In front of 80,000 expectant fans tonight at Wembley Stadium, London, Nottingham’s Carl Froch hopefully brought to an end all the vicious and vile criticism that has been aimed at him in the past seven months, by flattening his tormentor George Groves in the eighth round with one of the cleanest right hands he has ever thrown.
In victory, Froch, 33-2 (24), retained his IBF and WBA-Super world super-middleweight belts and still found time to propose to his long-time partner Rachael Cordingly, in centre ring after the fight. The biggest night in the boxing calendar for many a year, in the U.K. at least, thankfully went off smoothly and successfully, with no controversy damaging the sport for once.
This rematch of the notorious “premature stoppage” contest of last November had made the whole country sit up and take notice. Although it was far less dramatic than the first fight, it was tight and tense all the way through. It was palpable how much respect they both had for each other as the early rounds passed with little action, but saw both fighters fencing with the left jab and probing for openings. All of the first four rounds could conceivably have been scored either way, but I thought that the occasional clean rights being landed by Groves, 19-2 (15), were nicking him an early lead. He clearly had no intention of getting involved in a fire-fight with Froch but to utilise his superior speed and skills in aiming for a points victory. For periods in the fight it looked as though he was on track to do so.
However, in the fifth and sixth rounds, Froch started to take control, getting in close, landing his power shots to both head and body and trapping Groves on the ropes several times. Groves bobbed and weaved and occasionally threw back but was getting caught dangerously often for comfort. Never at any stage in their first fight had Froch managed this measure of control. It was as though the first fight had never happened. Groves came back well in the seventh though, consistently landing his jab to the head and the chest of Froch, who was unable to get untracked in this round. Indeed, a hybrid left jab-hook shot from Groves sent Carl back on his heels and for a split second he looked a bit wobbly. Groves was also getting the better of the inside work in this round and it seemed as though his conservation of energy in the early rounds this time around was about to see him take over.
Once again in the eighth, Groves was boxing well and looked ready to take control for the first time in the fight. Then it happened. Groves got careless, as he had done in the first fight, and found himself on the ropes with his guard nowhere to be seen. Froch sent that booming right hand over and nearly took St. George’s head off his shoulders. Groves was catapulted into the ropes and flat onto his back. American referee Charlie Fitch knelt to start the count but once he had seen the devastation the punch had heaped upon Groves, he immediately waved it over. Groves, a tremendously proud and brave man, immediately pushed the ref off him and sprung to his feet, but there was no argument and histrionics this time. In fact, George was still wobbling around on his feet about a minute later and had to be given oxygen whilst sitting on his stool before he could cross the ring to congratulate the champion.
A fight that had drawn boos from the massive crowd on three separate occasions was therefore salvaged by the stunning and savage finish. It thankfully meant that no one could go home complaining. Such a conclusive ending ensured that everyone got their money’s worth, which was so important on a crucial night for boxing. Our sport has the annoying habit of shooting itself in the foot more often than not. Tonight, though, everything was perfect. The weather was good, the undercard was entertaining and the main event did not let us down. If the fight had gone the distance it is highly conceivable that any decision would have been argued over long and loud. This writer had Groves two points up at the end, whilst I understand that two of the judges had Froch in front and the other edged it to Groves. Let us be thankful for Carl’s dynamite right then.
Some were calling for Froch to retire after the fight. It will not get any better than this for him, and he admitted as much himself. However, he clearly has no intention of hanging up his gloves and spoke of his desire to fight in Las Vegas – his one remaining ambition. Mexican hero Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. looks the favourite to be Carl’s next opponent. Yet another massive night lies in store for the amazing Mr. Froch, whose resume just gets better and better. As for Groves, it is feasible that he might never fully recover from this devastating defeat to such a bitter rival. It can no longer be denied that there is a fragility to George which could forever prevent him from fulfilling his huge potential.
The chief support on this unforgettable night was James DeGale, 19-1 (13), who became mandatory challenger for Froch’s IBF title by blasting out previously undefeated American Brandon Gonzales, 18-1-1 (10). With such interest in the main event, there was no way that anybody was going to steal the show from the headliners. DeGale very nearly did so though, putting in his best performance for ages, and possibly ever as a professional, in destroying the fringe contender from the U.S. To be honest, Gonzales was an ideal opponent for DeGale. Despite his undefeated record, the American, trained by Virgil Hunter, is really just a workmanlike type. He does not carry a big punch and is not a particularly skilled boxer. He has reached his level with hard work and consistent effort. He was made to order for the flashy, fast and stylish Olympic gold medallist from Harlesden.
Going in, there was some intrigue though, as worse fighters than Gonzales have given DeGale difficult evenings. Injuries have clearly held back “Chunky” over the past couple of years though and he now claims to be fully fit and injury free. This was shown tonight as he boxed superbly from the opening bell. DeGale rocked his man back in the first round with one of those looping lefts that he likes to throw from the southpaw stance. The writing was already on the wall. Gonzales did well to steady the ship in the second round but in the third was already being hit by three, four and even five punch combinations from the Londoner.
