Tuesday 17 October 2017

Froch desperate to secure star status

Young pretender Groves stands in way of bright lights

Gareth A Davies

In Carl Froch's view, there has been too often an indifference to his lofty achievements. But it was ever thus with British prize fighters. They are seen as just bruisers until they captivate the nation with an epic fight.

Ricky Hatton did it after facing Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Joe Calzaghe with Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones.

Tonight is different; it's an all-British affair to savour. Carl Froch, the 36-year-old World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation supermiddleweight champion against 25-year-old challenger George Groves – a genuine contest between two proud, impressive punchers in which anything could happen.

The enmity and struggle for supremacy across a generation harks back to the Chris Eubank-Nigel Benn era. These are two men who can box, fight, and talk.

London-born Groves, the IBF's mandatory challenger, has tried to get under the skin of his Nottingham opponent, who has come close to punching the young pretender at two of their news conferences.

He has held back because, essentially, he is a sportsman and a professional, and he is aware that this could be the fight to launch him as an authentic British sports star.

CONSECUTIVE

Despite 10 consecutive world title fights over the past five years, interviews with Jonathan Ross, and dancing on 'Stepping Out' with partner Rachael Cordingley, he is still not a mainstream figure.

But win tonight, and Las Vegas and a string of top American, Eastern European and Hispanic boxers await.

Timing, as we are reminded time and again, is everything in sport, but it has not worked so far for Froch.

There are numerous precedents of British boxers finding their way from the confines of the fight world into the hearts of the general British public. Witness Calzaghe, Hatton, Naseem Hamed, Lennox Lewis, Frank Bruno.

Go to the United States, though, where most of Froch's fights have taken place, and fans and the boxing fraternity rave about him. So, too, the television executives. Old school boxer, they say; stands and fights – just the kind of man they want.

This side of the Atlantic, it has been a different story although there has been the odd highlight. In 2008, five million people watched him on ITV engage in a 12-round war with Canada's Jean Pascal. It was a classic, backs-to-the-wall contest which lives in the mind even today.

Because of Froch, there has been a return to pay-per-view boxing events on Sky, while he has been the cornerstone of the burgeoning stable which promoter Eddie Hearn has built this year, with Sky Sports in support. It has been a fruitful arrangement. Now all Froch needs is the backing of the British public.

His irritation with some of Groves' antics at the news conferences is understandable, but the younger man could provided him with the perfect opportunity to make the statement he craves.

"The last thing you want to do is motivate someone who is already hugely motivated," said Hearn.

"George has made him more driven than he could be for any other opponent because of the switches that he flicked at the press conference."

Froch was like that with Calzaghe just over six years ago. "Carl knows that as well," added Hearn. "So that's what makes this fight intriguing. You've got a guy who's thirty-something against a guy who's twenty-something, one bloke could potentially be at the end, one's at the start, so it's a real crossroads fight, isn't it?"

There are question marks over Groves' chin. He was down – and in trouble – against Kenny Anderson in the third round of their Commonwealth supermiddleweight title fight three years ago but came back to win by stoppage in the sixth.

Groves has recently split with long-term trainer and manager Adam Booth, which could factor into this fight at some point. But he is talking a powerful game, describing Froch as a limited fighter with a great chin.

Froch's only blemishes were a defeat against Denmark's Mikkel Kessler and when he was outboxed by the American, Andre Ward, but he insists that retirement will enter his mind only when his body starts to tell him. "I listen to my body," he says.

But this could be a key staging post, the night when Froch finally achieves the glittering star status befitting the pragmatist with a terrifying pair of fists. It is time for him to deliver. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Carl Froch v George Groves,

Live, Sky Sports Box Office, from 6.0

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