The announcement of the iconic Wembley football stadium as the venue for George Groves’ second crack at Carl Froch’s IBF and WBA super-middleweight titles this week spoke volumes. [FULL STORY]
This isn’t just a great British boxing contest – Eddie Hearn and Matchroom are reaching for the sky.
Hearn himself has used words such as ‘audacious’ in describing his planning for Froch-Groves II, but those words will be replaced by superlatives if Wembley does indeed sell out and the two fighters provide a return bout as exciting as the first, only with a more conclusive finish.
So, ahead of tickets going on sale on Monday, it’s time to investigate every aspect of the contest and the road leading to it so that we can ask the big question: will Froch and Groves deliver the single biggest boxing showdown in British history?
To do so, we’ll break it down into several aspects in which they could possibly set new highs.
And we’ll start with the obvious one:
This is the first boxing event to be held at the ‘new’ Wembley. Its previous incarnation has a fair bit of heritage, however.
The famous venue of Cassius Clay’s engrossing victory over Henry Cooper in their first fight in front of 25,000, Wembley would attract 40,000 when Frank Bruno took on Tim Witherspoon in 1986 in a losing effort for Witherspoon’s WBA heavyweight title, made more impressive by the fact it was held in the early hours of British Summer Time to accommodate live Stateside broadcasting.
Across the island, however, the standard has been set more recently by Joe Calzaghe toppling Mikkel Kessler in front of over 50,000 at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff in 2007, and the current record rests with Ricky Hatton’s 2008 homecoming to defeat Juan Lazcano at the City of Manchester Stadium in front of 55,000.
Hearn is releasing 60,000 tickets on Monday, with a further 20,000 waiting for deployment if they’re required. He himself feels 60-70k is a realistic final figure – but it wouldn’t be enough to break every British boxing attendance record.
Back in July 1933, Ireland’s Jack Doyle and Welshman Jack Petersen contested the British heavyweight title at the 1908 Olympic Stadium in White City, London, in front of just over 70,000.
Records or no records, Matchroom will want a big a crowd as possible in order to maximise the atmosphere so that it fits the hype they’re placing on the contest. Without the aid of the intimate indoor acoustics found at Manchester Arena, they cannot afford to only half-fill Wembley or else the place will feel and sound flat, as several poorly-attended England friendlies have proven in the past.
A huge deciding factor, of course, will be cost.
The cheapest tickets will be £30 – reasonable by boxing standards – but these will be for seats in the upper tiers of the stadium.
From personal experience, witnessing a football or NFL match from such a view carries a certain charm to it – you wouldn’t spot a particular goal celebration from that far out, but the vantage point from an overall tactical position can be quite insightful.
Boxing, however, requires a good view of little nuances a great deal more than team sports on large playing fields. Hearn defended such seats by saying “there’ll be screens”, but there are also screens within the comfort of our homes, where the fight is on pay-per-view for just £15.
Nationwide interest in this event suggests PPV figures will not disappoint, either way. But if Froch-Groves II is to set a new standard at the gate, it will take more than that. Thankfully there’s one criteria in which it will have Doyle v Petersen beaten hands-down, surely.
2) Fight quality
The 19-year-old Doyle had, by some accounts, warmed up for his record-breaking 1933 showdown in a boozer local to the Olympic Stadium. When he realised he was in trouble within moments of the opening bell, he took the easy way out and got disqualified for repeated low punches. Those 70,000+ did not get a satisfactory end to their evening.
If we are to use Froch-Groves I as a measuring stick, that will not be an issue at Wembley. Regardless of how much any given attendee spends on their ticket, they’ll get their money’s worth if the rematch is anywhere near as exciting and physical as their first encounter. Even those with a poorer view will not miss out on everything from such a distance, provided the fight is as fierce as the first.
The one concern, of course, is how it finishes. Their first battle probably would have snatched some domestic fight of the year accolades at the death, had it come with a decisive conclusion. Instead, Froch’s stoppage win appeared premature compared to the fair knockdown count the champion received in the first round, and the (justified) leeway shown by the referee in the sixth when Groves had him rocked.
The debate over whether Froch would have properly finished the job had Howard Foster not dragged the challenger off in a headlock for taking a few heavy shots serves as the perfect fuel for interest in this second contest. But this cannot be dragged out. We need a proper outcome this time, whichever way it goes.
