto) and it shouldn’t be forgotten that if you put the controversy aside this was one of the better bouts of the year to watch and there’s little reason to suspect a rematch would be much different.
Hopefully just without the controversy…