With the fight now so close you can smell it what more have we learnt about George Groves and Carl Froch? Mostly that the first fight was won and lost in the minds of the two combatants. The narrative runs something like this: Carl Froch kindly offered George Groves a shot at his title, the ungrateful upstart Groves disrespected Froch’s stellar record, Froch got his feelings hurt, Groves spotted the weakness, needled him at every opportunity, Froch lost his rag, decided that Groves was beneath him and as a result came into the fight assuming it would be a cakewalk. Come fight night Groves took advantage of a complacent Froch. So is that really what happened?
Plenty of people think so. Jim Watt says in the commentary that Froch is undone by taking Groves lightly. Fighters in general are great believers that once you’ve psyched out an opponent nothing else matters. Mike Tyson talked about his stare downs as if they were part of his training. “I keep my eyes on him and once I see him chink in his eyes, then boom, when he made his eyes move, I know I have him”. Likewise Sugar Ray Leonard in his autobiography talks about walking towards Marvin Hagler in the ring before their fight waiting to see who would budge first. Ray stayed put while Hagler altered course at the last possible second. “I was relieved.” he says “Hagler was mine.” Nigel Benn thanks hypnotist Paul McKenna after his extraordinary victory over Gerald McClellan. The consensus is clear: free your mind and the other fighter’s ass will follow.
And yet there are problems with that. Tyson didn’t beat his opponent because he won the stare down – he beat them because he was faster, hit harder and was a supreme technician. Leonard beat Hagler following a master gameplan to frustrate, confuse, flurry and run not because of some imagined psychological weakness in the champion. No one disputes that in an evenly matched contest intangibles like mental strength and will come into play but fights nearly always come down to a clash of styles and it was that clash that favoured George Groves in November and not the revisionist nonsense about Froch overlooking his opponent.
Tyson didn’t beat his opponent because he won the stare down – he beat them because he was faster, hit harder and was a supreme technician.
But that hasn’t stopped Carl Froch hiring a sports psychologist this time around. There’s nothing wrong with that of course. Plenty of top athletes in every major sport employ psychology professionals. Whatever edge you can get as a competitor you should take.
And yet it’s hard to shake the suspicion that the focus on the psychology of the fight will leave the fundamentals neglected. Carl Froch’s low-lying left-hand was helpless against Groves’s laserguided right. Groves fought beautifully off the front foot and the back. His footwork was superior and his speed advantage was stunning. The laws of physics aren’t going to change because a psychologist has you keeping your eye on the prize.
It’s not all doom and gloom for Froch. He looks in terrific shape, seems relaxed and showed in the first fight that he can hurt Groves. Even with everything against him the battle hardened champ was able to rattle the cage of his young tormentor and even though it was as bad a stoppage as you’ll ever see in a title fight he has every right to take encouragement from that. Don’t be under any illusions. Carl Froch can knock George Groves out.
But don’t kid yourself that this fight will be about who blinks first, who gets out of the way or who gets under the other’s skin. Fights are about styles and physics. And betting is about putting a number to the probability of something happening. George Groves at 2.3 on Betfair suggests a 43% chance of winning.
What would your psychologist suggest?