Six months after unified super middleweight titleholder Carl Froch was awarded a heavily disputed ninth-round knockout victory against British countryman George Groves, he left no doubt in the much-anticipated rematch.
Froch started slowly, but finished with a bang as he knocked out Groves with a huge right hand in the eighth round to retain his 168-pound title for the fourth time on Saturday before a British-record crowd of around 80,000 at Wembley Stadium in London.
"I'm feeling unbelievably elated. This is the best moment in my boxing career," Froch said. "This is a legacy fight. My legacy was at stake. I didn't want to finish my career and be remembered in the biggest fight in British history as being the loser. If you prepare correctly you get the results, and that's what I did."
Said Groves: "I was in my groove, boxing well, and I got caught with a shot. Congratulations to Carl."
Froch, in his third world title reign, and Groves had spent months trash-talking leading into their initial showdown, and it did not let up in the wake of the controversial stoppage, which came in November during a fight in which Groves had scored a first-round knockdown and was winning handily -- until Froch got him in some mild trouble in the ninth round and British referee Howard John Foster stunningly stepped in to wave it off.
Citing "inappropriate conduct" by the referee, the IBF ordered a rematch and the event caught fire with the British public, turning the grudge sequel into something of a national event. Froch and Groves trash talked a whole lot more, and both promised brutal knockout victories. In the end, it was Froch who delivered on the promise.
Much like in the first fight, Groves got off to an excellent start. He was outboxing Froch and outfighting him through the first several close, tense rounds. Groves' jab was strong and accurate, and Froch never has been much of a fast starter.
And reminiscent of the first fight, Groves was finding a home for his powerful right hand. Although he couldn't use it to knock down Froch like he did the first time around, Groves landed many hard rights. He knocked Froch back with one in the third round, rattled with him a left-right combination in the fourth, and wobbled Froch with yet another in the fifth.
Froch, who worked with a sports psychologist in the lead-up to the rematch, did not look at all comfortable, but he eventually found a groove and began to come alive as they engaged in some hurtful exchanges in the sixth and seventh rounds.
The 26-year-old Groves (19-2, 15 KOs), who is from London, appeared to lose a little bit of steam while Nottingham's Froch (33-2, 24 KOs) began to connect more and more. Finally, in the eighth round, Froch ended the fight in thunderous fashion.
He feinted with a left hand and let loose with a right that nailed Groves on the chin and dropped him hard. As Groves hit the deck flat on his back near the ropes, his left leg bent all the way back, and American referee Charlie Fitch immediately stopped it at 2 minutes, 34 seconds. Although Groves tried to rise from the knockdown and protest the stoppage, he fell over into Fitch's arms as he did so.
"I've been involved in some magnificent fights with top, top world champions. This is, by far, the biggest and best crowd I've boxed in front of. I'm proud," Froch said. "George Groves should be proud. It was neck and neck in there. Sometimes one punch can be the difference and, unfortunately for George, he was at the wrong end of a right hand from a seasoned challenger like myself.
"I stuck to my boxing and timed my right hand to perfection. Nothing will ever top boxing in Wembley Stadium, the national stadium in my own country."
As a precaution after the stoppage, ringside doctors gave Groves oxygen while he was on his stool. Once he was OK, Groves and Froch shared an embrace in a sign of respect after such a nasty buildup.
"I'm very disappointed," Groves said. "I'll go back and watch it back and be even more disappointed. I feel like I let myself down. That fight was there for me to win. I hope the fans stick with me and keep supporting me. I'll do them proud.
"I will learn from this fight because I made mistakes. All the imperfections need to be corrected. We'll come back stronger. It's back to the drawing board. We've got no excuses. Tonight is all about Carl, it's his night now. I thought I was doing very well in the fight, but it is boxing. I have to hold my hands up and I'll come back bigger and better and stronger."
For the fight, Froch connected on 96 of 349 punches (28 percent), according to CompuBox statistics, and Groves landed 126 of 314 (40 percent).
It was a glorious victory for the 36-year-old Froch, who was appearing in his 12th consecutive world title fight. He made the night even more memorable by proposing, sort of, to his longtime girlfriend, Rachael Cordingley, the mother of his two children, in the ring after the fight.
"I did ask Rachael a sneaky question after the fight, but it's not official. She said, 'Yes,'" Froch said. "I told her how much I love her. I didn't actually officially propose to her. I was going to but I couldn't sort a ring out. I will be marrying Rachael one day. This is the most special moment of my life. The next will be wedding Rachael and making us a proper family, me, my kids and her. This night will be remembered for defending title."
Froch's next fight could be a mandatory defense against 28-year-old James DeGale (19-1, 13 KOs), the 2008 British Olympic gold medalist, who knocked out Brandon Gonzales of Sacramento, California, in the fourth round on the undercard in a title eliminator that earned the winner a mandatory shot at the main event winner.
But Froch will have other possible fights that might be made next. His promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport, was in contact with Top Rank a few days ago to talk about the prospect of a fall showdown with former middleweight titleholder Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who now fights at super middleweight. That fight was also discussed for this summer before Froch elected to accept the rematch with Groves.
A fight with Chavez, which likely would take place in Las Vegas if it was made, would be a major draw at the gate and on pay-per-view view in both the United States and Great Britain. It's also a fight Froch said he was interested in, but he was not about to make any snap decisions on his next move, not after such an emotional victory.
"That, to me, would be hard to top," Froch said of knocking out Groves in front of such a massive crowd. "I'd love to box in Las Vegas. It ticks a really special box for me. It's the fight capital of the world. I will never top boxing at Wembley, the national stadium, in front of 80,000 people. To put boxing on this platform is special, I'm very proud. My children will look back and say: 'That was my daddy in there.'
"But I'm not going to even think about (the next fight) right now. I'm going to take the summer off."
It's a vacation that Froch has earned.