Who has the mental edge ahead of Froch v Groves II?
Intrigue. It can be frustratingly ponderous or insightfully rewarding. It can lead you down avenues of enlightenment, or down dangerously darkened cul-de-sacs.
I’ve sat on either side of the proverbial fence, taken mental short cuts and, with persistence and stubbornness my only harness, attempted to scale mountains of thought, but still there’s no transparency in the psychology of Carl Froch and George Groves ahead of the hugely-anticipated rematch.
The two have been polar opposites in their respective approaches to pre-fight press conferences so far - with the ‘Cobra’ almost tranquillised in attitude, attempting to placate the situation, while the ‘Saint’ - his mandatory challenger - has been more of a sinner with his characteristic verbal mind games coupled with juvenile behavioural traits.
It’s been unashamed bullying, a replication of Muhammad Ali in his prime, and a desperate ploy to infiltrate his opponent’s mind.
When the pair met for the first time following their thrilling battle last year, there was a notable transformation in Froch’s persona. With promoter Eddie Hearn separating the headlining duo, and trainers Rob McCracken and Paddy Fitzpatrick providing the ‘book-end’ of the Sky Sports Box Office aired press conference, the reigning WBA and IBF title-holder appeared questionably censored.
Some theorists were paralleled with Groves’s thinking - that Froch was struggling to find the motivation to compete in the sequel at Wembley on May 31st. The 26-year-old had said: “Carl Froch has been mandated. He now has to fight a fight he doesn’t want to take, a fight that he knows he can’t possibly win. This is not a fight he can take, it’s a fight he can’t get up for, it’s a fight that he didn’t want, and he is going to struggle for motivation.”
That I find hard to believe. A man of Froch’s calibre and experience won’t foster mental or physical fragility. Yes, it’s easy to misread the signals. Ahead of the first fight I was fortunate enough to speak to Froch after sparring sessions at his Sheffield base with Clitheroe boxer Luke Blackledge.
You could sense real disdain and genuine contempt in his voice. You could feel that he wanted to hurt Groves badly.
This time it’s different. Froch revealed that he’s only struggled for motivation once in his career - when fighting Andre Ward in Atlantic City, New Jersey, over Christmas in 2011. That won’t happen again. Not at this stage. Not on this platform.
With the aid of a psychologist at the England Institute of Sport, Froch has grown the capability to mute the taunts, block out the Twitter jibes and remain in a relaxed and collected frame of mind. He’s refusing to give his tormentor the reaction he’s deliriously craving.
While Groves attempted belittling tactics - negotiating a Rubik’s Cube cube as his foe addressed the media and the nation - Froch attempted to alleviate the magnitude of the occasion, even parting with several respectful comments directed at his opposite number.
Though they may have been cleverly disguised as asteism.
It was the same when the pair went face-to-face on the hallowed turf at Wembley - though the meeting momentarily grew sour - again when chatting with Ringside presenters Adam Smith and Johnny Nelson, and once more on the Facebook Forum.
Did Froch allow his guard to drop when lashing out at Groves in a temporary lapse after enduring incessant verbal warfare? Or, with Groves seemingly swamped in panic, wavering for a response, did he ingeniously shatter his foe’s steely façade?
For me, Froch has handled his emotions expertly, giving nothing away, while using his logic and a methodical front to ensure Groves’s mind games backfire. It might not be the build up that the public wants, but it’s preparation that’ll prove beneficial for the 36-year-old.
In the latest meeting, Groves looked uncomfortably agitated. He was digging but, still, he couldn’t seep beneath Froch’s skin
Instead, the ‘Cobra’ nonchalantly picked up on Groves’s struggles to overcome Kenny Anderson and James DeGale, commenting on Groves’s refusal to offer rematches for the respective Commonwealth and British super middleweight contests.
Remember when the avid Chelsea fan, in an unsportsmanlike fashion, hung the prestigious Lonsdale Belt over a bin when refusing to rightfully relinquish the title? Groves squirmed while stuttering for an answer.
The challenger has his wish - to fight in front of 80,000 fans on home soil. But his attempts to unsettle Froch have gone unrewarded. That’s round one to the champion in my eyes. And the rest will undoubtedly take care of itself when Froch combusts, albeit in a professional manner, on fight night.
Some may argue that Froch doesn’t seem psyched up for the fight. Others will argue that he’s storing his ammunition.
But Groves could be made to eat his words at Wembley, having left himself vulnerable in the build-up this time around.
Psycho-analysis isn’t my forte, but for me Froch’s experience and mental strength will help him overcome Groves’s playground tactics outside the ring and anything he has to offer inside it. Either way, it’s going to be incredibly intriguing.