Carl Froch clambered up from a shocking first-round knockdown to retain his WBA and IBF super-middleweight titles with a controversial ninth-round stoppage of George Groves in Manchester.
Froch was floored by a flinging right hand in the opening moments but clawed his way back into the bout and won a spectacular duel when referee Howard Foster jumped in to end the contest in the ninth.
Foster’s intervention with Groves still on his feet sparked uproar, with both corner teams briefly squaring off in the ring while a crowd which had started off resolutely pro-Froch roundly cheered the challenger.
Questions were inevitably raised about the eagerness of Foster to end the fight which had rocked and rolled from one fighter to the other and produced some of the finest action seen in a British ring.
The ending when it came seemed premature but in Foster’s favour Groves did appear to be offering little resistance.
Froch may have mocked Groves’ credentials during the acrimonious big-fight build-up and appeared to believe he was due an easy night – but it proved anything but. Groves had appeared unfazed by Froch’s claims, even during an unusual build-up to the fight which saw him split with career-long trainer Adam Booth and instead put his faith in his former bag man Paddy Fitzpatrick.
Groves had revealed intricate details of how he planned to take the fight to Froch but it was clear from the outset he would also be up against the vast majority of the 20,000-capacity crowd who booed him to the ring.
Amazingly, Groves did almost exactly as he had promised. The challenger took control of the centre of the ring and landed enough to redden the champion’s nose in the early exchanges, and it became abundantly clear Froch was not going to have it all his own way.
What followed stunned the crowd as Groves rammed home a right hand which floored Froch for only the second time in his career, before two more rights on the bell gave the challenger the first round.
Froch looked more settled at the start of the second but again appeared jolted by a pinpoint left from Groves before responding with his best shots of the bout so far, a pair of rights to the body.
Groves was making a mockery of many pre-fight predictions as he waded out for the third, connecting with two more sharp jabs and a cuffing left hook before the champion responded by landing a left and drawing the challenger in the kind of rugged exchange he preferred.
Groves withstood the assault and showed no signs of fading early in the fourth.
Froch edged a tighter fifth but waded right back into trouble in a furious sixth in which Groves clattered home swinging shots with both hands and almost had Froch out on his feet – yet a sensational round ended with Froch flinging back bombs and coming close to a knockdown himself.
After an inevitably quieter seventh, Froch started the eighth with two right hands and a serious warning from referee Foster for illegal use of his forearm.
The action came to a clattering and sudden end in the ninth when after a close-quarters exchange Groves appeared to turn his back and drop his hands, and as Froch poured in unanswered punches referee Foster quickly jumped in to end the contest.
Boos rang down from the capacity crowd when the verdict was announced, sealing a remarkable turnaround for brave Groves who exited to a hero’s ovation.