New York referee Fitch fondly recalls officiating Froch-Groves in front of 80,000 in London

Super-middleweight star Carl Froch will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame this weekend and many will recall the night he put the exclamation point on his career.

Froch knocked out bitter rival George Groves with an almighty right hand that the 80,000 in attendance at Wembley Stadium will never forget.

One person that night who had a better view than anyone else was upstate New York referee Charlie Fitch.

Fitch, from Macedown, became a professional referee in 2001 and has never seen a better right hand.

“When it landed, I was like okay…,” recalled Fitch. “The way he [Groves] went down, he didn’t try to brace himself, he didn’t try to catch himself from falling down so he was most likely unconscious. You can put knockdowns into two categories; there’s the parachute fall where a fighter recognises he’s going down and he tries to kind of catch himself, and then there’s the one where he’s ‘out.’ He doesn’t have a parachute and he’s not trying to stop himself from falling. That was how George went down. He just collapsed. And the real evidence of that was the way his leg was bent back. Because of the magnitude of the fight, I wanted to confirm, ‘Is he really knocked out?’ So I looked over at him and his eyes were open but he was not there. There was nobody home, so that was when I stopped it. Within a second or two, to George’s credit, he tried to get up. I wonder if he was on automatic pilot, because fighters are so well-trained they’re able to push through what’s taken place.”

Fitch, who mostly officiates in New Jersey or New York, has refereed the likes of Zab Judah, Jermall Charlo, Devin Haney, Shakur Stevenson, Adrien Broner and Miguel Cotto, knew all eyes would be on him in Wembley back in May 2014 in London. The first Froch-Groves fight had ended in controversy when referee Howard Foster stepped in with Groves in trouble, but he had allowed Froch to battle through a hard knockdown in the first round and to ride out several storms, but Groves contended he was not given the same opportunities.

After the end of that first thrilling battle, Groves was irate and he campaigned the IBF to reinstall him as a mandatory rematch to force proceedings.

Did Fitch feel the world was watching his performance?

“A little bit but it was good, welcomed pressure,” Fitch said. “I think most referees want to be on the big stage. It’s never about you, it’s always about the fighters but you want to be on there to do your job and to have the opportunity to make sure the fight is refereed the right way. Did I feel any pressure? I felt the crowd didn’t care about me personally but they cared about the referee doing their job. They wanted me to do a great job, so I felt that we were on the same side. I felt the crowd was with me.”

The Froch-Groves rivalry captured the imagination of sports fans in the UK and was a huge event. As an ‘outsider’ to an all-British fight, Fitch felt privileged to be there.

“It was special and a very unique night,” Fitch continued. “It was like the crowd was a huge part of everything that was going on. One thing that stood out to me was the crowd was very passionate for who they were rooting for, whether they were rooting for George Groves or Carl Froch, but what they all had in common was they all wanted to see a conclusive ending. They just wanted it to not have a controversy. They wanted to have a conclusive ending to the fight and they got that, Carl Froch gave them that.”

But until that final punch of Froch’s career, the fight was not like the first. The first Froch-Groves encounter was an absolute war, one of the great battles in modern British boxing. What happened at Wembley was a largely, cautious and tense affair, until Froch lit his rival up.

“It was a very intense fight without a lot of classic exchanges until the ending,” Fitch recalled. “In some ways, it was challenging because it had the potential to become an ugly fight, with fouls. The impression I got was they did not like one another, [it was] just a genuine dislike that sometimes happens. It’s hard to explain why that is sometimes, so that adds to the intensity of that fight. It could have got messy. I had to caution Carl a couple of times early in the fight.”

But as the decisive eighth round got underway, Froch started thinking several moves ahead. He started noticing Groves’s patterns, worked him towards the ropes, got George to move to his left and Froch headed him off with his right hand. Froch later said he was setting a trap, and that got Groves where he wanted him. Fitch was not trying to figure out Froch’s end game, he was making sure it was a fair fight.

“I was just trying to follow the action,” Fitch admitted, of the finale. “I’m not skilled enough to realise he [Froch] was setting him up but I do believe he was doing so because it was so perfect. You can see in the replays, that’s the best right hand knockout punch I’ve ever seen. And what makes that to me so special is the stage it was done on. On that stage, with that many people, with that much attention… that was very special for him to do that, and it gave the crowd what they wanted, which was a conclusive ending.”

Fitch worked the ShoBox fights on Friday night and crossed paths with The Cobra on Saturday, and Charlie remains grateful for the memories of that incredible night in Wembley Stadium.

“That was the biggest night of my career and I remember being in the ring going, ‘I don’t see how you can top this? This is as big and as good as it gets.’ I can’t imagine having a better night than that, on that kind of stage. I think, as time goes on, is going to be remembered even better by history.”