When George Groves (19-0, 15 KOs) was first announced as WBA and IBF super-middleweight champion Carl Froch’s next opponent back in September, few were giving the ‘Saint’ much chance of upsetting his compatriot in Manchester on November 23.
Most felt that a fight of this magnitude had come too soon for the talented Groves, the reigning British and Commonwealth champion, who has yet to face an elite opponent in his prime.
And then came the Londoner’s acrimonious split from long-time trainer Adam Booth, who had guided the 25-year-old to 19 victories without defeat since he joined the professional ranks under the Hayemaker Promotions banner in November 2008.
Booth’s influence in Groves’ burgeoning career cannot be underestimated, and his sharp tactical brain helped his young charge prevail over 2008 Olympic Gold medallist and arch-nemesis James DeGale in a breakout performance at London’s O2 Arena in May 2011.
Groves boxed on the back foot for much of the fight, with a bewildered DeGale struggling to land any meaningful punches as his former amateur clubmate earned a close majority decision win.
Booth’s replacement, the unheralded Irishman Paddy Fitzpatrick, will at least offer continuity having worked in Groves’ corner in the past in his role Booth’s assistant. But the bitter split with his former mentor can’t have helped his preparations and led many to dismiss Groves’ hopes of pulling an upset.
“I am extremely happy to name Paddy Fitzpatrick as my new trainer going into what is the biggest fight of my life,” he said after his appointment in late September.
“Paddy and I have worked closely together in the past and already have a very good relationship, one built over many years.
“Not only has he worked my corner for important fights, we have also spent a lot of time together when abroad on training camps, where Paddy has overseen a number of significant sessions.”
After his star-making performance against DeGale to claim the British title, Groves built up a sizeable following fighting on his stablemate David Haye’ s undercards before jumping ship to join Frank Warren’s stable in a bid to earn that elusive world title shot.
However, despite Warren getting him some exposure in the United States on the undercard of the Robert Guerrero v Selcuk Adyin bout in July 2012 – knocking out tough Mexican Francisco Sierra in a crowd-pleasing slugfest – Groves apparently grew frustrated with his inactivity under the veteran matchmaker and yet again chose to change promoter in a bid to kick-start his stalling career.
It proved to be a masterstroke on Groves’ part, as under the stewardship of Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn he has quickly blossomed into one of the rising stars of the super-middleweight division, chalking up impressive victories over veteran Glen Johnson and former world title challenger Noe Gonzalez Alcoba as well as several other stay-busy wins over lesser opposition.
The move to Matchroom also gave Groves the leverage he needed in his pursuit of world honours. After the IBF installed Groves as the mandatory challenger to stablemate and former sparring partner Carl Froch (31-2, 22 KOs) – whom he had angered in May by helping Froch’s opponent Mikkel Kessler prepare for their rematch – the Londoner made it clear to Hearn that he had no intention of giving up his hard-earned title shot.
From a business standpoint, Hearn was understandably reluctant to pit his rising star against his established champion, but Groves badly wanted the fight and gave his promoter no option but to strike a deal with the 36-year-old veteran. Froch, meanwhile, ruled out giving up his IBF strap to avoid fighting his countryman and promotional stablemate, and the fight was quickly signed, much to delight of British fans starved of meaningful domestic clashes in recent years.
Although Froch has dismissed Groves’ credentials and suggested he’s not done enough in his career to warrant a world title opportunity, ‘the Cobra’ has been visibly riled by his younger foe in their joint TV appearances and admits he is taking the ‘Saint’ “very, very seriously”.
“I am taking it very, very seriously and George Groves is in a world of trouble,” Froch told Sky Sports.
“He is going to get an absolute shock on Saturday night because, not only am I going to beat him, I am going to beat him in spectacular fashion and potentially end his career. He is not going to see that one coming.
“Hopefully he is super fit and has been training hard, so his legs will be stronger, so when I do start to connect on his chin – and I will start to connect on his chin – hopefully he doesn’t fall over straight away.
“George Groves can’t take a shot, so as soon as I start smacking him on the chin his legs are going to turn to Bambi, he is going to be all over the shop.”
Despite his pre-bout bravado, Froch would be a fool to take Groves lightly. The ‘Saint’ is a formidable talent who possesses thunderous power and a high boxing IQ. Eleven years Froch’s junior, Groves is already a more versatile fighter than the ‘Cobra’, equally adept at boxing and moving as standing and trading in the centre of the ring.
Although he has been dropped and rocked several times in the pro ranks – as well as in sparring with Froch – he has always bounced back and finished the job. And what he lacks in experience, he more than makes up for in speed and technical ability. Froch has struggled mightily with slippery, technical fighters like Andre Dirrell and Andre Ward in the past, something which Groves’ camp will be acutely aware of when they devise a gameplan for Saturday night.
Although Froch is widely favoured to retain his belts on November 23, a few dissenting voices have emerged. Respected commentator Steve Bunce is tipping the Londoner to prevail on the night, while Virgil Hunter, trainer of Froch conqueror Ward, believes the younger man has what it takes to dethrone the seasoned champion.
“[Rather than criticising Ward] I think he [Froch] should focus on George Groves, because I’m picking him to beat Froch and I don’t consider it an upset,” Hunter said recently.
“I think Groves is the better fighter … That’s the bottom line. Groves has the tools to beat him. I think he is going to use our blueprint to beat Froch.”
Whether he chooses to follow Ward’s blueprint remains to be seen, but either way Groves is adamant he will shock the world and become Britain’s latest super-middleweight king on November 23.
Knockoutpunch prediction: Froch by TKO