Wednesday 21 March 2018

George Groves: Before a fight I am more like a serial killer

George Groves and Carl Froch face-off again this weekend
George Groves and Carl Froch face-off again this weekend

Robin Scott-Elliott

George Groves is miming packing a suitcase, or rather how to pack a suitcase in a hurry the Groves way.

The reimagined scene is a hotel room in New Jersey and Groves is a little worse for wear following an afternoon that stretched into an evening in an Irish bar across the road from the headquarters of the International Boxing Federation.

He sweeps up his clothes, crams them into the case and then dashes for the airport, catching his flight with minutes to spare.

The spur-of-the-moment celebration was to mark the IBF granting him a rematch against Carl Froch.

It is almost certainly the most important decision Groves has won in his career, and certainly a fairer one than the call made by the referee, Howard Foster, in the ninth round of their first meeting to stop the fight in Froch’s favour.

“We headed straight for the Irish bar across the road,” says Groves. “I don’t know what happened after that. We left the pub about four hours later! We were supposed to catch a flight to LA. It was the quickest pack I have ever done and we were off. I was hanging.”

On Saturday the verdict reached by the IBF’s panel brings the two together again. This time it will be at Wembley and close to 80,000 will be there to see it. Even if the hype surrounding a rematch between opponents who care little for each other is discounted, we are still left with a fight that is a big deal for British boxing, a throwback to the grand old days of packed football stadiums and national attention. The first 60,000 tickets sold in an hour.

“It’s iconic, it’s Wembley,” says Groves, himself a Londoner, born and bred in the west of the capital.

“When I go running up Primrose Hill you can see the arch. It’s a great thing and it’s a proud spot for London. The O2 arena has been a great place for boxing in recent years, there are the small hall shows and famous places like York Hall but you box there as an amateur. Those are something you become accustomed to. This will be a whole new stratosphere.”

It is a sphere, strato or otherwise, Groves has negotiated his own way into, both in and out of the ring. He has travelled light.

The 26-year-old manages himself alongside his lawyer, Neil Sibley, and trainer, Paddy Fitzpatrick. Groves sat down and did the deal for his cut at Wembley, just as he sat down and argued his case with the IBF.

He has now reached agreement with the German promoters Sauerland, a deal which begins after the Froch fight, having looked after himself since splitting with Adam Booth and Hayemaker, a parting Groves describes as “abrupt” and one that saw a “lot of trust lost”.

Groves says: “I wasn’t ready at that point to hand over so much trust to someone else, especially when I felt I was in such a valuable position in my career. I knew I could take care of myself, I knew I could get this rematch. I know how to read a spreadsheet, I know what I’m worth so I can go into meetings and say, ‘I get paid that much, thank you’. That stuff is easy.

“I successfully negotiated what’s been billed as the biggest British fight of all time. I did that all by myself. I can play poker when I have to and I think it has made me a better fighter.”

Carl Froch_!.jpg
Carl Froch pushes George Groves (right) on the Wembley pitch during a press conference at Wembley Stadium, London.

Having to fight his own fight has helped Groves move on from losing to Froch – not that he accepts he lost back in November. There was work to be done but nevertheless the loneliness of the fight game, where chances don’t come along often, gnawed at him. There were low moments before he could cross the road to that Irish bar.

“Certainly,” says Groves. “It is an individual sport and you don’t get many opportunities to overturn dodgy decisions. This could have set me back two or three years. We will beat Carl Froch the same as I did the first time and then be world champion and be in a position of power. But there were definitely times when you felt like…” He sucks in his breath then continues: “This is getting a bit too much. It’s tough you, know. You have to hold it together and there is only so often you want to hold it together."

This is a fight Groves insists he has been preparing for since the moment the previous encounter was interrupted but he also insists revenge – for all his willingness to stir things with Froch – is not his defining desire. Rather it is the belt that could be fastened around his middle.

“It will be a life-long goal achieved,” he says. “It will be a fantastic thing to become world champion and go down my amateur club with the belt, show it to the lads and my mum and dad – all those things you dream about for years on end, but until that stuff becomes a reality I try not to think about it because you end up winding yourself up.

“Beating Carl isn’t a motivation. Even righting the wrong, you can’t compare it as a motivation compared to the rest of it. It’s about winning and winning at all costs. I’m looking forward to my profile being raised more than beating Carl.”

Of Groves’ 19 professional fights, the two that have done most to raise his profile are the victory over James DeGale and the loss, his only loss, to Froch. Each was notable for bad blood in the build-up. Does he like to dislike his opponent?

Referee Howard Foster breaks up Carl Froch and George Groves

“I neither like or dislike. It sounds very arrogant but I don’t let emotion play a part in my performance. I’m not going to punch with anger. I punch because the punch is there to be taken; complete composure, emotionless. That’s clinical – that’s the serial killer mentality I was talking about."

The serial killer had come up earlier. We were talking about Wembley, walking out in front of all those people, the noise, the excitement and what it might be like for him as an experience. He starts talking about how he readies himself for a fight.

“I stop being a human being for the last five weeks [before a fight]. I’m more like a serial killer,” he says and laughs as if placing it in its sporting context. “You are preparing for a fight. You are preparing for war. You are preparing to win at all costs and come fight night you are never more in tune with what’s in front of you.

“It is hard to absorb the size of a crowd in the heat of a moment. You are focused on the fight. The guy in front of you is all your mind is on, that’s your primary objective, your target. You have a really heightened sense of emotion. You feel like you are walking a tightrope of joy and anger and sadness – you can feel it almost on your chest, but that’s great because it lets you know you’re living, lets you know you’re alive and your blood’s pumping and it’s when you get your best performances out. So as long as you learn to control it and contain it, take a steady breath and execute.”

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