At a time when Anthony Joshua is vying to become the new face of the heavyweight division, David Haye is embarking on his own Cinderella story and Amir Khan and Kell Brook are flirting with the idea of sparking a rivalry that defines a generation, the fuse on British boxing's current boom was actually lit on November 23rd 2013.
Carl Froch changed the game after his first encounter with George Groves. The Nottingham fighter started his climb towards to success at a time when terrestrial television was still scared to invest in boxing after Audley Harrison put viewers to sleep instead of his opponents. He earned the respect and love of the sweet science's hardcore fans behind the Sky Sports paywall – winning four world titles with a crowd-pleasing attitude of 'work hard, punch harder' – but it was this domestic rivalry with an unfancied 25-year-old from Hammersmith that finally captured the imagination of elusive casual fans.
For six rounds in Manchester on November 23rd, rank outsider Groves channeled his inner Rocky Balboa, flooring Froch within three minutes and schooling the WBA and IBF super-middleweight champion. That didn't last and Froch taught the watching world all about his warrior spirit, winning the fight and retaining his titles via a controversial ninth round stoppage. When referee Howard Foster decided Groves could take no further punishment, he was winning the fight ahead of Froch on the cards of all three judges.
Knowing the British public loves an underdog story, Matchroom promoter and British boxing supremo Eddie Hearn chased a rematch and Froch vs Groves II was set for Wembley Stadium on May 31st 2014. The rivalry and dislike between the two men was very real and in front of 80,000 fans, the rematch became the biggest fight Britain had seen in the post-war era. For the first time since Lennox Lewis held the world heavyweight title, British boxing had a global buzz and it all started on that mild summer's night.
18 months since knocking out Groves with the Punch of the Year and hanging up his gloves for the final time, Carl Froch caught up with Complex to talk about British boxing's new dawn, the Anthony Joshua hype train and the science of a superfight.
It's coming up to two years since you last stepped inside a ring. Do you still box, even casually?
I do hardly any boxing. I do a bit of shadow boxing and maybe once a week I'll hit the heavy bag in my gym at home but what I do now is a lot of swimming. I'm swimming half a mile two or three times a week in my 20-metre pool and weightlifting as well, I'm trying to put some size on. I've been 12 stone for 20 years - I'm now just over 13 stone. I'm naturally slim and I think it's why I had such a great career because in a weight-dependant sport I never struggled to make the weight, I was able to finish strong over a 12 round fight.
I never cheated on nutrition, I always had a really good diet and I always supplemented well - that's a massive factor in any sport. Even in everyday life, if people are just going to the gym recreationally, they'll have targets in mind and if you're not supplementing correctly or concentrating on your diet, you're wasting your time.
Footballers are famous for hating pre-season training and boxers must have that same sort of emotion at the start of every fight camp…
I think I’ve always enjoyed the training and I’ve always enjoyed boxing, even when I was a kid I was fascinated by hitting someone and being able to not get hit back, to score your points and not get caught. I’ve always enjoyed it up until the last couple of fights where I really felt the training and wasn’t recovering as quick because I was older. Every morning I was aching and trying to put my socks on was hard work sometimes.
So up until the last couple of fights, I never hated the pre-camp. I had a two week pre-camp and a 12 week fight camp. I enjoyed every day of it until the last part of my career, when it became hard work – it was never really hard work until then. I think Winston Churchill said if you find a job you enjoy doing, you never a work another day in your life and that’s how I felt.
"I’ll never be able to replace the feeling of standing victorious in the ring, that’s never going to happen again and I’m never going to fight again." – Carl froch
You dedicated 20 years of your life to boxing. What do you miss most about the sport?
I’ll never be able to replace the feeling of standing victorious in the ring, that’s never going to happen again and I’m never going to fight again. You get that accolade and a feeling you can’t describe for two weeks, two months or – in the case of boxing George Groves – almost two years. I’m still smiling about it, not because it’s a grudge match or a fight that I won, but because I love boxing and the accolades that come with being put on a pedestal for working hard and grafting. You get rewarded for hard work, as you do in most things in life, but because you’re on your own in boxing – it’s an individual sport – it’s more special.
Luckily I’ve got a young family that brings me so much joy and I would no longer put myself in a risky position that means I couldn’t see my kids. I don’t actually think boxing is a particularly dangerous sport, I wouldn’t even put it in the top ten of dangerous sports, but that’s only if you take it seriously. Whenever I stepped into the ring I was well hydrated, I was at the right weight and I was prepared. It wasn’t a dangerous sport for me. I won four world titles, got beat twice – but avenged one of those losses – and the other loss was on points to someone who was unbeaten in Andre Ward. I had a comfortable, successful career and it wasn’t through natural ability but through dedication and hard work.
Your fight with George Groves at Wembley probably ignited the British boxing boom we’re seeing right now...
I think it’s a really exciting time, we’ve got about 13 world champions. James DeGale is operating mainly out in America so people aren’t really seeing what he’s got,Frampton versus Quigg is a huge fight that everyone’s excited about, David Haye is back in the heavyweight division, Anthony Joshua is fighting for a world title and the sport’s in a great spot.
