The Pugilist

George Groves’ big night rendered bittersweet by inconsistent officiating

The Pugilist

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Judging by the reactions to the all-British world super-middleweight title fight in Manchester, few boxers have ever exemplified how to ‘win in defeat’ quite like George Groves.

Groves was not fancied by many to dethrone Carl Froch in his very first world title opportunity, with his biggest wins in his 19 previous bouts coming against James DeGale and an ageing Glen Johnson.

IBF and WBA champion Froch, meanwhile, a man who has taken on the very best in his division and only lost twice in a long and exciting career, was heavily fancied to wipe the floor with his upstart compatriot. Leading those who believed it would be one-sided, of course, was Froch himself.

But Groves, who made his ring walk to boos from a Manchester crowd eager to back the proven entity in the evening’s main event, ended up turning those doubters, Froch included, into believers. The initially-jeered Londoner left the ring to cheers, having scored an extremely rare knockdown on ‘The Cobra’.

The bout established ‘Saint’ George not only as a legitimate world title contender, but as Britain’s newest ‘name’ boxer and a respected and popular fighter.

But though Groves did indeed gain a lot from the controversial ninth-round stoppage defeat to Froch, try telling him that.

Two of the three judges had Groves up by just one round, which to me (and many other longtime boxing reporters) suggested that CJ Ross isn’t the only delusional judge in the sport. Four rounds up plus the early knockdown was a more accurate reflection – a considerable lead over the double world champ even if Froch was a lock to take round nine, had it completed.

It did not complete because Groves was withdrawn from the fight by referee Howard Foster in the midst of his first truly troubling period of an otherwise excellent showing against one of the world’s top 10 pound-for-pound warriors.

Though, as evidenced by the reaction on the night, many are in unison in deeming Foster’s decision a travesty, there remains a pocket of viewers who feel the premature stoppage only prevented Froch from ending the bout for real.

Perhaps the early stoppage spared Groves from serious damage. But then, perhaps the early stoppage denied him the chance to learn from his mistakes and see out his lead for the win and the titles on points. Though who knows what the judges would have ruled, had it gone all 12.

We’ll never know. The closest we will get to deciding a clear winner is if we do get a rematch. And while the prospect of seeing Froch and Groves tear the house down once again is a great one, it’s going to be tough for the challenger to get November 23 out of his mind.

He did his part. He performed admirably well, with the exception of that round nine danger period where he attempted to keep engaging a rallying Froch rather than keeping him at bay and buying time, as a veteran fighter surely would have.

But while 20,000 live fans and many more via pay-per-view had been converted from doubters to believers, it seems the referee and the majority swing of the scoring committee still lacked faith in Groves’ ability.

Why the referee? Why wasn’t Foster just considering the boxer’s safety above all else? Simple. Froch was considerably dazed after the early knockdown. He claimed post-fight that he struggled to even remember it. And in round six, he was in serious bother before admirably fighting his way out.

He was afforded the opportunity to rally back. But Groves was sped out of there faster than a parcel on ‘next day delivery’. Perhaps Froch’s reputation as a hard man preceded him, while the untested Groves does not have such a reputation for being able to soak it up.

If that’s the case, it’s unacceptable inconsistency and lop-sidedness at such a high level of any sport.

So while Groves made a believer out of a lot of people in his maiden world title crack, it appears those who matter still have their doubts. While he definitely deserves a rematch, who is to say he will be allowed to win or lose that one decisively, either?

Sadly, there’s an underlying doubt that the rematch will happen at all.

We’ve seen countless instances in the past of opponents’ desire for a return bout being dictated by what they would have to gain. On paper, Froch scored a big TKO win against a domestic rival, when in fact he looked rather ordinary and struggled at times before scoring a controversial win. What does he have to gain from battling the hungry Groves a second time?

Lennox Lewis retired rather than fight Vitali Klitschko again. I doubt Froch will pack it in any time soon, but it's very likely he'll fancy a second fight with Andre Ward over one with George.

While I’d like to assume that the ‘fighting champion’ persona Froch takes great pride in means he will not brush aside a possible conclusive bout with his compatriot, it’s difficult to be so certain that he is indeed keen on settling the score once and for all, under the circumstances.

After all, Froch insisted that the stoppage was the right call, when it is unfeasible to imagine him feeling the same way if Foster jumped in that eagerly in rounds one or six. He constantly referred to the ‘silly things’ Groves said about him after the bout was signed elsewhere in his long, painful post-bout interview next to his despondent opponent, completely forgetting the disparaging remarks he had for Groves in a Eurosport-Yahoo! exclusive interview with me before the two even agreed to meet.

And let’s not forget Froch’s overall disdain at such an unworthy, unproven challenger, in his eyes, having the audacity to challenge him – despite the haunting similarities the scenario had to a young Froch’s constant pursuit of Joe Calzaghe.

Indeed, with the response Froch’s never-ending comments drew from the Manchester crowd souring by the second until he begrudgingly threw in a few respectful words and uttered the word ‘rematch’ to get the punters onside again, it was as if the two completed a total 180 from hero to villain and vice versa in the space of one exhilarating hour.

Pro wrestlers Bret 'Hitman' Hart and 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin would have been proud of such a 'double-turn'.

For that reason alone, Froch-Groves II would be a sight to behold, even if it failed to match the lofty standards set by their first barnstorming bout. No doubt the anticipation would be higher, and predictions would be a little more reasoned.

Until it’s confirmed, however, we must hope that Froch does not contradict himself again and agrees to give Groves, now a proven world championship contender, a second opportunity.

No matter how the first fight would or could have ended had it continued, Groves at the very least deserves another shot.

Liam Happe | Follow on Twitter

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