Interview – Declan Warrington
BN: Would this tour be happening – would you be friends like you are – if you’d won that night at Wembley?
GG: [Pauses] I’m not sure. I don’t know whether Carl would be proud of the achievement [of the occasion], like I’m proud of the achievement, if it was the other way around, because Carl had a lot of other big nights and achievements. The narrative was, he’d beat me the first time, albeit controversially; if I’d beat him the second time it’d just have highlighted the first one…
I like to think we would, to be honest. He’s much more mature – nine years on we’re both more mature people who have been away from boxing for a sizeable chunk now. I think we would.
He’d had 10 world title fights before then, back to back. He was in a good space. My story’s winning a world title at the end, at the fourth attempt.
BN: How much easier would being around him, and revisiting it to the extent you do, be if you’d won?
GG: I genuinely feel in a good place with it all. Comfortable with the way it went. I appreciate Carl. As bizarre as it sounds, I can appreciate what he was going through at the time. Sympathise with him; empathise with him. I find him quite relatable; he’s a retired fighter and ex-world champion. There aren’t dozens and dozens of us. I appreciate his struggles; his journey. He didn’t have it all his own way, and everything he got out of it feels quite hard fought. Mine was the same.
BN: How envious are you – if at all – of the manner in which his career finished in comparison to yours?
GG: It was amazing. I say envious, and I say it on the night [An Evening with Carl Froch and George Groves] and I say it kind of tongue-in-cheek, just because it is a marvellous thing. I’m happy for him, as bizarre as that is, because I appreciate the tougher times he had; the struggles he had. He nailed it. It couldn’t have been any better for him. Shutting a rival up, on the biggest stage, in a huge fight, and because it was such a huge fight – and because I went on to do well – it gives the whole thing much more authenticity. If I’d lost that fight and nothing had happened [later in my career], then he probably wouldn’t be in a happier place. “Yeah, so what? He beat me – he had to work hard for it.” Took a lot of stick for it. On paper he’s probably thinking, “My [Lucian] Bute win was better; my [Arthur] Abraham win was better; this win was better; that win was better”. Now he can say that – I didn’t go on to have multiple world titles, unify, or anything like that, but – throughout my career I was legitimately a high-end fighter and I got to the No 1 in my division for a short period. I was legit. So I’m happy for him.
I wouldn’t change what happened to me, through fear of not being who I am today. I’m happy with who I am. I’m happy that, right now, I’m not itching to get back into boxing. If I’d gone out on a win, I might have been tempted to have one or two more [fights]. If I’d gone out on a win and stopped, I might be desperate to get back in there and test the waters. Sometimes I get described as “Losing the last fight; over the hill”; the truth is months before then I beat Chris Eubank Jnr; I’m in the form of my life; people never spoke about me so highly. The last camp weren’t great and I had an injury going into that fight with [Callum] Smith, but Smith is a high-end, elite fighter, and he’s gone on to light heavyweight and proven his worth. I’m cool – I wouldn’t trade my career for his, but at the same time he wouldn’t trade his career for mine. You are who you are, and you’ve got to live it and enjoy it.
BN: How often do you think about that night at Wembley?
GG: Other than [when making appearances alongside Froch], never, really. It never comes to me in passing thoughts – maybe because I have to talk about it pretty regularly now. And as I say, I’m okay with it – I’m okay with that being me. That being who I am and who I was. People tell me they were at Wembley, and they might tell me they were there when I beat Eubank – that usually crops up when Eubank’s in the news as well. If they’re really old fans they’ll tell me they were there for DeGale, and they’ll tell that they were there when I was beating [Fedor] Chudinov. But it’s always Wembley, and I’m fine with Wembley, and now, ‘cause I go on tour and talk about it – and it is our little mark on history for boxing – it was a significant chapter in British boxing, then, wonderful.
BN: Where does he rank among the best you fought?
GG: He’s probably the best. I rate Froch above Badou Jack. The best version of Froch and the best version of Jack – Froch probably beats him more times than the other way round. [James] DeGale would have given Froch a hard night’s work on his day, because he’s tall and elusive; he’s southpaw; he’s hard to nail. I don’t know if Froch would have had the success against DeGale like I did. At the same time, he might have just steamrollered him and flattened him, so it’s hard to tell. I’d go Froch.
BN: What’s the most personal moment you’ve shared since you’ve got to know each other?
GG: Sometimes we just shoot the breeze. Sometimes it’s talking about life after boxing. How we’re thinking; how we’re feeling. It might be a little bit of a moan about someone; the general shit chat you have, ex-fighter to ex-fighter. We don’t really have a moment about Wembley or our rivalry or anything like that. Sometimes I’ll still shock him when I say something nice about him, and sometimes he shocks me when he says something nice about me. It’s usually mutual respect for each other’s achievements.
