CARL FROCH was angry, and he wanted to teach George Groves a lesson. For months before their November 2013 collision, the IBF and WBA super-middleweight champion had listened to his excitable rival question his career and achievements. Froch was certain, no matter what, he would win. Perhaps without realising it, he had allowed complacency to slip into his preparation.
“I was on the treadmills, I wasn’t outside running and I was taking a few shortcuts, doing a few things I shouldn’t have been doing,” Froch recalled. “But I’m a human being and perhaps it’s human nature not to take someone seriously. I just thought I had to start hitting him and he’d be gone.”
Of course, it didn’t quite work out like that. Blinded by red mist, and positioned like a precarious Jenga tower, Froch walked into a huge right hand in the opening round and was lucky to make it out of the session. Froch had a mountain to climb. His warrior instinct kicked in. By round nine, Groves, ahead but fading, was under pressure. The willing challenger was unsteady when referee Howard Foster prematurely threw his arms around Groves and signalled the fight was over. Froch’s arms were raised, but it was his opponent who handed out the lesson. The old man was determined to learn from his mistakes for their May 2015 rematch.
Stay in camp
For fight one Froch had been travelling from his Nottingham home to camp at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield – under the watchful eye of GB Boxing’s Performance Director Robert McCracken – and then back again, every day for the 12-week camp. He had never prepared like that for any fight. The only time he had stayed at home before – for the difficult 2009 Andre Dirrell encounter – he had been training only a few miles away, but for the young and unproven Groves, he was driving a long distance twice a day. It took its toll, and it is something Froch wouldn’t do again.
“I was at home every single night for the first Groves fight but for the second fight, I stayed in Sheffield,” Froch explained.
“It makes a massive difference for your mindset – it improves your rest and your recovery. I worked out how many hours I’d done on the road, driving, before that first fight. It was an hour there, and an hour back, five days a week for 12 weeks. It drains you before and after sparring.
“I should have been resting or doing something else. Some days I’d think to myself I’d do my circuit when I get home, then getting home having my dinner, playing with Rocco, my little boy, and then I can’t be a***d.
“Travelling back and forth, instead of staying on site makes a world of difference. Even just being around your missus and kids, when you should be around sweaty blokes who have just been sparring, can make your mind wander.
“Being around lads, in that masculine environment, rather than being in a lovey-dovey environment, makes a massive difference.”
McCracken concurs on the benefits of this approach: “Travelling up and down the motorway can be a complete pain, a 50-minute journey can take two hours sometimes and your mind is not on the job, you’re peed off, thinking about other things. Carl always works hard but mentally he didn’t really apply himself in the first Groves fight. He did the job properly the second time and destroyed him.”
Listen to your logic
Froch denied in the build-up that Groves had successfully messed with his head before their opening fight, but the champion’s performance suggested otherwise. “Have I really got to fight him again,” Froch joked when the rematch was announced. But it wasn’t a compliment to the challenger’s fighting prowess, it was reference to the young man’s mischievous mind games.
For the return, “The Cobra” employed GB sports psychologist, Chris Marshall, to ensure Groves’ antics would not cause havoc again. “I was staying in Sheffield,” Froch explained about his decision to use Marshall. “When you’re not travelling home, it can get boring when you get back to the base, or the hotel. I thought, ‘I’ll have a word with Chris Marshall.’ He basically told me how the mind works. It’s three simple things: logic, emotion and your sub-conscious. You listen to your emotion and your logic. He put it into context for me, it gave me a bit of focus and it ticked a few boxes. It gave structure to my training and my mindset.
“Basically, listen to your logic, and not your emotions, with every decision you make. It was something new for me, and taught me to monitor Groves’ comments, to not take them seriously, and not get involved in a psychological battle with someone who, really, is very immature, very obnoxious, and disrespectful. So it worked perfectly. But a lot of that was also because I’d been there, seen it, and done it with the d***head. So when I had the rematch I’d heard it all before, I don’t even know why I paid attention in the first place. I knew I wouldn’t pay attention the second time round because I was seeing Chris Marshall, and because I knew what he [Groves] was up to. I was in control of my emotions. I’m not going to let anger fuel my work, and fuel what I say, I’m just going to work on logic. The amygdala [a brain structure typically associated with primal responses] is going off, telling me there’s a danger, the danger is George Groves and the verbal that is coming out of his mouth; ignore it and move on. That’s what I did. Simple, but very effective.
“It doesn’t hurt sitting with him once a week and getting a few things off your chest, tell him how you feel, and how you’re progressing.”
Know your body
Froch has always been a meticulous trainer. Even for the first Groves battle, he trained hard. But his mind was not on the job. For the sequel, won via stunning one-punch knockout in round eight, everything was working perfectly. Articulate and wise, the young Froch studied Sports Science at Loughborough University and he has been learning ever since. Before each outing he listens to his body, and decides how to approach battle.
“It’s trial and error, and then it’s how I feel before a fight,” he divulged. “For the [Lucian] Bute fight, I knew I was strong because of things I’d done [in training] and I destroyed him. With Kessler, which was a 12-round grueller, I was probably lacking a bit of power. For the Groves [rematch] I added the baseball bat [smashed against a tyre], I did more work with the medicine ball, and introduced deadlifting into my strength circuit and I’m punching a lot harder now. That’s why
I knocked Groves out, flat on his back.
“If you can punch, you can punch. But if you add the deadlifting into your routine and work more on the wall slams with the medicine ball – the short, heavy stuff – then you’re going to develop more power.
