The SJA’s first sports media lunch of 2014 provided plenty of punchlines. By STEVEN DOWNES
“I can manage myself,” George Groves told his hushed audience in an upstairs dining room of the trendy dining club in north London, where the SJA staged its latest sports media lunch yesterday. None among the two dozen or so journalists in the room, including some shrewd observers of boxing talent, had any reason to demur.
In 45 minutes – longer than most world title fights last these days – Groves had been on the front foot constantly, fending off all questions with disarming wit and charm. Groves’s audience, which included boxing reporters from the Mail, Express, the BBC and Independent on Sunday and more than one national sports editor, never had him on the ropes and he certainly never took one on the chin.
Carl Froch may have better luck at Wembley Stadium on May 31, though after listening to Groves, you’d doubt it. One thing the 26-year-old Londoner is not short on is confidence.
The first fight between Groves and Froch, controversially stopped in the champion’s favour in the ninth, did enough to sell 60,000 tickets for the re-match within a couple of hours. And Groves remains a compelling salesman for his own qualities in the ring.
“I’ll be a hundred times better than I was last time,” Groves told his rapt audience in his soco voce style, as he continued over the coffees and chilled Cabernet Sauvignon at the BT Sport-sponsored event to demolish Froch’s prospects with a verbal jab here and a upper-cut there.
“He’s in a terrible place,” Groves said, recalling his most recent meeting with the Nottingham-based champion, at the stadium venue to promote a contest that appears to require no promotion. “He says he can’t even stand to hear my name spoken and he couldn’t even look at me for the stare-down photographs which are part of being a professional these days and selling a fight.
“He’s seeking help from a sports psychologist because he’s in such a bad place.
“He’s got to hold together all the way down to the fight night, which will be in front of a massive crowd who are not all on his side this time,” Groves said, before adding this sharp punch-line, “… against a guy he can’t beat.”
Groves knows his worth, and that’s why he’s decided to take his own career into his own, long-fingered and gnarled knuckled hands. “I may not be the smartest man in west London but I do know how to read a spreadsheet, and if 80,000 people buy tickets, that brings in 5 million quid, then there’s the television and so on, and I’m not going to take a 100-grand purse.
“I know what I’m worth, and I know boxing. I’m a valuable commodity. I can negotiate for myself and keep my independence.
“I don’t trust anyone enough to manage my affairs.”
His verbal warm-up done, Groves was in the zone now. There’s no re-match clause in his contract for the Froch fight, and his career-long rival from his amateur days, James de Gale, is pursuing a world title through another of boxing’s international bodies. Groves would welcome another contest with de Gale: “We could have three belts at stake,” he said, before returning to his career spreadsheet, “He’s another pot for my pension.”
Groves has shown he is good at weighing up the risks of situations – his Froch re-match is the consequence of challenging referee Howard Foster’s controversial decision in the first fight and, effectively, getting the International Boxing Federation to overturn the man in the middle’s judgement. Even the most seasoned of boxing writers in the room could not recall an instance of that ever happening before.
And Groves learns from his experiences, too. So he does not want a British referee or judges on May 31. “I wouldn’t want to be a British referee reffing this fight,” Groves said. “I don’t want to have a British referee who might be accused of being biased in my favour.
“The British Board can have it’s chief steward or whatever they’re called, and they can have their bit of the wonga that way,” he said, having clearly started to find a way of bobbing and weaving through the internecine politics of his sport. “But the judges and the referee need to be from somewhere else, a much fairer system.”
And like all the best talkers and fighters, Groves was ready with his prediction. He tried not to be too disrespectful to Froch, now 36 and who has held a version of the world title for nearly six years. But Groves just could not help himself: “He’s good at what he does but it isn’t enough to compete with me.
“I have faster hands and feet than him, I have a better defence than him and I hit harder, hard enough to hurt him.
“The last fight took a lot out of him. He has been in tough battles before but he has never been hurt like he was in the last fight. He was hurt badly and looked lost for large periods.
“I don’t think there’s anything he can do differently. He can’t get quicker – certainly not quick enough – and, at 36, he won’t get any stronger.”
Groves is also an avid student of ringcraft. There’s a story that, about a year before his first bout with Froch, the two men sparred together. Froch put the Londoner down with some ease, which influenced him in taking the fight, an easy defence in prospect against a British challenger and another good pay-day. But Groves prepared by watching hours of videos of Froch’s previous fights, studying the champion’s strengths and weaknesses, analysing how to challenge him.
“Technically, he has never been the greatest fighter,” Groves said. “He throws an effective jab because he has a long reach, but he’s negative because he leans back with it.
“He waits for you to stand still then he wades in like a gunslinger, firing punches at waist height – like he’s hitting a heavy bag with no thought process. As long as I don’t stand there and let him tee off, he’s going to struggle. He has always found it tough against quick and skilful guys who are younger and fresher.
“He struggled the last time he fought me and he’s going to struggle even more this time.
“I’m striving for perfection this time.”
- The SJA’s sports media lunches, staged throughout the year with sportsmen and women, past and present stars, administrators, coaches and managers, are open to guests as well as members, and are sponsored by BT Sport
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