All of the laughter has left Carl Froch’s eyes and it is unlikely to return until about midnight on Saturday night.
Six months ago, Carl Froch beat George Groves and there were jeers as he walked back to his changing room; it was somewhere between the weary steps he took from the bloodstained ring and his arrival this week for the fight that the fun vanished from his smiling eyes.
“Back in the changing room I was still champion,” says Froch. “I still had the belts, I had defended my title and there was the usual elation.” There had been, Froch acknowledges, some booing as he made his way back after the win.
In the ring the referee, Howard Foster, had jumped in, grabbing Groves and hauling him away from Froch’s fists in round nine of a memorable fight. Groves had dropped Froch in the opening round, defied the form with his speed and was in front on all three scorecards when Foster called the fight off.
Foster stopped the fight because Froch had caught and hurt Groves and had him trapped on the ropes in the seconds before his ungainly interception – it is too easy, with the lazy hysteria that accompanied the fight’s ending, to forget that Froch had Groves hurt. Groves, as expected, has always denied being in any trouble and I would be disappointed in him if he had said anything different.
“Some people were booing and I understand that because they had paid good money and it was an unnatural end to the fight,” says Froch. “I knew that they were the same people that had been cheering when I was putting the punches together and hurting Groves.”
At that point, as Froch applied ice to his aches and bruises, there was no clear sign of the controversy that would taint the fight’s dramatic ending and lead directly to Saturday’s rematch. Groves was holding court, talking about fixes, illegal interventions and being the victim of a false reputation for having no chin. The night grew uglier in Manchester as the minutes ticked away and by about 2am there were dozens of outrageous conspiracy theories being thrown about.
“I admit that it didn’t hit me right away,” says Froch. “It was a couple of days later when I started to hear what people were saying and read some of the things that were being said. I did agree that the fight was probably stopped just a few seconds early. The ref still did a good job.”
Foster was quick to intervene, but just by a fraction of a second, at that disturbing moment when he has to make a snap decision to save a boxer’s life. Foster made his brave play last November and he made that decision because he knew that right at that precise moment Groves was in trouble and any talk of corruption is farcical. Groves and his cornermen were livid, Froch and his cornermen were relieved; it happens in boxing and that should have been the end of the affair.
However, Groves, adding militancy to his ring skills, went in search of retribution and successfully lobbied the IBF, one of the sport’s sanctioning bodies, to insist on a rematch. It cost Groves a lot of money in travel and reports by professionals to persuade the men that needed persuading to order Froch back into the ring. The IBF also, as it happens, suspended Foster, which still seems extremely harsh.
“It was George Groves who made a big deal out of it,” Froch adds. “He seemed to have a lot of people listening from the very start. I had to listen when people started talking and saying ridiculous things.”
Froch had some options on the table in the fight’s aftermath, including never fighting again, but even before the IBF’s ruling the numbers attached to a rematch were too impressive to ignore. This Saturday, Froch will make more in a British ring than any other man in history and could walk away with as much as £8 million, according to those attached to the fight.
“It has been hard at times and I did think about walking away,” says Froch. “I think that all champions take that moment in their career when they stop and look at what they have achieved and what they want to achieve. I had that moment.” There was also the moment when the riches from a rematch became apparent and as Eddie Hearn, the promoter, said: “Money talks – it was always going to happen.”
Froch insists that this time he is a different fighter, simply because he has approached the fight with a different head on his shoulders, and not because he has had to change the way he prepares.
Groves and his trainer, Paddy Fitzpatrick, have been convincing in their belief that there is a crisis in the Froch camp between the boxer and Rob McCracken, his trainer. The pair are, as they say, “mates” and their bond is clear; McCracken was in Froch’s corner for the first of 11 consecutive world title fights in 2008 on the same day that his mother had died.
“Here is the truth,” Froch says. “I’m guilty of not taking the first fight or George Groves seriously. That will not happen again and there is no crisis. Why would there be? I’m a champion and I know how to prepare for a fight. George Groves lost, so what can he do differently?”
The build-up has included several skirmishes and that is why 80,000 will traipse through the turnstiles at Wembley Stadium on Saturday in anticipation of the conclusion of round nine and the completion of the first fight.
“I keep having to remind people that the fight doesn’t start until Saturday,” Froch says. “There is nothing to win or lose until the fight starts and this time I’m only going to worry about me. It is about my fight – I won the last fight, remember, and it was a poor performance.”
Earlier this week, Froch was as grizzled as I have ever heard him in the days before a fight and that is a good thing for him. “I’m not an angry man. I’m calm and this is great for my family and it is also great for George Groves,” says Froch, who often calls his rival by his full name; a psychiatrist would say that it helps Froch dehumanise Groves.
He seems on the very edge, pushed closer to the lip than ever before, and there is no need for a professional from the medical world to diagnose the hate. It is plain in every denial. “I will not be so emotional this time,” Froch says. If he can manage that, it would arguably be his finest win.