Carl Froch delivered dignity in the ring on Saturday night during a festival of boxing inside a stadium transformed by camera lights into a swaying distant galaxy.
The sudden punch that sent George Groves down to the canvas in one dreadful motion, leaving his left boot somehow tucked under his back, was a celebration of all that is extreme in the boxing business during a night of extremes.
It was over after 2min 34sec of round eight with Groves inert for several seconds of panic as the referee, virtually a spectator until that point, straddled the stricken fighter to start the recovery process. The twisted left leg shot free and with a sudden gasp Groves started to climb up – it was a relief. “I was on the floor longer than I realised,” Groves said; he had no idea he was unconscious before he hit the canvas.
Froch retained his IBF and WBA super-middleweight titles but if ever there was a fight that made the gaudy baubles an irrelevance then it was Saturday’s rematch. There was too much hostility in the months, days and hours before Michael Buffer started the real fight. Thankfully, the ending left no room for any trivial continuation of the squabbling.
Groves looked broken as he held back tears and genuinely embraced Froch once it was over. “I was too complacent,” Groves said and he was right; self-confidence was his downfall and his failure to realise that Froch, a veteran of too many savage nights in the ring, was walking him down and positioning him for the end also showed naïvety. Froch and Robert McCracken, his trainer and close friend, had worked on backing Groves up, not wasting punches and using intelligence against some of the natural advantages Groves delivers.
“George is fast, he can punch but he was overconfident and that put him under pressure,” said Froch. It perfectly sums up all that went wrong for Groves and knowing that he was conned before being knocked out will only add to the misery.
Froch measured the final right cross perfectly and, after a little tap with his left, to move Groves into the right spot, he delivered one of the sweetest single-punch knockouts seen in a British ring.
The fight was beautifully poised at the moment of impact but it had been far more a chess match than a repeat of last November’s memorable slugfest. Not everybody in the crowd of 80,000 enjoyed the thinking that was taking place in the ring and people booed the slower moments, unaware of the hidden dramas.
Froch had prepared for the end of his career during the last 12 weeks in a training camp of such solemnity that observers left slightly shaken by his conviction. Froch, in jubilation at the end, admitted that he would have quit had he lost and that is exactly how he fought from the opening bell: he was a desperate man and it shocked Groves.
“I slowly closed the gap,” said Froch. “I could hear the boos but I was not going to force it, not going to take any risks. I was getting closer and then it landed; it was the best punch that I have ever thrown.” He simply eliminated the mistakes that had made the first fight such a great spectacle and that meant being far more cautious. Saturday was a bigger event, that is for sure.
The rematch in 1993 between Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn in front of 42,000 at Old Trafford followed a similar pattern to the way Saturday’s historic fight unfolded; both Eubank and Benn were unwilling to repeat the physical excesses of their original fight. The numbers at the 1993 fight were surpassed by Joe Calzaghe and Ricky Hatton during the last decade, but Wembley on Saturday set a new modern record, a mere 10,000 fewer than a series of fights in the 1930s.
Froch insists that he will fight again after a break and his standard talk with McCracken, which is a rare moment for the pair to relax and reflect on nights that unfold in a blur. The options include a trip to Las Vegas to fight the pandered but still impressive Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr. It would satisfy Froch’s childhood dreams of filling a Vegas venue in a world championship fight. “I can deliver the Chavez fight,” confirmed Froch’s promoter, Eddie Hearn. “It’s Carl’s decision and he will not make that decision without Rob McCracken. They will decide.”
Groves, at 26, has vowed to return, win a world title and reign as long as Froch, which is possible. He would push the WBC champion Sakio Bika and, having just agreed terms with German promoters Sauerland, he could in theory fight the WBO incumbent Arthur Abraham, another Sauerland fighter. “I got it wrong for just a split second,’” claimed Groves. At the time of the stoppage I had Groves 4-3 in front but running short of ideas and escape routes in the tiny ring; one of the three judges agreed with me.
Froch has an appointment to accept or reject closer to home after James DeGale, beaten by Groves in 2011, won a final eliminator for the IBF portion of his championship jewellery. DeGale advanced to Froch’s leading contender with a piece of whimsical modern matchmaking that still looks unlikely to secure the 2008 Olympic champion a fight against Froch. However, had Groves won, a rematch with DeGale would have done incredible business. DeGale, who would be a nightmare for Froch, looked very impressive at Wembley as he walked through previously unbeaten Brandon Gonzalez in four rounds.
Froch left the ring with very few visible blemishes, but he is not foolish enough to be tricked by mirrors that flatter. He is a brilliant old fighter and, a Las Vegas dream aside, he has nothing left to prove in the ring that he has dominated. He also has few natural rivals and is unlikely to fight Andre Ward, who beat him easily in 2011, so that means that revenge is not an emotion likely to motivate him.
That leaves money and boxers in good health walk away from the sport because of money for two very different reasons: some are offered too little to continue and some have too much to want to fight again. If Froch does walk away now it will be because of a combination of both.