BN: You’ve also become friendly with his brother, Lee…
GG: Lee’s cool. He’s a lovely guy, but he’s an intense guy. He’s explained to me a dozen times about how he was in a real bad way around the time me and Carl were boxing, and that’s why we were at loggerheads. He was a bit of a pressure release for me – with Carl I had to be immaculate, and professional, and on it – whereas I could show a slightly different side with Lee. I could be a little bit more slapdash, and a little bit more unprofessional. As time goes on, everyone suffers. In that respect Lee and Carl are much the same, really. Now that they’re both nice, they’re both cool, and we get on.
I appreciate how difficult it might have been for Lee to cope with having Carl Froch as your brother, doing really well, and I’ve got sympathy for Carl when I think he was preparing for me, and his brother was an absolute mess. Someone he’s close to.
BN: How do you reflect on that photo from before the first fight, which almost portrays you confronting a bully?
GG: I remember doing it, hoping it looked how it did and that someone gets a picture of it. That wasn’t planned – it was totally organic. You listen to people talk about being stoic. Stoic’s almost still. The calm in the chaos – being uber present in the moment, because you’re not moving for distraction. You’re just there. I wanted Carl’s attention, and I thought, “This might get Carl’s attention”, and thought, “This is probably going to be frightening; ‘Why is he just standing there looking?’”.
I had a bully’s mentality for that first fight, and I felt well within my rights to have a bully’s mentality, because I thought everyone was trying to take advantage of me. “If I stand there, in the centre of the ring, square on to him, and if someone moves out of the way and he sees me… I’m there.” Also, it’s a performance for me, and it’s a performance for the crowd. I wanted the crowd to take notice, and be like, “What the fuck, man?” It’s almost a big unhinged, which I wanted. I was a maverick in the build-up, and therefore almost like a loose cannon. Right there and then it felt like, “I’m so calm at this moment; I’m so composed”; stillness was important to display. Usually you’re in the corner, strutting around; staying warm; focusing on the fight; bobbing and weaving; slipping and sliding; usually getting instructions from your corner. It was just an organic moment. Paddy takes a side stance and has a little look; Luke Watkins; the security… We’re ready. We are ready, and if you’re not, then you’re in a world of trouble.
BN: Were you overconfident before those fights, and were you guilty of under-appreciating Froch?
GG: No. Definitely, for the first fight, I was on it in every single way possible. I was switched on for everything at every moment, and tried to take that into the fight. The game plan worked really well – I told everyone the game plan. To come out, take the centre of the ring, so not box on the back foot and try and press him. You know he’s going to try and fight fire, and then hit him with right hands; power shots. The first fight was spot on. You’ve got to live and breathe it in real time, in the moment, and the fight was the fight – I can’t beat myself up about possibly doing better or there being a different outcome.
The second fight, I was just as focused as the first. The second fight, there was a load more work to be done. I really had to make a lot of decisions on my own. Leading from the front; carrying the fight; pressure to promote; and no one to shoulder the burden. “What was it like for you? What would you do here? What would you recommend?” I’d shoot the breeze with Paddy Fitzpatrick, my coach, and Barry O’Connell [my conditioner], but he was a royal marine who’d never boxed in his life, and Paddy was an amateur coach who’d spent sporadic times in a pro gym. He’d had a pro career but never went nowhere. They were always there, and I really appreciate those guys for being heavily invested in the fight, but the build-up to the second fight, we didn’t see eye-to-eye quite the same as the first.
The success, albeit our loss, in the first fight impacted everyone. Everyone now feels they’ve got something to run with, and it was difficult. A different sort of fighter might have felt a different outcome, but Carl’s still a good fighter. He’s dangerous; he’s super fit; he’s up for it; he’s got a great chin; he can punch hard; he’s got long arms. You give away no free shots with Carl, ‘cause he’s a good finisher, and at any moment he carries his power through the rounds, right to the death. So I had to be uber switched on; on it. Really, there was a lapse of concentration – it might happen 100 times throughout a fight – but you only really notice it when somebody makes you pay for it. I said it to Carl the other day; he sort of agrees. Sure it was there; it was technically sound; it was set up to a certain degree. But also, it wasn’t the momentum of the fight – that I was going to get stopped at that moment. It was out of the blue. I don’t think I overlooked Carl or was overconfident. The second fight, I believed I could do it to Carl [for the first fight]; now I know. Courage in your convictions for what you’re capable of, which ultimately should make you a better fighter and perform better. I was in a better frame of mine for the second fight. It didn’t work out.