It got even better for James as he put his man down hard in the fourth with a clean combination. Gonzales did get up but as soon as DeGale landed another couple of shots, referee Steve Gray jumped in to stop the fight. The stoppage was very premature as Gonzales had his gloves up at the time and was defending himself. This merely took the gloss off what was inevitably going to be a stoppage victory for DeGale in any event. As we later saw from Carl Froch’s post-fight interview, it is unlikely that DeGale will get the match with Froch that his mandatory contender status now warrants. What it does mean though is that Froch will have to vacate that belt and that James will fight for the vacant title. He is one of the best super-middleweights in the world and fully deserves his imminent opportunity. What is ironic too is that despite the publicity and huge purse that his great rival Groves got for tonight’s effort, DeGale has now moved ahead of him for the first time on the world stage.
Another fighter who will be kicking himself in the morning is Congo-born Canadian Ghislain Maduma, 16-1 (10), who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory when he fell apart whilst just yards from the finishing line after dominating Londoner Kevin Mitchell, 38-2 (28), for the vast majority of their fight. The boxers were meeting in a final eliminator for the IBF lightweight title, held by long time champion Miguel Vazquez of Mexico. Maduma came to London with an undefeated record, but with very little known about him due to the poor quality of his previous opposition. Right from the start though, he looked the business, landing lightning-fast left jabs to the face of the unsuspecting Mitchell. His shots obviously carried more speed than power, as he landed flush with every punch in the book during the fight, but never once budged Mitchell. What he did though was to make Mitchell very reticent to throw his own shots, as he knew he would be caught with three or four counters each time he did so.
Round after round went by with Mitchell looking bemused and seemingly having no answer to the young African. Maduma was showing no signs of his inexperience and looked like a new star in the lightweight division. At last, in the seventh and eighth, Mitchell got a foothold in the fight. Maduma went to sleep and Mitchell was finally landing his own jab and managed to get onto the front foot for the first time in the fight. Maduma seemed gassed out, but this clearly was not the case, as he wrested back control in the ninth and tenth rounds, once again catching Mitchell with flush right handers over the top. All looked lost for Mitch when suddenly Maduma appeared to be spent in round 11. Mitchell seized his chance and relentlessly attacked his man. Maduma went to the canvas twice, not from any particular punch but more from apparent exhaustion. The referee rightly stopped it after the second knockdown as Maduma had lost his legs.
This was virtually “the great escape” for Mitchell. He stated in the post-fight interview that he had “come on bundles” in training. It certainly did not seem that way during the fight. He looked old and worn. His opponent lost the fight rather than Kevin winning it. Due to failing to make the check-weight on the morning of the fight, Mitchell also put his newly-won mandatory challenger position in jeopardy. Due to Vazquez having few options though, expect Mitchell’s promoter Eddie Hearn to still secure that title fight for his man. If he performs then in the same manner as he did tonight, he will not win a round from the smooth boxing champion.
Doncaster’s Jamie McDonnell, 24-2-1 (11), won the vacant WBA bantamweight title on the card when he stopped limited Thai opponent Tabtimdaeng Na Rachawat, 52-3 (34), in the tenth round. Of course, this is the second major championship belt that Jamie has won in his division and he had little difficulty in doing so. The Thai was strong and persistent and carried a decent body attack into the ring with him. That is pretty much all he did bring though, and the fleet footed McDonnell won virtually every round as he picked his man off on the way in. It was a nicely disciplined performance from McDonnell, not getting involved with the strong Asian on the inside, but changing direction nicely and never letting Na Rachawat get set.
The last few rounds were a bit processional as it became obvious that Na Rachawat had nothing with which to beat McDonnell. Jamie ended it in style though when out of the blue he landed a sweeping left hook which exploded perfectly on the chin and sent the tough Thai to the canvas. He managed to get up but his legs were all over the place and the referee rightly stopped the fight there and then. Aside from the two best fighters in the weight class, Anselmo Moreno and Shinsuke Yamanaka, there is little depth to the bantamweights. Boxing politics will preclude a rematch for Jamie with old rival Stuart Hall, who defends the IBF belt next week against another Brit Paul Butler. Jamie will be hoping for a Paul Butler win therefore, for a potential future domestic unification clash. Alternatively, Jamie may soon move up to super-bantamweight in order to chase a fight with other world class Brits Carl Frampton or Scott Quigg.
Overall, this was a sensational night for British boxing. One that will be talked about for years and years. Credit has to go to the promoter Eddie Hearn, for putting the sport so firmly back into the public domain. It has taken Hearn less than four years, since his entry into big time boxing with the Audley Harrison-David Haye fight, to reach dominance in the U.K. It has been a massive achievement for him and his team and despite many begrudging his favoured position as Sky television’s sole promoter, an unbiased overview would have to say that he is doing a wonderful job for the sport.