August 12, 2014
August 12, 2014
Wembley

Feedspot followFeedly follow

“It’s a terrible business,” said one of the men responsible for staging what he called “the biggest British boxing event of all-time”. A sighed followed, then a shake of the head. Promoter Eddie Hearn elaborated, “It’s so hard to turn a profit on a regular Saturday Fight Night. If we didn’t have Froch-Groves 2, we wouldn’t have half the business we’ve got this year.”

It was tough to sympathise with a man knee-deep in a cash pile, but the promoter unquestionably feared a sophomore slump. The saga was over, a chapter closed, and history told him it wouldn’t get any easier from here. To the disappointment of us all, Carl Froch and George Groves were no longer entwined and a brief period of post-event mourning led to for fans, media and the promoter bracing themselves for an anticlimactic few months, if not years. After all, what could possibly top the incredible sight of 80,000 Britons filtering into Wembley Stadium on a balmy May evening to watch two bitter rivals conclude a compelling storyline they had first created back in November? Hard-nosed pessimists suggested it was all downhill from here.

But Hearn was different. He couldn’t afford to think that way. He couldn’t even afford to bask in the moment and marvel at what he helped produced. Before he knew it, his focus had turned from Saturday night to Monday morning. He was back on the phone. Fights were being made with renewed vigour and hope.

“That event made me think that the fights I thought were big could definitely do the numbers I was hoping,” he said. “A couple of months before I offered Amir Khan three million quid to fight Kell Brook. Those numbers are fine. Kell will get less but, as of now, he hasn’t done what Khan’s done.

“But seeing Froch-Groves 2 made me think I can offer a lot more. I know Brook-Khan would sell-out Old Trafford. I’m not sure about Wembley, because it doesn’t strike me as a London fight. If Brook beats Shawn Porter, though, it sells out a Wembley-sized venue.”

There are many reasons why Froch-Groves worked and many reasons why it was something of an anomaly in this day and age. Firstly, it worked because Carl Froch is rightly considered the best fighter in Great Britain today. He’s the closest thing we have to a bonafide world champion and, though not quite the number one in the division, remains unquestionably the biggest draw at super-middleweight in 2014. He’s also a guarantee. You know what you’re going to get from ‘The Cobra’ when purchasing a ticket to one of his fights. He rarely disappoints.

Secondly, George Groves has, in the last twelve months, established himself not only as a talented young contender, but arguably one of the most articulate and interesting characters in the game. He talks better than most, is able to create story-lines through his antics and, having learnt the tricks of selling a fight from David Haye, one of the sport’s very best salesmen, is fully aware of what it takes to flog a product to the masses. It’s an art lost on many. Even Froch, as great a champion as we’ve ever produced, has hardly embraced the idea of promoting himself and his fights in such a way. Instead, he prefers to let his fist do the talking. More often than not, they do.

Still, it was this combination that worked so well; Froch’s history and accomplishments paired with Groves’ intelligence and confidence. The clincher then arrived in the form of the super-middleweights’ first fight, which, in addition to being the domestic fight of 2013, was also shrouded in the kind of controversy that piqued the interest of the masses. It was the kind of controversy that appealed to an online generation caught up in conspiracy theories and video clips. In the on-demand era of the rewind and re-watch, no fight boasted better playback-ability than Froch-Groves 1. In time, the stoppage became a talking point, and social media sites welcomed the discussions and the hashtags. The rematch inevitably followed.

“It was the right product at the right time,” said Hearn. “Yes, we promoted it well, yes, Sky promoted it well, and yes, it had the controversy of the first fight, but, ultimately, it was just a great product. It was a great rivalry. Those two names belonged together. Brook-Khan has that same kind of feel to it.”

For now a fight between Amir Khan and Kell Brook lacks two of the key ingredients which made Froch-Groves such a perfect marriage. It lacks the authenticity of world title belts, the kind Froch brought to the party, and it’s also without a charismatic talker, someone who, like Groves, can press the right buttons at the right time and create sub-plots. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have other things going for it.

Should Brook defeat American Shawn Porter on August 16, he’ll have both a world title and plenty of momentum. His profile will receive a timely boost and he’ll be armed with something Khan may wish to nab at some point. Also, a fight between the pair carries some needle, which is often all-important, as the two have been going back and forth for a couple of years now. It has some back story. It has spice. Not only that, the fight itself is one that appeals for the simple fact that it will likely be aesthetically pleasing. Both men have styles that are easy on the eye; quick, explosive and athletic talents who like to throw punches in bunches and mix it up. Like any Carl Froch fight, drama and excitement in Brook-Khan is almost a certainty.

Encouragingly, it’s not the only domestic showdown that could do big numbers at an arena or stadium in the next twelve months. There are others, too, all of which have been injected with fresh hope following the monster that engulfed Wembley back in May.

For one, it seems Nathan Cleverly and Tony Bellew will meet again in November in a repeat of their October 2011 encounter. Another rematch, its appeal comes from the competitive nature of their first bout and, more importantly, the deep-rooted dislike they appear to have for one another. That, more than anything, will make a domestic fight tick all the necessary boxes. And though the likes of Cleverly and Bellew don’t quite boast the profile required to headline stadiums, their second match is a safe enough bet for most indoor arenas in the country.