Boxing goes through peaks and troughs. Football is always interesting and there’s a structure but boxing is more dependent on individuals, it’s about who’s fighting where and how many world champions we have. At the minute, we’re in a peak, following on from my fight at Wembley. I don’t know if I really inspired young fighters or made the boxing world sit up and take note…but everyone is talking about who is going to fill Wembley next. Is it Amir Khan vs Kell Brook? David Haye vs Anthony Joshua? Tyson Fury vs Wladimir Klitschko? There’s suddenly a lot of options. I’m proud to be able to say I was the first to fight at Wembley stadium in front of that many fans and how that’s become the benchmark for a lot of people.
It was certainly the biggest boxing spectacle that this post-Tyson generation has seen.
Certainly, it’s the biggest fight in post-war history. It shows boxing is in a really good state. People say that boxing is dying and mixed martial arts is coming through, which it is, but it’s a different audience. People are barbaric by nature and as human beings, we want to see a tear up, we like to see someone get knocked out. As much as you still get people saying it’s not medically safe and it’s not humane, we’re hunter-predators and we like a fight. I go to Nottingham Panthers vs Sheffield Steelers and it’s always packed – that’s not because people love ice hockey in this country – it’s because they always have a scrap and people love to watch a fight.
"I envy Anthony Joshua in some respects because of what he’s achieved and I think he’ll go on to dominate the sport." – Carl froch
Which fighter do you back to match your feat of selling out Wembley?
I think Anthony Joshua. He’s becoming a big star and he’s fighting for a world title next, he’s captured the public’s imagination. Everyone is behind him and everyone loves a big heavyweight, especially an Olympic champion. I know him personally and he really is a genuine, honest guy. He comes from nothing, as most fighters do, and they’re humble because they appreciate the chance they’ve got in life. It’s all through hard work and his Olympic gold medal came easy enough for him after such a short time of being an amateur. It’s something I didn’t do and I envy Anthony Joshua in some respects because of what he’s achieved and I think he’ll go on to dominate the sport. He’s in a tough division where one punch can end it all but right now, the sky is the limit for him. Anthony Joshua vs Tyson Fury could be a big, big fight – or somebody like David Haye. If David can have a couple more fights and convince the people he’s back and is what he says he is, that fight could be really interesting.
To fill Wembley Stadium, you need some ingredients and some history. If you look at what George Groves and myself had, leading up to Wembley, you couldn’t have written the script any better. There was this young, obnoxious, cocky kid against the old veteran, a proven warrior. I was respectful, but being disrespected, and then I got my arse kicked in the first fight. I was put down in round one and hit with everything for the next six rounds but I was still there. I was drawing from my experience and he was blowing out of his arse, looking to his corner for help. By rounds eight and nine he was in deep water getting hit with heavy shots and the referee actually saved him.
From that, we had the build up to the rematch. All the animosity was genuine and the first fight was so close, it had an inconclusive finish…that’s why it filled Wembley stadium. You can’t just say Anthony Joshua or David Haye will, you need to crossover into a whole new audience. It’s not the boxing fan that fills Wembley stadium, it’s the armchair fan that gets out of the armchair and says ‘I want to be part of that event’. It might be a once in a lifetime thing, that’s why it made history.
Every big fight seems to have a ‘The Gloves Are Off’ special these days where two fighters come face to face. It’s popular amongst boxing fans for the intensity it can bring – how surreal is it to sit opposite a guy you’re going to war with just days later?
It’s quite nerve-racking. You turn up, he turns up. You’ve got your team, they’ve got theirs and you’re thrown into this room, which really is the first time you’ll see each other. It’s genuine. You’ve got Johnny Nelson trying to wind you up as nicely as he can, and it’s very tense. It’s a little bit like an interrogation but you’re being filmed so you’ve got to watch what you say. You’re biting your tongue at the same time as trying to win an argument and get people interested, which is difficult. It’s an awkward and horrible situation but you’re trying to sell pay-per-views so you tell yourself it’s good for the sport and good for your wages. It’s not very nice, to be honest, and I don’t think it’s that enjoyable.
I enjoyed the one with Groves for the Wembley rematch because he was so stuck for words and I managed to rag doll him when he squeezed my hands. I thought ‘I’ve got one up on you there son’ and that’s actually quite important, it’s an early opportunity to get one up on your opponent.
Finally, news broke recently that you’re looking to break into acting. Is that really what’s next for Carl Froch?
I’ve been waiting for funding to come in for ‘Once Upon a Time in London’, a film with Terry Stone who is a British producer. Recently, Jason Statham’s name has been chucked in the mix because I mentioned it on the radio but that’s not far down the line. It’s exciting to think I might be playing alongside someone like Jason Statham but that’s in the very early stages of development. I’m reading the script and I’ve got a guaranteed part in the film, but nothing else has been confirmed yet. I’d love to try acting, look at what Vinnie Jones has done! Why not me?
MaxiNutrition athlete, Carl Froch, spoke during the filming of a new Training Day film series alongside comedian Lee Nelson. For more information, visit www.youtube.com/maxinutrition.