If my theory over the Manchester fight holds any water, we should be fine. It felt as though both the ref and the judges (who had Groves ahead by a lot less than just about everyone else in the country) afforded a lot more leverage to Froch based on the fact he is truly one of Britain’s toughest ever men, let alone boxers. It’s well established he can weather such shots as he did early on from Groves and rally back.
Groves, meanwhile, was widely predicted to be swept aside by Froch in November. Those preconceptions may have slipped into the minds of the officials back then, but now we will surely see the two treated more as equals by those with a huge bearing on the potential outcome.
Leave it to the fighters to decide their own fates, and as they showed in the first fight, they will not disappoint. But even if the bout goes down as one of the best contests of the decade so far, history dictates a rivalry’s legacy also goes a long way towards determining a bout’s value.
3) Grudge intensity
Ask any British boxing fan, diehard or casual, for a memorable moment in the sport’s domestic history and there’s more chance they’ll reply with ‘Benn and Eubank’ than a specific fight of theirs.
Boxing events are products we buy or choose not to buy. However, it’s the backstories that sell them to us. And nothing proves a more charming salesman than a gripping timeline of sheer animosity.
Don’t believe me? Just two years ago, Frank Warren proved just how right the above assertion is when he made far more success from Dereck Chisora and David Haye’s shameful German brawl than he had in years of stacked cards full of decent match-ups for the purist.
People directed vitriol at the unlicensed Chisora, mouthy Haye and loophole-exploiting Warren for confirming their Upton Park bout – and then directed their money towards the three of them come fight night.
Froch v Groves is a hot topic in all of sport, not just because of the hot first encounter and debatable finish, but because the two really cannot stand each other. Different in almost every way other than their determination to be regarded as the best around, the two continue to wind each other up, while condemning the other for doing the same – and we love it.
Will Froch v Groves ultimately be remembered as a better grudge than Benn v Eubank? That could depend a little on the above two criteria. But while a fantastic fight and a record-breaking attendance will sway the meter in favour of the modern super-middles, we may end up witnessing a pre-match ‘incident’ which puts it over the top.
Haye and Chisora rocketed to the tip of everyone’s tongues with their wild brawl. Mark Kaylor and Errol Christie’s potentially racially-aggravated casino car park tussle from 1985 remains fresh in the minds of many, even today.
Will the already-volatile relationship between Froch and Groves reach breaking point before May 31? And if it does, will it only increase national (perhaps global) interest?
4) The supporting cast
Undercards are a polarising topic. When many people spend money on boxing, they do so on the strength of the main event. How much, if any, sway does the strength of the undercard have on those who remain uncertain?
If you ask Bob Arum, undercards mean very little, if anything. Or, as he told Yahoo Sports, “people don’t give a **** about the undercard”.
To that extent, another rematch – Manny Pacquiao v Timothy Bradley on April 12 – will feature very little star power underneath it.
On the other hand, our friends at BoxRec News believe that those who do want to watch four great fights rather than just the one should be treated right, even if they are in the minority.
And, while Arum has a point about those masses who pay little attention to or skip entirely a card’s supporting bouts no matter how good they are, BoxRec are right: it’s better to satisfy the minority and waste on the majority than it is to leave anyone feeling short-changed.
Something all of these differing aspects have in common is that they sink or swim according to whether they sit well with the viewing public. To that extent, Hearn should attempt to stack the undercard as much as possible to ensure nobody can complain about it even if they aren’t watching it.
BoxRec have provided plenty of solid suggestions, and I will mention just one – the possibility of Martin Murray, now a free agent, linking up with Matchroom to challenge Felix Sturm in an ‘us-v-them’ chief support bout. It would have the same rematch theme as the main event, features another world title up for grabs and if Murray puts his 2011 draw frustrations right against Sturm, would bring the live crowd to boil just in time for the pièce de résistance.
After all of that in-depth analysis – also known in some circles as ‘waffle’ – I’ll lay all my cards on the table in the bottom line:
Should Froch-Groves II deliver the goods on all four of these counts – a record-setting attendance, a superb rematch with a clear winner, heated animosity in the build-up and a great undercard – it will be remembered as the single greatest night in British boxing history, by far.
There’s a lot of work to be done to make this happen, of course. But I’ll be watching with intent, and there’ll be plenty more of us keeping a close eye on Froch-Groves II up to and including May 31.
Liam Happe | Follow on Twitter @liamhappe
What do YOU think? Will Carl Froch and George Groves set a new standard for British boxing in their rematch? Which of the above areas do you think will succeed/fail? Have your say below…
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