As a record 80,000 crowd took their seats at Wembley Stadium for the biggest British fight of the 21st century, a considerable percentage of them wondered if IBF and WBA super-middleweight champion Carl Froch was in the ‘twilight’ of his run as one of the top boxers around.
As it turns out, Froch-Groves II was indeed the ‘Twilight’ of Froch’s career – but in a very different sense.
You will remember the Twilight Saga films from recent years – a series of romantic novel adaptations which actually yielded a mediocre critical reception, and yet exploded into a pop culture phenomenon which raked in billions of pounds.
Why? Simple: #TeamJacob v #TeamEdward – that’s why.
Whether it be in a big fight, soppy romance movies or even a simple office wager on a game of ‘get the paper ball into the waste bin’, nothing attracts a crowd and whips up a frenzy quite like a good old-fashioned ‘us vs them’ amphitheatre.
Of course, the world of sport remains the foremost home of this tribal allure. Look at football. Look at the almost-militant duelling support tennis fans lend to contests such as Federer versus Nadal. And you need not look any further than Froch-Groves II.
#TeamCobra and #TeamSaintGG banners and merchandise littered Wembley Way as this writer arrived on location on Saturday afternoon. Twitter seemed unable to decide between either those corporate-endorsed hashtags or the more simple #TeamFroch and #TeamGroves labels. Either way, Britain was strictly ‘us’ or ‘them’ on May 31.
Two weeks beforehand at the same venue, the annual tradition of the FA Cup final brought much of the same, as it has for many moons. You were either red and white, or orange and black. For that one day, fans felt they were playing alongside either Arsenal or Hull, winning or losing a major trophy with them.
Eddie Hearn on Saturday managed to successfully transfer that incomparable feeling into the formerly-flagging sport of professional pugilism.
Whenever either man appeared on the stadium’s big screens during a very good undercard, the atmosphere amped up from tepid and restless to rabid and electric in a mere seconds. Allegiance sounded split down the middle, though for each the boos were more piercing than the support.
It’s a shame, in fact, that a supporting card which featured another Brit in Jamie McDonnell winning a second world title, James DeGale re-arriving on the big stage in some style and Olympic hero Anthony Joshua’s latest explosive developmental triumph was such an afterthought. But this was always going to be a one-fight show.
Only Froch and Groves’s names on the marquee attracted such a following that boxing records as old as 81 years were shattered. Such a following that didn’t care if it couldn’t make out most of the action from their view up in the tiered seats, as long as they could bask in the moment.
So much so in fact, that it’s easy to forget that amid the ‘two tribes’ euphoria, there was a sporting contest being decided. Fortunately, a tiny pocket of us attendees wore no hashtag-covered apparel. We had a job to do; a fight to call.
Sure – we’d all predicted winners. Eurosport Roundtable contains this website’s pre-bout picks, for instance. Our honest thoughts were as split as the casual fans’ Twilight-esque allegiance. Half of us got it right, half of us wrong. And that’s why it was always going to be a cracking contest.
Indeed, unlike the Twilight films, Froch-Groves II delivered artistically.
While not as gripping as their surprise cracker last November in Manchester, it was littered with high-quality boxing and simmered nicely to a superb finish – something the first bout lacked – as Froch registered the best knockout of his career, and one of the best hits in recent years to finally humble his bitter rival.
Of course, that didn’t stop some fans in attendance from booing when as much as five seconds transpired without a punch landing. But while the record crowd of 80,000 wanted to be entertained in their ‘us v them’ arena, the two gentlemen who brought them there in the first place were in no mood to risk losing the biggest fight of their lives just to satisfy the public’s whims. One false move would have proved so costly - as Groves was to discover.
What also made it a great fight was just how polarising it was.
Moreso than any other sport, boxing divides the viewer as to exactly what should constitute a winning effort, especially if it goes the distance. That many fans and experts alike wildly disagreed on the first seven rounds should be regarded a success, not a failure.
Alas, history as always is written by the winners. Thus, when the smoke from the post-fight pyrotechnics cleared and ‘The Cobra’ emerged with his two titles intact, the consensus of the preceding action suddenly switched from about 50-50 to around 90% confidently boasting that Carl was two or three rounds up, and that his victory was never in doubt.
Yeah. Pull the other one.
This writer can see why anyone would have either fighter 4-3 ahead going into that decisive eighth round, but any viewpoint wider than that appears to have been seduced by the manner in which Froch finished Groves off.
Ultimately, if ‘Saint’ George was on the Wembley pitch for its true purpose, he would have lost a close football match 1-0 to the goal of the season. That’s how good Froch’s killer finish was.
I had Groves narrowly ahead by only the preceding round. And while Froch littered the fight with his trademark flurries of 10-12 shots aimed at the midsection, many found nothing but gloves and arms. While that succeeded in whipping the Wembley crowd back to fever pitch, it only succeeds in winning rounds if you graduated from the ‘CJ Ross School of Boxing Appraisal’.
That said, the roles were reversed from the first bout. Froch v Groves was always a story of battle-hardened warrior v technical prowess, no matter which instalment. That will constantly favour the technician on the scorecards when landing clean shots is king, but unlike in Manchester when Froch had to shake off the shock and his misconceptions of Groves to rally late on, this time he always knew the latter stages were for him. And it felt as though George knew it too.
With one rousing right, a huge night in the history of British fight sports was in the books. But while disputes will rage on about the finer mechanics of the bout, my advice is to leave that fantastic ‘us v them’ atmosphere back at Wembley, where it belongs.
Whether you were #TeamFroch or #TeamGroves, we all enjoyed a historic sporting evening – and a world-class contest between two reasons to be proud of English sport, even if the Three Lions crash out of the forthcoming World Cup at the group stage. More importantly, we did so together, as one.
Drunken revellers, sober purists, internet trolls and prediction-tweakers alike have one thing about Froch-Groves II they simply cannot argue over – it delivered a British sporting spectacle we will remember fondly for years to come.
Liam Happe | Follow on Twitter @liamhappe
- Sports & Recreation
- Carl Froch