It was the fight that was going to hand Carl Froch the glue that would seal his boxing legacy. A domestic fight against a man eleven years his junior. George Groves had never fought for a world title, while this was Froch's eleventh consecutive world title fight. Froch: lightening-fast, hard as nails, granite-chinned with bombs in both hands. Our best pound-for-pound fighter who can count himself among only a handful of British boxers who went to America and won. And George Groves. Who'd lost Adam Booth, his trainer, a few weeks earlier because he was more interested in training David Haye, his now-retired stablemate. Groves. Unbeaten, but only so up to commonwealth level. A chin largely untested. Mortal enemy of James Degale, who thinks he's ugly, but whom Groves had beaten as an amateur and as a professional. But Degale is no Froch. Froch came second in a super middleweight contest to end all others: The Super Six World Boxing Classic, arguably the toughest boxing tournament in recent memory.
Froch vs. Groves. This was not so much a fight as a stepping stone for Froch. Or so Froch thought.
What could go wrong?
Well, (and to quote a Green Day lyric): everything and nothing all at once.
Everyone knew that Groves was a quality fighter, but no one thought he was capable of the display he put on at the MEN Arena. While 10.2 million viewers went Doctor Who crazy for the 50th anniversary episode, Manchester was hosting what would prove to be the best domestic - and most controversial fight - since the Benn-Eubank era.
Who could have predicted that Froch would have walked into a thunderous right hook towards the end of the first round? It led to only his second knockdown in his career. It was reminiscent of Calzaghe's clash with Chris Eubank. The young upstart floors the seasoned professional in the first. Eddie Hearn, who promotes both fighters, believes that Froch was unconscious when he hit the floor. Like Eubank did with Calzaghe, Froch smiled at Groves. Froch was able to beat the count and recover to get through the opening round.
When Groves laid out a round-by-round strategy at the pre-fight press conference, many believed it was a sign of overconfidence. But true to his word, Groves met Froch in the middle of the ring. Not only that, but he landed the cleaner shots and made "The Cobra" look two-dimensional and every one of his 36 years. Froch snatched a round or two along the way, but by the ninth, Groves was comfortably ahead on all the judges' scorecards.
To describe what came next, it's worth noting the turning tide of allegiance of the arena's fickle boxing supporters: Groves was booed when he entered the ring, but he was cheered when he left. The opposite was the case for Froch. But Froch had won.
Froch caught Groves with a flurry of punches and that was that: Howard Foster, the referee, decided that Groves was unfit to continue. Groves didn't seem hurt in the same way that Froch looked hurt in previous rounds, but the referee has the best view in the house, and the fight was stopped. But like all controversial stoppages, the debate as to whether Groves was stopped too soon will rage on. The name Howard Foster quickly became synonymous with bad decision-making.
If the fight hadn't been stopped, what would have happened? That's the big question. You only have to look at Carl Froch's fights with Jermaine Taylor, Glen Johnson and in particular Andre Dirrell to see that he comes into his own in the final championship rounds. Perhaps his vast experience would have given him the upper hand.
What remains to be seen is whether Carl Froch will agree to a rematch. The British public fell in love with George Groves on Saturday night. They saw his boxing heart and will demand it. The money will be there, but Froch has everything to lose. If he agrees to a rematch, be it before or after a rematch with Andre Ward, what will it achieve? If he wins, he won't really prove anything. But if he loses, it will confirm that in the winter of his boxing career, he's not even the best British super middleweight.
The full fight can be viewed here, but if you want to see the boxing spirit of George Groves, watch the video below. He is interviewed with bruised, puffy eyes shortly after the fight. It perfectly represents the passion that goes into boxing and is one of the most emotionally-charged interviews I've seen of a boxer.