Interview – Declan Warrington
BN: Would this tour be happening – would you be friends like you are – if he’d won that night at Wembley?
CF: If I’d have lost it’d probably have been my last fight – I’d have finished my career on a loss. Would George be doing this tour if that was his last fight? Probably not. The same way I probably wouldn’t have. But he was young enough to go and eventually win a world title, so he got his defining moment away from Wembley. If I’d have lost and not fought again, would I have got over it and thought, “He’s alright, I’ll go on tour with him”? Maybe not. I do it for my website and to give the fans something back, and I enjoy it. Would I enjoy sitting there listening to me getting chinned in front of 80,000 at Wembley a million times? No, I don’t think I would. It’s hard to empathise and put myself in that position. But I can understand why George is doing it because it wasn’t his last fight and he had a decent career after.
BN: How much harder would being around him, and revisiting it to the extent you do, be if you’d lost?
CF: It would be [particularly] hard for the first one or two, and then it’s, “We’ve been here, seen it, done it now; we’ve talked about it a million times”. It would be quite a lot harder; and I think it’s harder for him than it is for me, actually. I go on these tours and I don’t feel at all like it brings any bad memories back, but for him, I sometimes look at him and feel a bit bad when I’m taking the piss a little bit. Like his podcast – that’s me having a bit of a laugh and a bit of a dig. But it [the knockout] did happen. It’s100 per cent, genuinely, nothing personal.
BN: How much do you cherish the manner in which your career finished, given so few fighters retire off the back of winning?
CF: I’m really grateful. To myself, for putting in the hard work and dedication, for Rob McCracken for believing in me, and the support I got from my family – mainly my wife [Rachael]. It was hard for her – there was a lot of time she was on her own. My older brother [Lee’s] my biggest fan and always had my back; obviously my mum; my dad don’t really give a shit. He’s a miserable old f**ker. I don’t even talk to him, which is a shame, because my dad got me into boxing – he loves the sport – but he’s turned into a bit of a recluse since he remarried. I miss me old man, I love him to bits, but I don’t see him, and he’s never met his seven grandkids – it’s his other two sons as well. To finish on the crest of the wave – it was a genuine rival; it’s fair to say we probably hated each other – with that one-punch knockout on that kind of stage, it’s never, ever going to get any better. Who else goes out on top?
David Haye’s a proper good mate; to see him end his career on his face with his arse in the air, getting flattened by someone [Tony Bellew] who at cruiserweight would have been a mismatch. To see him go out on a loss… He got paid; he was injured as well.
It’s one of the reasons I didn’t box again. “Imagine losing now. It’s never going to be as good or as big.” Going out on a loss; getting knocked out. Don’t fancy it. I only lost twice, on points, to top fighters. I finished on a high. I made a few quid along the way. Really, you can’t ask for much more, can you?
BN: How often do you think about that night at Wembley?
CF: Probably nearly every day. ‘Cause I’m always taking the piss out of myself by saying “80,000”; I have my running joke. When you meet people, it always ends up with, “Your last fight at Wembley Stadium”, so I always think about it. I can’t imagine thinking about it as my last fight and getting knocked out every day. It’d be depressing.
BN: Where does he rank among the best you fought?
CF: Jean Pascal was f**king ferocious. Jermain Taylor was a little bit too quick and too skilful for me but he couldn’t stay with me in the later rounds – I’ve always been solid with my fitness. Andre Ward was awkward and horrible – but he knows how to win. [Mikkel] Kessler’s a real hard fucker; skilful; quite tricky. Arthur Abraham was solid; I battered him for 12 rounds and he kept coming. Andre Dirrell was mustard, but he had no heart when he fought me. [Groves is] in the top five – I wouldn’t put him in the top three [but] – that’s credit to George.
BN: What’s the most personal moment you’ve shared since you’ve got to know each other?
CF: We had a drink in Edinburgh. We were stood in the bar, and it was quite lively, and people were coming up and having selfies; it was a Guinness and Tia Maria shot. The tour was nearly over and I said, “Cheers, George. I’ve really enjoyed it – it’s been great getting to know you. I consider you a mate”. He went, “I’m the same – you and your brother – it’s been brilliant. You’ve made it really comfortable for me”. There was an acoustic guy playing some songs, and quite a few people in there, and I thought that was a really nice moment. We had a “cheers to the tour”, and we’ve genuinely become friends. I don’t drink much – I don’t think he does either. He’s sensible, and I don’t drink enough [to get drunk].
