Froch vs Groves: The 21st century needs the barbarism of boxing

The primitive nature of boxing defies centuries of enlightenment, but Froch's eighth round knock-out punch is a pure metaphor for life

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Someone once described boxing as show business with blood. Joe Frazier’s take on it was perhaps more to the point. “Boxing is the only sport where you can get your brain shook, your money took, and your name in the undertaker book.”

How to place boxing as a sport in the second decade of the 21st century? Whenever we take a measure of ourselves and society today, the word ‘civilized’ automatically springs to mind. And yet interrupting this smug belief in our own sophistication, up pops a sport like boxing, to remind us of the uncomfortable truth that barbarism still has its place.

When Carl Froch and George Groves made their way to the ring at Wembley Stadium this weekend, prior to their much anticipated rematch and accompanied by a wall of noise from 80,000 fans, you could just picture the horror on the faces of those for whom progress is synonymous with sterility. The primitive, raw nature of boxing defies centuries of enlightenment and technological advance. It anchors us to our baser instincts, to a time when strength, determination, and a capacity for brutality were key when it came to determining success or failure in life.

Putting everything on the line in front of a seething mass of humanity – some supporting you, others baying for your blood - can be described as many things, but civilized is not one of them. Comparisons with ancient Rome and the Coliseum immediately spring to mind, a reminder that bread and circuses are still with us. Perhaps more significantly in 2014, is the inescapable feeling that witnessing two men engage in unarmed combat is akin to witnessing evolution in reverse.

In the first fight between these two in Manchester, George Groves had emerged the moral victor if not actual winner. He had walked to the ring to a chorus of boos, and left it being cheered to the rafters. He had dazzled on the night, serving up an ‘ass-whupping’ for the first six rounds that the world champion must have recalled regularly with a jarring sense of unease in the six months before the rematch in London.

When Groves climbed into the ring at Wembley it was on the back of an entrance which suggested that the fight was already won. He came into the stadium on an open-top bus, preceded by fireworks and the booming Shakespearian exhortation from Henry V, which ends with “Cry God for Harry, England, and St George!”

One punch, a right hand delivered by Carl Froch in the 8th round, was all it took to shatter six months of belief, hope, and hard work. The sight of George Groves slumped on his stool in the corner being fed oxygen, while in the centre of the ring Carl Froch stood soaking up the appreciation of 80,000 spectators, was as pure a metaphor for life as it is possible to conjure.

It was a fitting end to an historic night and exciting spectacle. If this is what passes for barbarism today, maybe there’s a case for suggesting we need more of it.

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