“That’s another one that will get a boost from Froch-Groves 2,” said Hearn. “Fans are hungry for all-British match-ups right now and we’ve realised that’s the way to go. Chuck a bit of needle into the equation and you’re on to a winner. Bellew and Cleverly would have been a big anyway, but it will be much bigger now thanks to the impact of Froch-Groves 2.”

Another all-British clash that has long been mooted, and would sell extremely well in both Belfast and Manchester, is the super-bantamweight pairing of Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg. Sure, it lacks any detectable bad blood, but there is a clear rivalry between the pair and, should Frampton defeat Kiko Martinez for a second time in September, there’ll be the added bonus of both the IBF and the lesser-regarded WBA regular titles on the line should they meet. What’s more, the promotional criss-crossing both have experienced in recent years adds another layer of intrigue to what is already a fascinating blend of styles.

The same could be said of a possible middleweight fight between the former Olympian Billy Joe Saunders and the truculent son of a legend, Chris Eubank Jr, who are both unbeaten professionals and, unlike Quigg and Frampton, have become synonymous through mutual dislike. Theirs is a rivalry as hate-fuelled as any in British boxing right now and it has the potential to get even bigger; Eubank, of course, already has the surname, and Saunders, if he keeps on track, could wind up with a world title in the not too distant future.

Yet, while the likes of Cleverly-Bellew, Quigg-Frampton and Saunders-Eubank Jr whet the appetite and presumably pack indoor arenas, their appeal is similar to that of the recent ill-fated heavyweight rematch between Tyson Fury and Dereck Chisora. Big, bigger than the norm, but not Froch-Groves big.

As such, the best and most direct route to a Wembley redux is to look at the two participants who made it happen in the first place; Carl Froch and George Groves. Both men’s hopes of a Wembley repeat have been enhanced by the re-emergence of James DeGale, who seemingly always appears close to a return with Groves, and is closer still to a shot at Froch’s IBF title. No fight in Britain carries greater needle than one between Groves and DeGale, and no fight carries greater importance, right now, than one between Froch and DeGale. Certainly, these two fights best represent British boxing’s chance of a swift return to the national stadium.

It remains questionable whether the aforementioned fights top Froch-Groves 2, though, because at this point there’s little in the way of a dynamic between Froch and DeGale, and a potential bout between Groves and DeGale requires world titles. Froch-Groves 2, on the other hand, possessed the triple threat; world titles, first fight controversy and a narrative that positively overflowed with talking points, putdowns and memorable moments.

That’s not to say world title belts are the be all and end all of stadium fights. Quite the opposite, in fact. Prior to Froch-Groves 2, the two most recent examples of big stadium fights in this country took place without so much as a genuine world title in sight. Ricky Hatton and Juan Lazcano attracted 55,000 fans to the City of Manchester Stadium in 2007 and David Haye and Dereck Chisora convinced 30,000 to fill West Ham’s Upton Park in 2012. Fringe and intercontinental belts aside, neither used world titles as a selling point. They couldn’t.

What both fights did have, however, was some kind of hook. Manchester had ‘The Hitman’, as big a ticket-seller as this nation has ever seen, and the East End had the promise of ill will spilling over as two foul-mouthed renegades looked to settle a spat. If history has told us anything it’s that, for the most part, Hatton and heavyweights sell.

To that end, the long-term future of stadium fights in this country will likely rest at the sizeable feet of our young heavyweights, notably, Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua. Those two behemoths are in their mid-twenties, full of potential, and seemingly on a collision course. And should this happen with a world title or two up for grabs, there can be little doubt it would be primed for a football stadium.

Already the building blocks are in place. Fury, a polarising figure, but one who’s eminently watchable, has shown the ability to crossover and, in name alone, raises curiosity and intrigue outside boxing circles, while Joshua, the 2012 Olympic gold medallist, is charming where Fury’s cheeky, ripped where Fury’s loose, and PC where Fury’s Positively Crude.

Whatever the contrasts, both men, should they continue winning, seem destined for the biggest stage. “Joshua will be filling Wembley Stadium one day,” assured Hearn, the Londoner’s promoter. “Not in the next 18 months, but one day. He’s the ultimate. He’s a crossover star. A lot of that is to do with his success at the Olympics and his exposure on BBC1. He’s a national hero, very humble, and he looks like a superhero. He’s got it all.

‘But you’ve got to be able to fight. All the signs so far point to him being able to handle himself, but at what level? I watch him spar and see enough ability there to confidently say he’ll one day fight for the heavyweight championship of the world. There’s no doubt in my mind. Can he win it? I believe he can. Time will tell.”

World titles are one thing, a night at Wembley Stadium another thing entirely. To win or defend a world title at the national stadium has now, thanks to Carl Froch and George Groves, become a fresh dream shared by all boxers up and down the country. The bar has been raised. So too has the sport of boxing.