• Carl Froch v George Groves

Manchester is used to rivalry - but not like this

Rob Bartlett
November 21, 2013
George Groves is lightning quick - as Noe Gonzalez found out in May © Getty Images

He may never admit it, but there will be a moment - however slight it may be - on Saturday night when George Groves will stare across the ring in Manchester and catch the eyes of Carl Froch. The final 'can I do this' moment.

The first bell is tolled, the Cobra rises; their dance begins. Regardless of all the talent that Groves possesses, there will still be the uneasy, albeit incredibly brief, flutter of anxiety when he gazes directly across the canvas.

"This is George's first big fight," Mikkel Kessler, Froch's last opponent, told ESPN. "He's going to get a lot of nerves and thoughts of 'can I do it' or 'am I good enough', but he just needs to believe in himself."

Kessler is right. For WBA and IBF super-middleweight champion Froch has come through his fair share of wars. He is well-versed in fighting to the bitter end or, in the case of his last battle with the Dane in May, a bitter-sweet end.

Froch never gives up, even when all appears to be lost. He may bide his time in the ring but, like the animal he prides himself after, he has the experience and precision of knowing exactly when to strike.

Groves has oozed confidence in front of the press but, if this bout is to go the full 12 rounds, he will be stepping right into the Cobra's lair.

Carl Froch knows a thing or two about winning world titles © Getty Images

"Carl has been in big wars, and we've been waiting for about three years now for Carl to suddenly blow up and get tired," ESPN boxing expert Steve Bunce points out.

"It may just be that Carl Froch is one of those fighters that come along every now and again who are like Superman - Joe Calzaghe was like that.

"Carl doesn't cut any corners, he does everything right and if you look at moments in his last fight - moments in that fight, that was the best Carl Froch. He was brilliant in that fight."

In truth, the Nottingham fighter's two engaging epics with Kessler, his great friend but even greater foe, wouldn't have looked out of place on a misty mound of the nearby Pennines. However, in Groves, Froch faces a different beast.

Now the opponent is a younger, arguably hungrier predator than Kessler. Like Froch, Kessler holds a wily experience of knowing what it takes to be world champion; knowing how to defend a prize at all costs.

But he has no doubt that inside Groves is a ravenous desire to devour the Cobra; he's thriving from the confidence of an unbeaten apprenticeship and now he's ready to move up the food chain.

"He has to be fast and, after seeing my last fight against Carl and seeing the mistakes I made, he has to correct them," Kessler said. "But of course, he is a different fighter than I am. But I think he has a victory in him.

"He's very hungry and, like me, Carl has had some rough fights over the past few years. I think that will be good for Groves because he's on a different [younger] level. It's his first big fight, he will want to show everybody he's very hungry but I know Carl doesn't want to give up anything. He's [Carl] a very good fighter, he's been training hard and he has more experience now, more than Groves.

"Maybe that's the negative side for Groves. It will be a big pressure for him that night. Like I said, he'll have big nerves. There's going to be a lot of fans around him - so it's going to be a huge fight but he has to try to come down and think about how he should stick to his game plan."

There is no doubt Groves is already in Froch's head. The champion looked visibly rattled when they traded verbal spats on Sky Sports' Ringside, where Groves mocked Froch for appearing emotional. Eddie Hearn, promoter for both, didn't really know where to look.

Groves is fast, too - lightning quick. Froch will have seen the devastating right hook the Londoner unleashed on Noe Gonzalez in May, the one which earned him a fifth round knockout on the undercard of Froch-Kessler II at London's O2 Arena. One which, arguably, earned him a title shot.

Speed, combined with Groves' size, is a mighty arsenal which poses a huge threat to Froch's reign as pack leader. However, it is another attribute of his challenger that Froch will have to be wary of: his brain.

"I just think he will be a bit surprised by just how determined George is, how brave George is, how fast George is, how relentless George is," Bunce notes.

"Froch hates people who suddenly start doing different things and moving their feet - and George has got a good brain. George has got a really good brain, and Froch needs to take, dominate and control.

The idea that Froch is going to blow Groves away, I find really strange
ESPN boxing expert Steve Bunce

"That's hard, if the person in the opposite corner is shifting and changing things. That's what Froch found out in both fights with Mikkel Kessler."

Bunce indicated he is in a minority of those who believe Groves will beat Froch, but he isn't alone. Kessler agrees, as does Virgil Hunter - trainer of Andre Ward, the only other fighter to have successfully slayed Froch.

"I'm picking him [Groves] to beat Froch and I don't consider it an upset," Hunter recently told Boxingscene.com. "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 [Ward's] blueprint to beat Froch."

Bunce concurs: "Froch doesn't take people out, you know? The idea that he's going to blow George away, I find really strange. He's a guy that breaks people down and gets to them. He's a distance fighter that can get an inside a distance stoppage.

"It's a little bit ridiculous to suggest it's going to be easy. Big George will have trained for it. The tactic is quite simply, don't leave yourself in range and work slightly more than Froch."

The weaponry is there, the mentality is there and the sheer willingness is there. Groves can beat Froch but, as Bunce suggested, it will be a much closer fight than people may think.

Froch loves a battle - and that is exactly what Groves will see in his opponent's eyes on Saturday night, as a brief flutter of the unknown disappears.

© Getty Images

Download ESPN's new UK sport app, a fresh and powerful new way to follow your favourite UK sports news, scores and video.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd