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The fists and the furious

The boxing ring inside the Manchester Arena may not be able to contain the fury when Carl Froch and George Groves finally come to blows.

Carl Froch has been irked by his opponent's comments Photograph: Getty
Carl Froch has been irked by his opponent's comments Photograph: Getty

The two boxers have traded insults and psychological sparring since their contest was announced several months ago and for once the disdain they hold for each other does not seem to be contrived for the business of selling tickets.

It was effective enough, though, since the fight sold out all 20,000 seats in less than 11 minutes. "At some stage George Groves is going to have to stand in front of me and fight for survival," said Froch, and the menacing undertone was clear.

Froch has been infuriated in the build-up to this contest. Groves has built his career on a shameless, goading arrogance; he is a showman as much as a boxer, and he can almost glibly belittle opponents. They are fighting for the WBA and IBF super-middleweight belts that Froch currently holds, and the champion is widely considered to be the favourite. He is more experienced, has endured more challenging bouts and knows that he can fight to the limits of his endurance and still prevail.

Groves is unbeaten in 19 contests but has yet to prove himself at world title level. The lingering criticism is that the 25-year-old carries a suspect chin and has not fought anybody who can unleash the powerful aggression that Froch wields. The champion has lost only twice in 34 fights - to Andre Ward and Mikkel Kessler - but has already avenged one of those defeats by overcoming Kessler on points last May.

When Froch and Groves meet on Saturday night, the champion is expected to assert his authority and reaffirm his position as Britain's leading boxer with a performance of unassailable and brute strength.

Yet the contest remains capable of intrigue. Groves has managed to crawl under Froch's skin, with some of their verbal spars clearly irking the champion. Trash talk is all part of the sport's pantomime element, the rivalries that are constructed and deconstructed for the benefit of the paying customer, but there is a genuine dislike between Froch and Groves. It stems from the latter agreeing to spar with Kessler earlier this year, having previously been one of Froch's sparring partners. The champion believed Groves became a "traitor" for travelling to Denmark to work with his opponent and Groves has played on that emotive admittance.

He sees it as a flaw, that Froch will enter the ring too emotionally charged and so he has been goading the champion. Their press conferences have tended to quickly fall into barely-disguised contempt, and Groves has often interrupted or talked over Froch.

The latter has talked of his opponent showing a lack of respect, but that has been his point all along. Groves wants to disrupt the mental application of the champion and his approach in the ring could follow a similar strategy. Froch has talked of hoping that his opponent does not "hit and run" in the ring, ensuring that such a tactic is likely to infuriate him further.

There is also a difference in the expectations that will follow the two men into the ring. Groves can, in effect, afford to lose, so long as he fights gamely and bravely, takes the fight into the latter rounds and so emerges with some credit. A defeat for Froch could herald the end of his career. The only remaining fight for him then, at 36, would be a rematch.

Groves, again, can manipulate the scenario, but ultimately he is merely attempting to even up the contest. Froch should be too relentless, too violent, to be waylaid.

He is well-known for his total application to training for fights - he has kept a diary of every session of his career - and ought to be too experienced to be drawn into a rash approach. Groves, too, is going into this fight working with a new trainer, Paddy Fitzpatrick, having fallen out with Adam Booth. The latter won the right to claim a cut of Groves' fee from this fight although the challenger can still appeal.

Froch has also knocked Groves down before, in a sparring session, and so the challenger brings his own flaws into the ring. He has worked hard to undermine his opponent and while this has raised the intensity of the build-up, it can also be seen as an acknowledgement that he had to delve into psychology to have a chance of prevailing.

"It's just business," Groves said. "If you can say a few things that either wind the guy up or put him off his game plan, then so be it."

It is a ferocious, unforgiving business, though. Froch remains in his prime and is a battle-hardened champion. The strutting, preening Groves catches the eye, but it is the champion whose ability and pedigree is persuasive. Froch is the warrior and is likely to emphasise that on Saturday. It could be brutal.

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