“It depends on your body shape. Weight-wise for me, I can do weights and get stronger without putting any muscle bulk on because genetically, I’m very fortunate and I don’t struggle at the weight. What works for one person might not work for somebody else. Some people are skinny, and others are big and fat. It’s all down to genetics. We are what we are and that’s down to human nature.
“A cow sits in a field all day eating grass and look at the meat they’ve got. Look how big and strong they are, look at the muscles in their legs, and all they do is eat grass all day long. It’s because they are made like that. I’m made quite tall and slim and skinny, but very strong and robust.
“You’ve got to know your own body. I have been studying mine for years. I know how to get the best out of it. What works for me won’t work for everyone. You have to know what you’ve got, and make your strengths work for you. If you’ve got short levers, for example, it’s pointless getting behind the jab. Mike Tyson wasn’t a jab expert, he bobbed and weaved and got inside and tore you a new one. Whereas Ali would use his jab and move, be fast and light. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got.”
Get on your bike
In recent years, Froch has introduced cycling to his training. Some might suggest that cycling is an easy alternative to running, but the fighter ensures getting on his bike is a gruelling addition to his training programme, rather than a relaxing break from it. So on some mornings, before he begins his intense strength and conditioning workout, he will cycle rather than run. Here’s why:
“My runs are always mixed,” the 37-year-old begins. “I do five runs in a week and they range from hill sprints – they vary depending on the gradient of the hill – a flat sprint session, a long-distance run – no longer than six miles and I’ll do that in 40 minutes or under – and a three-miler.
“A good cycle would be a minimum of 20 miles, and I’ll do that in an hour. I usually cycle at 20mph but if there’s hills, that will break it up and it varies it. The hills help; go slow up them and get the heart and lungs working, get your arse off the saddle and pedal hard, powerful, and going down it’s pretty much freewheeling but make sure you work the hills. Work the sections on the flats, too. Get in a high gear, pedal like a motherf***** and get the heart and lungs going. People can make the mistake of making it too easy, just rolling, but sometimes I’ll fix it on a gear for 45 minutes, which means I can’t change gear and I can’t roll or freewheel. That’s a heavy session. On a fixed-gear bike you have to pedal all the time, and it’s hard work, even going downhill.”
Froch admits he found it tough to get out of bed on some mornings before the first Groves fight, but reiterates the importance of getting started on your routine early in the day, before you have eaten breakfast.
“Always early morning,” he says. “It’s important to get up and train early morning because it gets your metabolism going, and you’re doing it on an empty stomach so you’re not burning sugars or carbs, because you shouldn’t eat at night. You’re burning more body-fat, your metabolism is going and you’re getting your lazy arse out of bed. It makes you realise you’re
grafting getting up like that. You snooze, you lose.”
Trainer McCracken formed an admiration for shadow-boxing and its benefits at a young age. “When I was 17 years old – I’d started boxing at 16 – I watched [former pound-for-pound star] Donald Curry at my local amateur gym and he shadow-boxed for 30-40 minutes,” Robert recalls. “He was over here to fight Colin Jones. Azumah Nelson was over once too and spent the same amount of time on it; it was as important to them as sparring and bagwork.
“Boxing is not staged, it’s free-flowing, and shadow-boxing is all about honing your reactions, your shape, refining your upper-body movement and getting into a good rhythm. With Carl, it’s just really working on his shape and balance before and after he throws punches, because that’s when you’re at your most vulnerable. I sometimes have Carl shadow-boxing for 45 minutes”
McCracken reveals that while shadow-boxing is a regular part of the training routine for “The Cobra”, the pair only use the pads, on average, once a week. Rob feels this popular tool is overrated. “You watch Floyd Mayweather on the pads [the showy routine ‘Money’ practises] and it’s comical really,” McCracken laughs. “On the pads, you work on what shots are going to be coming at your boxer, I, as a trainer, replicate what the opponent is going to do and he’s defending and reacting. Younger fighters are ‘pad mad’ but we do very little, it’s more bag work, sparring, shadow.”
Review your performance
Froch’s life is in perfect working order. Financially secure with a beautiful family, one senses Froch leaves little to chance. Each pound he spends and earns is accounted for, and his mind is free from clutter. It’s the same way he approaches a fight. For a long time, the Nottingham boxer has recorded his training performance in a diary. At the end of a long hard camp, he will review his routines, his times and compare them to his preparation for previous camps. It has become an essential part of his routine.
“I started off putting it on my phone but in the end it was easier to write it down in my little book,” Carl reveals about his early camp diaries. “It made me feel good, looking back at what I’d done. So when I trained on a Tuesday, I could look back at what I’d done on the Monday and make sure all bases were covered. At the end of the week I could say, ‘Well I’ve done my runs, I’ve done all this.’ It gives me confidence that all that is in the bank. I always look back over my training diary. If I’m fighting next week, I’ll look back and make sure I’ve done those 40 runs. Sometimes I’ll see that I’ve actually done 42 runs, and realise I’ve done two more than when I boxed so-and-so. I can see that I’ve done runs in 35 minutes, which is my all-time best, so I can see I’m still hitting the targets even though I’m getting old. It keeps your mind switched on and it keeps you confident. The day I can’t hit targets, I’ll realise that the mind is willing but the body isn’t able.
“And I was on it really well for Groves. I broke a record on one of my longest runs. I was lifting more on the deadlift than ever so I knew I was punching harder than ever, and I was stronger than ever – hence Groves getting absolutely f****** flattened.”