Boxing: How George Groves found a new punchline
London boxer was once a stand-up comic but his world-title opponent Carl Froch is no longer amused
Sunday 17 November 2013
A funny thing happened to George Groves on his way to the theatre. He got stage fright. Which is why the 25-year-old Londoner abandoned a hoped-for career as a stand-up comic to concentrate on becoming a world boxing champion.
"I found going on stage terrifying," he admits. "Compared to that experience being in a boxing ring is a doddle."
Even, he insists, sharing one with Britain's most formidable fighter, Carl Froch, whom he precociously challenges for "The Cobra's" WBA and IBF world super-middleweight titles in Manchester next Saturday night.
We met for lunch last week in a restaurant in Hammersmith, west London, just across the road from the Apollo, famed stamping ground for stand-ups where, in different circumstances, cheeky chappie Groves might have been producing patter instead of punches.
"I love comedy and I did a few gigs here and there but it never really took off. It was too scary. If you asked me to go on stage now, even to do karaoke, I'd fall apart. I'm far more comfortable getting stuck into a fight." But he's still game enough for a laugh to be writing a sitcom which he eventually hopes to sell to TV. "It's a sort of Inbetweeners meets Entourage. It has a boxing element because that's the world I know best and, yes, there are one or two characters in it people might recognise."
Doubtless one of them is Froch, who has reacted furiously to the manner in which Groves, very much the underdog, has been verbally snapping at his heels these past few weeks. The stand-up comic has become the wind-up merchant, clearly getting right up Froch's battle-hardened nose with some well-scripted jibes at press conferences which the obviously insulted champion claims have disrespected him as British boxing's senior pro. He accuses the ginger-topped young Londoner of "childish naiveity" and says he had to restrain himself from punching his lights out during their sharp exchanges.
Groves, aware that Froch's ego is easily pricked, has a way with words. Unbeaten in 19 contests, the articulate bête noire of bitter rival James DeGale whom he relieved of the British title two years ago, is more than simply street smart.
"There are various psychological advantages you can take into boxing match," he argues. "One is getting your opponent to fight with emotion and anger because he hates you. I know Froch sees me as an unworthy, jumped-up kid who doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as him, an international superstar. He's that insecure."
At 36, Nottingham's Froch is 11 years his senior, with Groves the youngest opponent he has faced for years. He also recently endured an alarmingly brutal duel with Mikkel Kessler, his 11th world-title fight.
Even so it is hard to make out a case for Groves doing more than giving Froch a fight, and maybe an early fright, before being outfought and outscored. Especially as Groves can no longer rely on the between-rounds sagacity of Adam Booth, rated as British boxing's supreme strategist, with whom he split acrimoniously while preparing for this fight. He had been managed and trained by Booth since turning professional five years ago but they parted after a "sharp exchange" which Groves maintains had nothing to do with money.
Yet it may prove costly for "Saint George" in more ways than one, with the Board of Control ruling that he remains under contract to Booth and must pay him 25 per cent of a purse that could approach £500,000.
Now it is an old friend, the Irish trainer Paddy Fitzpatrick, who will attempt to counter the renowned corner wiles of Froch's technical mastermind, Robert McCracken.
"Froch is there for the taking," says Groves. "I'm picking up on his vulnerabilities. Ego can be a dangerous thing. We all have one but it needs to be contained. He shouldn't be this wound up."
Froch responds: ''Groves has done himself no favours with his attempts at winding me up. If he had played humble and respectful I might have been tempted to think that he knew he was going to get beaten and cut the odd corner in training. But not now. I cannot risk losing to him. The very idea scares me."
This rare all-British world-title fight headlines a 20,000 sell-out bill which also features Scott Quigg and Olympic gold medallists Anthony Joshua and Luke Campbell.
One fight too many for Froch or one too soon for Groves?
"My wife has asked me if I'm nervous," says Groves. ''But I'm not. I'm not even that excited. It's business."
Though, thankfully, it's not funny business.
Froch v Groves is live on Sky Sports Box Office skysports.com/frochgroves or call 08442 410888
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