Friday, May 30, 2014

Froch-Groves II: Keys to the Fight

One of the biggest fights in British boxing history takes place on Saturday at Wembley Stadium between super middleweight titlist Carl Froch (32-2, 23 KOs) and George Groves (19-1, 15 KOs). The fight, a rematch of a controversial ninth-round knockout victory by Froch in November, will be contested in front of 80,000 and has garnered significant boxing interest from around the globe. In their first meeting, Groves scored a surprising knockdown in the first round and dominated the early action. Eventually, Froch found his way back into the fight and pounded on Groves in the ninth round when ref Howard Foster decided to halt the action, awarding Froch the win (Foster was way too hasty in ending it). At the time of the stoppage, Froch was down on all three scorecards. 

For the rematch, Froch has vowed to fight more intelligently while Groves has stated that he is looking for the knockout. This fight has all of the elements: former friends turned rivals, a Londoner vs. a Midlander, youth vs. experience and wildly passionate English fight fans, many of whom have turned sour on Froch over the past few years. Read below for the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article. 

1. What have they learned from their first fight?

It's a rare combination when a fighter underestimates his opponent's speed and power, but that's exactly what happened to Froch in their first encounter, with Groves dominating the early action with fast and hard counter right hands. Groves clearly targeted Froch's lazy and pawing jabs and punished him with power shots. The first three rounds were a train wreck for Froch, who was just trying to survive. Short of getting knocked out early on Saturday (which Groves has predicted), it's tough for Froch to have a worse start than he did last November. 

As their first bout continued into the middle rounds, Groves started to slip. His conditioning waned and when he was hurt in the ninth, he didn't tie up like he should have. Perhaps the early pace sapped his energy or Froch's body shots eventually paid their dividends, but Groves in rounds eight and nine scarcely resembled the fighter who dominated the fight's opening moments. 

For the rematch, Froch has to be far more purposeful with his punches and movement. He gets into bad habits on occasion by throwing ineffectual jabs, not returning his hands quickly enough to a responsible defensive position and relying on his machismo instead of sound strategy. He is certainly capable of boxing or slugging, using his feet or fighting in the trenches; however, he has to commit to his punches and his game plan. 

Groves needs to understand that boxing can often be a marathon and not necessarily a sprint. He certainly tried to end the fight early last November. But instead of transitioning from brawling to boxing, he doubled down on going for the knockout, eating a lot of shots along the way. Having a viable Plan B for the rematch would serve him well. 

2. Will Groves use his athletic advantages?

Watching the first bout, I felt that Groves was fighting Froch's fight. What I mean is that he decided to slug it out in the ring at close or mid-range instead of using his faster hands and feet to pile up points. Froch was used to 12-round wars but it was clear that Groves lacked some of the key elements needed for that style of combat, such as knowing how to survive and when to take breaks. 

Froch certainly can't match Groves' hand speed or his athletic ability. But will Groves capitalize on this or will he give Froch opportunities by entering into a toe-to-toe battle? It's seems ridiculous that Groves, with his speed, allowed Froch to land so many body shots in the first fight, but that's precisely what happened. I think that it's an easier path to victory for Groves if he boxes and moves, but will he fight intelligently or continue to be knockout-happy? This approach has already resulted in his first loss and it may continue to haunt him on Saturday. By using his athleticism, he limits Froch's opportunities and takes less punishment. That makes sense to me, but we'll see. 

3. Froch must avoid fighting at mid-range.

It's clear that Groves has all sorts of advantages in the pocket. Groves can score with jabs or lead right hands and he can also counter very well with his right hand or left hook. Froch started out their first fight at mid-range and paid a heavy price. 

For the rematch, Froch has to be in or out. He boxed masterfully against Arthur Abraham from the outside and destroyed Lucian Bute by rushing in from the outside and battering him along the ropes. Those strategies could work well for Froch on Saturday. He also could have success in a phone-booth war, where his savage body punching could have a pronounced effect. Again, anywhere but mid-range he has a chance. 

4. Body punching.

This was Froch's secret weapon in the first fight. From the fourth round on, Froch wasn't necessarily trying to win rounds as much as he was hoping to slow Groves down with left hooks and right hands to the body. The strategy was certainly effective and body punching will be a big component of his fight plan for the rematch. It's still unclear if Groves has the stamina to go 12 hard rounds and Froch will certainly test that out. 

Groves also has a fantastic left hook to the body. He didn't really use it in the first fight as he was essentially monomaniacal in his quest for an early knockout. Andre Ward showed that Froch could be vulnerable on the inside by crowding him, grappling and hitting him consistently to the body. Groves would do well to adapt elements of that approach. A consistent body attack will also make him less predictable and keep Froch guessing. Whoever wins the body punching battle might very well take the fight. 

5. Intelligence.

Froch can get sloppy but I have yet to see him beat himself in the ring. His losses to Ward and Kessler could not be attributed to mental lapses or bad decision making. He was beaten by better men; it happens. 

Froch has one of the truly great cornermen in the game with Robert McCracken, who came up with brilliant strategies to beat Abraham, Bute and Kessler in the rematch. Groves' trainer, Paddy Fitzpatrick, had a startling game plan for the first fight. While everyone expected Groves to box, the fighter instead came out slugging and almost scored the early knockout. It was some brilliant stuff from Fitzpatrick. Still, one has the sense that the trainer and boxer let the fight get away from them. 

Groves' previous trainer, Adam Booth, is known for his clever game plans, conditioning and reliance on boxing. The latter two of those elements were clearly missing from Groves' performance in the first fight. Although Booth may not have implemented the audacious game plan that Fitzpatrick did, he most likely would have applied a more risk-adverse strategy that could have given Groves a better way to win. Remember, it was Booth who helped guide Groves past the heavily favored James DeGale.

On Saturday, Groves will no longer have the element of surprise. Froch and McCracken will have another training camp to plan for him; they will have seen lots of film. Groves showed in the first fight that he wasn't great at making adjustments. Has he since matured? Is he now more receptive to his corner? Is he willing to take the less sexy path to victory or will he still fight guns blazing, regardless of its effectiveness? 


I'll be honest with you. I have flipped twice with my pick. Initially when the rematch was announced, I leaned toward Froch because I liked the way he was able to turn the tide of momentum in the first fight. He showed veteran savvy and a refusal to panic under duress. 

However, the more I thought about it...I said to myself it's not as if Froch is going to get any faster or younger. Groves has so many natural advantages in the matchup. If he uses them, surely he could take a decision victory. 

And here's where the problem comes in. To me, Groves hasn't yet shown the discipline or the ability to make adjustments needed to beat Froch without knocking him out. A smarter fighter, one who is more calm under pressure, would have comported himself better in that ninth round last year. It's not that Groves got hurt which was the problem; it's how he reacted to it. 

Sure, it's certainly possible that Groves can knock out Froch in the rematch. But Froch has found ways to survive in the past against big punchers and I'm not sure if Groves will have nearly the same opportunity to end it as he did in the first fight. I have a feeling that Froch and McCracken will put together an excellent game plan for the rematch, limiting Groves' strengths. And I also believe that they will be the ones who make the better adjustments during the fight. Ultimately, I see Froch securing a razor-thin victory. I'm taking the fighter who doesn't beat himself. 

Carl Froch defeats George Groves by split decision. 

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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