By Elliot Worsell

(Part I of The Intervention: Froch vs. Groves can be found here)

Chapter III

WHEN his eyes open again, two things happen: one, he turns to me and says, “It’s a bit more morbid than usual, isn’t it?” giving no indication as to whether he is talking about the atmosphere in the room or the thoughts in his head; and two, he sees Barry Hearn, a man who once promoted bouts between Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn, walk through the door. It has just gone nine o’clock.

“I thought I’d nip down and wish you the best of luck,” says Hearn. “Well done on everything, George. You’ve made the fight massive.”

Groves smiles; it is practiced, token, cynical. “Lined a few pockets here and there, I’m sure,” he says.

“Well, whatever,” mumbles Hearn. “Lining the pockets is a good start, but I think you’ve made the fight massive. I think we’re going to do very well with the figures, and now it’s a fight. The money doesn’t really come into it now. Now it’s your department, not mine.”

“It’s been a fight from the start.”

“Listen, soak it all up. This is your stage.”

The promoter finishes by touching the boxer’s knee and looking for the door. En route he then praises Fitzpatrick for his taste in hats and reveals to Groves that Leyton Orient, the football club under Hearn’s ownership, won three-nil earlier that day. “Away at Swindon,” he says. “We’re on fire.”

Hearn’s eventual departure is soundtracked by The Black Keys’ song “Everlasting Light”, which, in tandem with an emptier room, triggers a distinct lift in mood. Groves, now shadowboxing, all of a sudden becomes looser, his movements sharp. He sings as though no great drama is about to unfold and stands both pouting and punching in front of a mirror.

“Duke,” Fitzpatrick says, motioning to Luke Watkins, “do you want to go down to de other man’s changin’ room now? It’s ten past nine.”

One in, one out, seconds after Watkins leaves in walks Mark Seltzer, the designated watchman from Froch’s camp given the task of overseeing Fitzpatrick wrap the hands of his fighter. “I won’t get in the way, don’t worry,” he says, and so begins the process: Groves and Fitzpatrick are now connected by tape and a phlegmatic hush, while Seltzer and the Board inspector stand inches away with no desire to get involved. Cold still, Groves keeps his hat and scarf on throughout and refuses to make eye contact with either outsider. Right hand wrapped, he then watches Fitzpatrick finally turn to Seltzer and ask, “Happy wit’ dat, coach?” Seltzer duly responds with a nod and “Suck My Kiss” by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers does its best to fill the silence. “Do you like these tunes?” Seltzer asks the inspector, his nose turned up. “I haven’t heard it before, to be honest,” the inspector admits.

“You haven’t heard this song before?” says Groves, astonished. “It’s a classic.”

“It’s a bit of an acquired taste,” says Seltzer.

Nothing more is said. Approval, granted by the inspector, arrives at 9.25 pm.

Chapter IV

PLAYING the role of either the philistine or blind man in the art gallery, Groves, no matter how hard he stared and squinted at the so-called masterpiece, was unable to make sense of it, never mind bring himself to appreciate it.

He had no issue with the piece itself, you see, or even what it represented, but upon leaving the Nottingham Arena one May night in 2012 still struggled to accept either the idea that Lucian Bute was any good in the first place or that Carl Froch, the artist of said masterpiece, was now suddenly unbeatable. Rather, on the evidence he had witnessed, Groves, driving home from Nottingham the next day, was curiously now even more hopeful of defeating Froch, despite having seen him produce the finest performance of his career.

“Neither of them impressed me,” said Groves, in the driver’s seat but, due to inactivity, feeling never more like a passenger. “Froch did what he had to do and beat the man in front of him, but never at any point did I think, ‘Wow, this guy is brilliant. He’s so talented.’ Bute lost that fight because he was useless. Froch just showed up.”

“That’s a very different analysis to the one you gave on the radio, George,” said Adam Booth, his trainer at the time, who sat alongside him in the car for the duration of the three-hour journey back to London.

“Well, now’s the time for the truth,” Groves said. “If it’s me who has to deliver it, so be it.”

“So you don’t give Froch any credit?”

“He gets credit for winning, obviously. But everything seemed so sloppy and Bute was a huge disappointment,” stressed Groves, stringing out “huge” for as long as his lungs allowed. “He did nothing and tried absolutely nothing.” He now groaned in frustration. “I’d beat Froch fighting southpaw. Every time he leaps in, I’ll counter him over the top with a right hook. I’ll step around him and make him miss, time and time again. Make that f**king fight, Booth. Get on the phone to Eddie Hearn and make that fight.”

