Carl Froch’s rematch with George Groves had been preceded by “hatred” and “paranoia”, but a fresh row about the referee had flared up, just days before the opening bell at Wembley.
Venomous abuse had greeted Froch’s controversial victory over Groves in the first fight, with the Manchester crowd expressing their dismay at referee Howard Foster’s decision to signal a stoppage after nine rounds of a fiercely contested fight that far exceeded expectations in November 2013. The super-middleweights would meet again at the national stadium following an appeal to the IBF and fraught negotiations, but a fierce dispute about the officials had disrupted preparations for one of the most momentous nights in British boxing history.
“Don’t forget I’m paranoid at this point. I’m thinking everyone is out to get me,” admitted Groves as he recalled the tense build-up to his second battle with Froch.
Media reports had even suggested that Foster liked a comment on Facebook relating to the round of Froch’s first victory, fuelling the distrust in the Groves camp, and that all-important selection of the referee and the judges proved to be a combustible issue.
“It was the hardest fight I’ve ever put together because of the hatred between them and their egos,” recalled Froch’s promoter Eddie Hearn.
The Matchroom Boxing boss had presided over “brutal” negotiations with counterpart Kalle Sauerland, revealing how Groves had been insistent that no homegrown officials should oversee the WBA and IBF world title fight.