Drama, brutality, guts and pride. Saturday night encompassed everything we love and loath about boxing, as fight fans were left with a sour, dissatisfying conclusion after 9 pulsating rounds of action. Once again in a high profile fight, controversy brought to the forefront of the sport's attention. Overshadowing the sheer spectacle of the event as British and worldwide boxing fans alike were robbed of a decisive ending in what proved to be a classic super middleweight affair in Manchester.
Carl Froch retained his IBF and WBA world titles after recovering from being put down in round 1 to stop challenger George Groves in a highly disputed ending in the 9th round of their respected championship bout. Groves, ahead on all 3 judges scorecards at the time of the stoppage, was visibly distraught at referee Howard Foster's premature stoppage as he called for a rematch.
The Hammersmith man, who entered the ring to a rapture of boos from the partisan crowd, earned a standing ovation for his efforts, raising his hand in defeat. The post-fight reception for the official Foster, however, not so warm. Raising awareness to a consistent trend in British officiating, in which this particular writer has been vocal on in recent years- the realisation that British referee's are overly cautious, often waving fights off far too prematurely.
Weeks of boiling tension and verbal sparring culminated into an explosion of drama in the very opening round, with the seemingly indestructible chin of the champion Froch being tested early- crashing to the canvas after being tagged with a monster right hand from Groves during a punch exchange. Few ring observers and experts alike gave the challenger any chance heading into the bout. Yet succeeding in his pre-fight promise of pushing the champion back, Groves had his man in survival mode as the bell sounded for the end of the 1st round.
A unrelenting battle of will proceeded the next few rounds, in which power punches were traded frequently, tantalising the taste buds of the blood thirsty crowd showing their appreciation throughout. Groves taking on the role of aggressor, pushed Froch back as he appeared to land at will with the right hand over the top. Stiffening the legs of his opponent as he cracked Carl with the more eye catching blows heading into the middle rounds. The Nottingham native appeared to lose faith in his jab as Groves continued to dominate, showing great poise in picking off Froch with fierce counters in an imposing combination of calculation and malice.
However the IBF and WBA kingpin reminded the boxing fraternity of the heart he possesses, digging deep in his efforts to claw back the substantial lead on the cards he had given away early in the fight. Groves was caught on numerous occasions holding his feet in front of the champion, with Froch taking advantage in clubbing his man with roundhouse hooks, often penetrating the tight guard of Groves. The two fighters would trade vengeful glares as each man headed back to their corners at the end of the round, as you got the sense that the champion had recuperated from the early beating and was beginning to slowly brake George Groves down.
What was about to unfold in the 9th round, with the challenger seemingly leading in a fight he had dominated for large portions, would be the topic of heated debate. Froch pressing the matter further, had his man hurt for the first time after a barrage of punches backed Groves up onto the ropes. The crowd was on their feet in sheer intrigue at just how the undefeated Groves would deal with the adversary he was faced with, when Howard Foster appeared to panic, waving off the bout far too prematurely to the disgust of the rampant supporters and Groves himself.
The bashful expression on Foster's face as he raised Froch's hand said it all. It's a taboo debate, and one in which nobody in British boxing wants to actively address. Tragedies like the case of Michael Watson, and more recently Frankie Leal and Magomed Abdusalamov (who is still in a medically induced coma following his fight earlier this month) are scenario's boxing as a whole, are striving to prevent.
However for the good of the sport there HAS to be a common ground that can be regularly met. Between the two extreme ends of the spectrum in the case of Abdusalamov and last nights events, that both ensures boxer's safety, yet allows their months of hard work to not be so abruptly spoilt by rash, overly eager stoppages from referee's.
British officials have a notorious reputation worldwide for bearing on the side of safety a little too much, and as a British fight fan myself, it often feels like as soon as a fighter is in trouble for the first time the fight is in danger of being stopped. The reality of this matter is that legendary and enthralling fights like Gatti-Ward- fights that are good for the sport, are becoming less likely in British boxing due to the incompetence of our domestic officiating.
Would Howard Foster have waved off Corrales-Castillo in the 10th when Diego Corrales was floored for the second time, preventing him from making a heroic comeback and gracing the fight fraternity with one of the best rounds in boxing history? Arturo Gatti when he was grimacing with pain from a body shot in the 9th against Micky Ward? It's a reoccurring theme that continues to frustrate fight fans, and sadly takes a big event like Saturday night's to bring the issue to the forefront of mainstream attention.
Froch vs. Groves captured the imagination of the sporting world, and eagerly anticipated match-ups like this need to be settled decisively. It's conceivable that Groves may not have seen the 9th round out, but at the very least another 10 seconds was required by the referee to accurately assess just how hurt George was, and whether he could've continued or not. Sadly, as the years go by the event will be remembered for the bad stoppage, rather than the fantastic display both guys put up for the paying customers. A rematch now looks the logical and likely next step.
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