“How?” said Booth. “You’re not even ranked by the IBF [International Boxing Federation].”

“That doesn’t matter. I’ll get an IBF ranking from somewhere. Text Eddie [Hearn] now. I know you’ve got his number. You’ve probably been texting him sweet nothings all night.”

“You’re not going to give Carl an ounce of credit, are you?”

“Not until he fights and beats me,” said Groves, now unable to stop himself smiling, his temerity amusing even to him. “He needs to stop ducking me first. Me against him is a huge pay-per-view fight; a stadium event. He’s the only opponent I’m coming out of retirement for.”

“Okay, assuming you have success with the jab, what happens next?” asked Booth, straightening in his seat, perhaps now realising he would have to endure two more hours of this.

“What do you mean assuming?” said Groves. “Of course I’d have success with the jab. I’ll shut my eyes and still land the thing on his nose.”

“Well, it hasn’t happened yet, has it?”

“You said yet!” Groves’ eyes were now the size of Olympic pools.

“Yeah, that was stupid. Come on then, hypothetically, how do you beat him?”

The soothsayer took a breath to compose himself. He checked his mirrors, settled in a lane, then rolled his neck and said, “I’d step to the right because he can’t left hook, and then, if he follows, I’ll slam him straight over the top with a right hand, left hook – bosh! Repeat, repeat, repeat.”

“That’s it!” roared Booth, his laughter the pinprick. “I’m sold! Where’s my phone?”

George Groves

Adam Booth applies a glove to the right hand of George Groves (Action Images/Andrew Couldridge)

Chapter V

AT 9.26 pm, Groves fetches his shorts and boots from his sports bag and removes his jeans, neatly folding and inserting them back into the same bag as if the plan is to return them, receipt in hand, to the store from which they were bought. He then sits down to put on his boots, always the right foot first, and at 9.30 pm decides it is time to turn up the music. What plays next is “My Doorbell” by The White Stripes, to which Groves downs his espresso shot. “Is it a double or a single?” he asks Barry O’Connell, his strength and conditioning coach.

“Not sure,” says O’Connell, “but I asked for a large one.”

“It will be a double then.”

Relieved to hear it, O’Connell busies himself filling two buckets of ice with various water bottles. He is then asked if he knows the proposed time of Groves’ ring-walk but for once has no solid answer to give. So, the inspector offers his own. “I’ve heard it’s ten forty-five for the ring-walk,” he says, which results in Fitzpatrick, reluctant to take this as gospel, saying, “Barry, would you find out for us, please?”

Two bits of key information soon follow. Firstly, Groves is informed by the doping control official that he can do his urine test after the fight rather than before; and secondly, O’Connell returns to the room to say, “The earliest you’ll walk to the ring is twenty-seven minutes past. But if the [Scott] Quigg fight goes longer than twenty-seven minutes past, you’re looking at making your way to the ring at quarter to eleven.”

A minute later Fitzpatrick shuffles towards Groves to show him a piece of paper containing notes he has made. It is shortly after that Watkins returns from Froch’s changing room, pleased to be back on familiar ground.

“We thought you were never coming back,” says Groves, smiling.

“I know,” says Watkins. “I was there for ages.”

“Was it okay?”

“Yeah, fine. They didn’t say much. Froch just shook my hand and said, ‘Hello, you must be from the Groves camp.’ They know who I am. He even invited me up to Nottingham for sparring.”

“He wants you to be his friend, that’s why,” says Groves. “He’ll need you to like him. He wants everyone to like him. He needs that reassurance.”

“He had to talk to everyone in there,” confirms Watkins. “It was nonstop. He couldn’t let his mind rest for one second.”

At 9.54 pm, Vaseline is applied to Groves’ face before he circles the room. Following a lap or two, he then stops to ask O’Connell to give him some resistance. This leads to O’Connell pressing against the boxer’s head and moving it side-to-side, all the while Groves attempts to move his head in the opposite direction. After that, O’Connell starts working on his jaw, pressing down on the temporomandibular joint as Groves puts his jaw through a range of motions. Again, there is pain etched on his face with each push, pull and prod, and he is noticeably relieved when it is over and he is free to step into his groin protector, grab his fight shorts, and head to the bathroom.

