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Boxing: Carl Froch last man standing in a battle of brutal brilliance against George Groves

Controversy after referee stops Groves to end one of best bouts ever

It was not a fix, there is no conspiracy and there is unlikely to be a sequel any time soon to Carl Froch’s stoppage of George Groves in round nine on Saturday night in Manchester.

The referee, Howard Foster, jumped in, nearly tumbled over and grabbed Groves at 1min 33sec of the ninth after he had been caught and trapped on the ropes in a fight he appeared to be winning by a long, long way. However, when the redundant calculations of the judges were revealed, two out of the three had Groves in front by just one slender point; the third agreed with me and had it by five points. The difference in the schools is far more disturbing than the hysteria surrounding Foster’s intervention, which was perhaps a few seconds too soon, just bringing forward the inevitable at that moment.

Groves complained bitterly and the capacity crowd of just fewer than 20,000 booed for 10 minutes in disgust at the intervention. The same fans had jeered and booed Groves as he made his way through a tunnel of hate to the ring 30 minutes earlier and it was a shift of allegiance that in 40 years inside the boxing business I have never witnessed; there was, make no mistake, genuine outrage inside the arena and the ugly confrontations in the ring when it was over, between the ridiculously swollen rival entourages, only added to the sense of utter chaos at the end of a memorable night.

The fight was simply one of the finest seen in a British ring and easily matched for ferocity, quality and thrills any of the fights involving Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn, Michael Watson and Steve Collins two decades ago; the quartet took part in nine fights against each other that have inspired a generation of nostalgic fanatics for so long: this fight belongs in that company.

Froch was sent heavily to the canvas late in the opening round from a right hand and, regaining his feet, just survived until the bell. Froch fought on instinct round after round, taking sharp rights that shook and clearly hurt him, and trying but missing with many of his desperate punches. It was brutal to watch and the sour build-up of unpleasant boasts that they had each exchanged only added to the pleasure of being just 10 feet away from the fighters.

“For a few rounds it looked like Carl Froch’s career was over,” admitted Eddie Hearn, Froch’s promoter. “He took a hiding in there at times and I just had no idea at one point how he was going to turn it round.”

Froch admitted to forgetting he had been knocked down and that is not a surprise considering the punishment he took. It was Froch’s 11th consecutive world title fight and his IBF and WBA baubles glittered like cheap trophies for such deep sacrifice.

The sixth round was sensational, with the pair locked close and throwing punches in a relentless, swaying rhythm of power, their knees separated by inches as Groves connected with punch after punch. It was breathtaking stuff, damaging stuff and Foster was poised with his eyes on Froch at one point. It was one of several moments when Froch was a punch or two away from being rescued from his desire; it was an act that looked closer on Saturday night than at any point in his boxing life. He could, I think, still opt for retirement and it would not be a shock.

“I’m a victim of my false reputation for being chinny,” Groves said, “and of Carl’s reputation for being a warrior. I was fine at the end.” It needs to be remembered that a referee has to make decisions in a flash, using his experience, and Foster’s lunge to save Groves was influenced by a lifetime in boxing and nothing sinister.

It was still a heartbreaking end to a heroic fight from Groves and it was also the type of salvation for Froch that only true champions are capable of finding at the end of brutal, life-changing encounters. It was not a fix; it was just three men in the ring getting lost in a conflict that was so raw that a rematch could be a fight too far for either boxer.