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Boxing: Calzaghe backs Groves to rattle the Cobra

When Carl Froch met George Groves at the MEN Arena in Manchester last year it was a bitter battle of experience versus youth with domestic hegemony of the 168- pound weight division and the IBF and WBA world titles at stake.

George Groves, right, got the better of Carl Froch early on in their first fight                Photograph: Getty
George Groves, right, got the better of Carl Froch early on in their first fight Photograph: Getty

It ended amid controversial scenes not seen in the modern era.

Now the re-match on Saturday at a sold-out Wembley has sent anticipation soaring in a way not seen since the ferocious rivalry between Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank in the early 1990s.

Back on November 23, in what seemed to amount to a fistic changing of the guard, Groves, the younger man by 13 years, had the previously impregnable double world champion down in the first round and proceeded to give the 36-year-old a boxing lesson for eight pulsating rounds, repeatedly hurting The Cobra and stinging him with the speed and venom of his punching.

Yet a combination of Groves' immaturity and Froch's battle- hardened ring nous saw the veteran turn the fight around.

Soon after, referee Howard Foster made his presence felt, causing uproar when his premature intervention brought matters to a questionable end in round nine with the challenger, who was hurt but still on his feet, given no chance to re-group.

Sitting ringside was Joe Calzaghe, the man who had dominated the same weight division in an unbeaten 46 fight, 10-year reign as emeritus champion before retiring unbowed in 2009, as arguably the all-time great of British boxing.

The Welshman believes second- time around Groves will have learned from that epic encounter and that will prove decisive. "I know George Groves and he is very confident of the win. If you look at the two fighters then Groves is 23, he has already proven he is a superior technical boxer and that he has far faster hands and can hurt Froch and put him on the deck," Calzaghe said.

"What cost George in the first fight was his inexperience at world title level and his immaturity. It was his first world title fight and he will have learned a hell of a lot from it. So he will come into the ring a better fighter for all of that. What's more he knows he is the better boxer.

"At 36 is Froch going to have improved from that first fight after soaking up the big shots he took? The answer is no. This is a fight Froch does not want. He has been through so many wars in his career and he looked shop-worn against Groves first time around. That is why I see George taking this after 12 hard rounds or even retiring Froch with a stoppage late on."

Of course, there is history between Froch and Calzaghe. It was Froch who filled the role of the unbeaten challenger stalking the ageing world champion before his retirement and there is still no love lost between them.

"Froch is over-rated," Calzaghe says. "Yes, he is strong, has a great chin and a good heart but tech-nically he is very limited and really pretty poor and I am totally con-fident that if we had ever got it on I would have schooled Carl Froch.

"I think Groves got to Froch mentally and I think he is doing so again. From what I have seen of the build-up, Froch doesn't want to look Groves in the eye and for me that is a sign of weakness. No matter who I fought, be it Roy Jones, Bernard Hopkins, Mikkel Kessler or Chris Eubank, I always held their eyes and did not turn away. The fact Froch can't do that with Groves tells a story."

Calzaghe is also critical of Froch's employment of a psychologist for the re-match. The former WBA, WBC and WBO super-middleweight champion said: "You have to ask why? He's 36 and has fought plenty of world title fights so what is a psychologist going to tell Froch that he shouldn't already know? For me this is another big sign of weakness. His ego needs propping up after the beating he took for most of the first fight, that is obvious. If I was George Groves I would be loving that."

Calzaghe was also withering about the performance of the referee in the first fight and highlighted the import- ance of the role the man in the middle plays. American referee Jack Reiss has already been rejected by Froch and his promoter Eddie Hearn for Saturday's fight with the argument still raging between the camps over the referee's identity.

Calzaghe said: "George Groves controlled the first fight from the opening bell and it was a very controversial stoppage and one that was very poor at world championship level. Froch was down heavy in the first round, he took a real beating in several rounds and he was hurt in a few of them and Howard Foster showed no interest in stopping it. Then the first time George Groves is hurt he jumps in and calls it off. Groves was still on his feet and he should have been given time to ride out the storm.

"I am not saying he would have managed that but it was the first time he'd been really hurt and at world title level, he should have been given that opportunity. The fact George was not is why Howard Forster is not the referee this time and also why there has been so much trouble in trying to appoint a referee for the re-match. In these really big world title fights the role of the referee is vitally important and underestimated."

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