A cape-less Clark Kent, Groves then returns from the bathroom at 10.02 pm in full fighting attire, replete with shorts, boots, and protector. He also wears a different face. “I’m ready to glove up now, Paddy,” he says, offering his hands, at which point Fitzpatrick says to the inspector, “Come an’ earn yer six quid.”

The process itself is a quick one, far quicker than the wrapping of hands, but is still performed with the assiduousness of a sculptor. Indeed, even when the first fist is encased, Groves, wanting perfection, asks Fitzpatrick if he could add a final layer of tape around his right wrist. His coach of course obliges and signals for the inspector to sign the tape, which he does, scribbling on the leather at 10.10 pm.

“Can I touch a mitt with this right hand?” Groves says, still not convinced. “Make sure it’s sound.”

At the boxer’s behest Fitzpatrick then retrieves his pads from the floor and allows Groves to throw four consecutive right hands at one of them. The punches are quick and heavy and make a loud thwack sound as they find their home. More importantly, Groves appears content with how they feel.

At 10.14 pm, Davide Nicolosi, in charge of monitoring the door, reveals that Groves will walk to the ring in sixteen minutes, at precisely 10.30 pm. This, as a plan, sits well with both boxer and trainer, who nod their heads in unison. Groves then turns to face the Board inspector. “Is it okay if he [Fitzpatrick] puts more tape around this glove to tighten it up?” he asks.

“Yes, of course,” replies the inspector, whose consent has Fitzpatrick applying more tape to Groves’ wrist before Groves again tests the glove on a pad. One punch, two punches, three and four.

“One hundred per cent?” says Paddy.

“Erm, yeah, I think so,” answers Groves, sounding anything but one hundred per cent sure. Regardless, the inspector once more signs the tape on his right wrist and Groves resumes hitting Fitzpatrick’s pads, quicker than before. Now the jabs shout and scream, liberated by sudden permission and freedom.

“Scoot, scoot, scoot!” yaps Fitzpatrick as he follows Groves across the room. The boxer, on command, then shifts his feet and scurries away before his coach can get close enough to touch him with his pads. “If dat’s medium speed,” Fitzpatrick says, dropping the pads to the floor, “we’re good to go.”

The two spend the next minute in close, grappling, arms interlocked. Groves wrestles to break free and work with his spare hand, while Fitzpatrick strives to keep him there. It is messy and ugly but an indication of the kind of fight the challenger expects from a physically imposing champion in less than half an hour.

They then get even closer at 10.22 pm, boxer and trainer, when they disappear to the bathroom together for one final chat. This conversation lasts all of sixty seconds and likely concerns their tactics and the possibility that Froch will start fast and be guided by an overspill of emotion. Whatever is said, though, they return smiling and Groves’ first request is for water and more Vaseline, both of which O’Connell, a ubiquitous presence, provides.

Now Groves paces with an even greater purpose and when his mouth becomes dry, which because of nerves is often, he doesn’t think twice about finding the nearest wall and spitting directly at it. Once is not enough, either, so he returns to the same spot to gob a second time, moments before snapping into a boxing stance and unleashing jabs in the direction of pads. “Two jabs, fast,” instructs Fitzpatrick. “Composed.”

When the punching at last stops, Groves sings along to “All of the Lights” by Kanye West and spits again. He now communicates as though a teenager, all snarls and grunts, and bit by bit the human element is dissolved, making him a machine among humans; that is, both unrecognisable and utterly unrelatable.

“Two minutes, George,” says Fitzpatrick, marching back and forth, a silver boxing gloves pendant hanging from his neck. “Tune in.”

At 10.29 pm, Jason Stevens, Groves’ friend and former kickboxing coach, goes in for a hug and tries to stay composed, aware emotion is an unwelcome guest in changing rooms on fight night. Meanwhile, the fighter himself, no longer human but machine, remains even more stoic. Not only that, he disengages not long after the embrace has been initiated and then, as if to purge any compassion, once more spits, this time on the carpet.

“Ready to roll, George?” asks Fitzpatrick.

“Yep,” replies Groves, leaving his reflection in the mirror and heading straight to the door.

Carl Froch walks to the ring ahead of his fight against George Groves in 2013 (Getty Images)

(Part III of The Intervention: Froch vs. Groves can be found here)