He said, “Will you come and do me podcast?”; “Yeah, absolutely, I’ll come down early”. It was a bit of a pain to jump on the road three hours early but I made sure it happened, because I didn’t want to let him down. If he asks me to do something I want to do it for him. You want to look after your mates, don’t you? Do the right thing by them. That’s just how it is with George. I genuinely think he’s a sound geezer. I proper get on with him. We’ve got a lot in common. We’ve both got a missus and kids; we both boxed. I genuinely like George Groves. I wished he lived closer [to Nottingham], because I’d be phoning him up. “Do you fancy going for a game of snooker or going out for something to eat with the missuses?” He’d be great company.
BN: He’s also become friendly with your brother Lee…
CF: Lee was probably a bit harsh with him but he was looking after his little brother. Groves always had a little wind up with him. I don’t think they actually bothered each other that much. Lee was more annoying for George, than “I can’t stand this Lee Froch, f**king idiot”. He was always in and around me but he never really did anything… George stood right in front of Lee at the press conference for the Wembley rematch, and I know that Lee had been drinking neat vodka on the way down. He disguised it in a water bottle. I only found out after, because he used to hide his drinking. When George stood in front of him – Lee can fight. He’s had 13 unlicensed fights; won all of them and knocked out 12. Tough men – hard doormen. People who fancy themselves on the street. He’s strong as you like; can take a punch. Looking back now, he was pissed – if that had’ve kicked off then it could have got messy. “F**king hell, that could have been horrible.” The fight would have been off. I don’t think Lee and George hated each other. I think they were not liked [by each other] by default of [him] being my brother.
It was nice when George first met Lee [in retirement]. Lee actually went out of his way to go and speak to George and say, “George. Alright, mate? Nice to see you. I’ve not spoke to you since the fight but honestly I’ve got no problems with you. I think you’re sound – a great fighter – well done in your career…”. Lee was probably five years sober then – he’d done his 12 steps and he was fully on it and switched on and humble. I think George was taken back by that, and he relaxed. Them two get on well. I often look round and them two are chatting, and having a laugh.
BN: How do you reflect on that photo from before the first fight, which almost portrays you as a bully?
CF: The reality set in when I was in the ring. I was thinking, “F**king hell, I’m cold”. I didn’t want to warm up; I didn’t want to get going. Cometh the hour, cometh the man as they say. You can’t lie to yourself [at that point]. I was thinking, “I could be in trouble here”. When I was stood in that corner with everyone around me, I was thinking to myself, “You lot are all getting out of the ring in a minute, and I’ve got to stay here”. There’s only four or five who really mean anything to me. Everybody else is either family wanting to get their face on camera or a couple of close mates who’ve been in the changing room. “Get out the ring, you twat. What you doing in the ring?” I’d often look round and think, “What the fuck’s he doing in the ring? Who’s brought him?” As long as Rob’s there and I can talk to him, go through the final tactics, that’s all I need.
I can remember looking over to [Groves] thinking, “Cheeky prick”. Brazen. Just stood there, full of confidence; full of self-belief. Quite proud – chin in the air. I was thinking, “For f**k’s sake”.
BN: Were you overconfident before those fights, and were you guilty of under-appreciating Groves?
CF: I was overconfident in the first one and guilty of not giving him the credit he deserved, definitely. I should have known better because I’d sparred with him; I knew he was a good fighter. But the rematch I wasn’t over-confident. I was fully aware that I was in a fight with somebody who was very capable; tough; has got fast hands and can punch a bit. I was really confident I was going to do the job, but I wasn’t overconfident in a disrespectful way where I was taking him easy. I was confident because I’d trained really hard; had all the sparring I wanted. I was fit; my diet was smack on. I was walking to the ring very confident but with full respect for my opponent, which is the best way to be. I fully believed I was in for a really hard night’s work, and potentially a really tough fight. I was switched on. Focused.