On May 26, 2012, Carl Froch underwent a transformation.
Nobody would have noticed it at the time, as the focus was firmly on Froch’s IBF super-middleweight championship win against Lucian Bute.
A shade over two years later, however, and it’s apparent in hindsight that we have seen a different ‘Cobra’ since that date.
His reputation before that bout was one of the best in the business. A tough, hardened, determined competitor, Froch was never one for the sport’s very common fear of ‘risky’ fights. He wanted the toughest possible challenges, and as a result his career defeats to Mikkel Kessler and Andre Ward hardly harmed his reputation at all.
His quest for career-defining wars and willingness to lay it all on the line in a high-stakes contest made him one of Britain’s most popular boxers. And we’re a fickle lot.
Not only that, but he became a rare, legitimate box office draw in a domestic era which lacked the Nigel Benns, the Chris Eubanks, the Ricky Hattons and the Joe Calzaghes and as a result was at an indifferent low.
It’s not as though becoming world champion was the trigger for this. It was, after all, his third world title. And it’s not like he had just arrived on the big stage with his superb five-round destruction of the fancied Canadian-Romanian – his resume was already rather glittering, thanks largely to the Super Six tournament.
And yet, that Bute fight will forever be remembered as a genesis of sorts for Froch.
Heading into the Bute fight, fans and writers alike were almost unanimous that the outcome would determine whether Froch really was one of Britain’s – and the world’s – finest, or if he would always be remembered as little more than a very entertaining B+ student. Many had their money on the latter.
After he proved the nay-sayers wrong, it was as if Froch achieved something that, in his mind, he hadn’t in his previous 30 professional bouts.
He had two prior world title reigns, he had the fame, he had the money, he had the beautiful wife and loving family. And yet, Froch came across as unfulfilled, until May 26, 2012.
Prior to that day, Carl Froch appeared to feel forever beneath the very top of the mountain. And he wanted to be up there, sticking a flag into the summit, so badly.
Post-Bute, it appeared as if Carl felt he had proven his worth to the entire boxing community. His thirst for a challenge was now optional, rather than the voice in his head driving him mad until he got it done.
Once relentless in his pursuit of a challenge, he was now only determined to reinforce his status as top dog - and as a result, paranoid of anyone who in any way, shape or form posed a threat to his legacy.
He made short work of Yusaf Mack later that year in a bout many hoped would be against Adonis Stevenson, who since then has moved up to light-heavyweight and become one of the most exciting fighters going, winning a world title at that weight class instead.
One year ago, the Froch of old was back – because he had a score to settle. He avenged his first career loss to Kessler at the O2 Arena in another cracking battle between the two. Was the defeat the sole motivator for the bout? It may have been, after Froch stated his intention after the bout to get revenge on Andre Ward next.
Froch wanted to re-write the parts of his long and arduous path to the top that he wasn't quite so proud of. Namely, his two career defeats.
It was almost a year to the day of the post-Bute genesis that many began to wonder if Froch would hang up the gloves after doing just that (or at least try to, in Ward’s case). However, that very night saw the super-middleweight scene take another turn.
In chief support to Froch-Kessler II, George Groves hammered Noe Gonzalez Alcoba in five rounds – just like Froch against Bute – to put two years of career stalling under Frank Warren behind him and joined Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom stable – meaning Froch had company.
Whether fair or not, Groves' path to a world title shot was far smoother than Froch's had been. As Carl repeatedly puts across in interviews, George hadn't beaten anyone ranked in the top 15 by any governing body prior to getting the crack at the titles.
But if that really meant Froch did not regard Groves as a threat to the 'spot' in the sport he grafted so hard to make his own, there wouldn't have been such a chip on his shoulder whenever Groves was mentioned.
For the past year after hammering Bute, Froch had been behaving more ‘alpha male’ than ‘hungry warrior’- and it showed in his thoughts on Groves back in March 2013 when he spoke to yours truly:
“If Froch v Groves was made tomorrow, most people would say – and some are already saying – that it would be a mis-match and that I would ruin him. And I would.”
When the fight was announced, it was even more apparent Froch did not appreciate being in such a scenario with someone he felt was beneath him. Some would say it was even more apparent that Froch underestimated ‘Saint’ George when Groves knocked him down in the first round.
His outcry at Groves’ wind-up tactics is all well and good, but before the two were even matched up Froch was at it himself. And what brought on this attitude from a man who just years before was in Groves’ position, enthusiastically harrassing Joe Calzaghe for an opportunity?
It appears that when Froch looks at Groves, he sees himself. His younger self. The Froch who didn’t have everything – and wanted it all. No wonder Carl cannot stand him.
The most driven, ambitious people tend to run on an engine of self-loathing and dissatisfaction. Everything they achieve is forgotten, everything left on the to-do list amplified.
You get the impression that, deep down, Froch looks back at his professional career from 2002 to 2012 with disdain. The sacrifices he had to make to get where he felt he belonged - as the top lion in the jungle - aren't always a badge of honour to those who earn their status.
On May 26, 2012, Carl Froch did away with his drive of negativity and sat proudly on top of the British pile. I doubt he wants to have to endure the climb again.
Groves proved in Manchester last November he is definitely a threat. A very real threat. And if he can pull off the win in the Wembley rematch, it’s highly likely the Londoner’s vow to “retire” Froch from boxing will be realised.
Groves told Sky that Froch’s age (he turns 37 in July) means defeat will be the end. But age is a number – just ask 49-year-old world champion Bernard Hopkins.
Froch spent a decade travelling the world, taking on all comers and combating the doubters as well as his own thirst for perfection in order to earn two years as ‘alpha male’.
It’s hard to see him accepting so much as a day back amongst the other animals, if the young lion does knock him off his perch on Saturday.
Liam Happe | Follow on Twitter @liamhappe
- Sports & Recreation
- Carl Froch
- George Groves
- Lucian Bute