Wednesday, May 11, 2011

New Wrinkles for Carl Froch

Carl Froch entered the Super Six super middleweight tournament with relatively little fanfare.  His highest profile win prior to the tournament was his stunning, last-minute knockout victory over Jermain Taylor.  Froch pulled out the victory in a fight that he was losing quite handily.  His performance was downgraded by some because Taylor had often faded in past fights and, frankly, Froch looked pretty bad in the first six rounds.  

Froch initially won his title against Jean Pascal less than a month after fellow British fighter, Joe Calzaghe, defeated Roy Jones Jr.  Calzaghe and Jones fought in the most famous boxing arena in the world – Madison Square Garden, in New York City; Froch defeated Pascal in Nottingham, England, a small city with a population of under 300,000.  

Compared to Calzaghe, Froch seemed crude.  While Calzaghe glided around the ring, mixing in unconventional combinations and supreme athletic movements, Froch fought awkwardly, with long, looping right hands and clumsy footwork. 

Calzaghe had just defeated two legends of boxing, Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones, Jr., in back-to-back triumphs on American soil; he was on top of the boxing world.  Froch thought he could force a Calzaghe fight by insulting him.  Calzaghe seemed more amused or dismissive of Froch than anything else and abruptly retired after the Jones fight.  

Slighting Froch seemed commonplace.  He was promoted by Mick Hennessy, not British titan Frank Warren.  Because of his agreement with Hennessy, Froch's fights were not shown on premier British television network Sky Sports, but instead most often on ITV, a lesser network.  Froch and Hennessy were also unable to build a following outside of England.  Even though he was an undefeated champion, prior to the Super Six, Froch struggled to get high-profile fights whatsoever.  Despite being a main event on Showtime, the Taylor fight took place in a sparsely populated casino ballroom in Connecticut.  

Entering the tournament, Froch was seen as the fourth or fifth most likely fighter to win the Super Six.  Though Froch had a title belt, Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham and Andre Ward were thought to have a better opportunity to win the tournament than he was. 

On paper, he had a very tough draw in the tournament.  He had to face Andre Dirrell, a runner who often refused to engage, Kessler, the strongest physical specimen of the six and Abraham, a fighter with explosive power and a challenging defensive posture.

The Dirrell-Froch fight played out according to plan.  Very few clean punches were landed.  Froch initiated the action but seemed frustrated throughout the night with Dirrell's athleticism.  Dirrell pot-shotted and stayed out of the pocket.  It was a difficult fight to watch and to score.  Two judges thought more of Froch's aggressiveness and he won the majority decision.

Froch then traveled to Denmark to fight Kessler, who was coming off of a wipeout loss to Ward.  Froch was seen as a tailor-made opponent for Kessler because Froch stayed in the pocket, was relatively easy to hit and didn't throw straight punches.  The thought was that Kessler could control Froch with his powerful jab and straight right hand.  

In a spirited affair, both fighters went toe-to-toe in a war.  The 12th round was an instant classic.  Kessler won the decision but it was a close fight.  Geography may have helped broaden the judges' scorecards but the decision was not unjust.  Froch surprised a lot of observers with his ability to pressure the former champion.  Even though Kessler had better technique, Froch's, right hand, chin and fighting spirit shined throughout the fight.

It wasn't a bad loss, but Froch took the defeat hard and believed that he would have gotten fairer scoring had the Kessler fight been in the U.K.  Lengthy negotiations ensued for his fight with Abraham.  Froch threatened to leave the tournament if he had to fight Abraham in Germany.  Dates for the match were set and cancelled.  Many countries were considered as possible destinations for the fight.  A first attempt to make the fight in Monaco was aborted.  They eventually settled on Finland, of all places. 

What followed was stunning.  Froch, known for eating punches and breaking down opponents with his pressure and looping right hands, boxed beautifully.  He moved well throughout the night and displayed a crisp jab.  He landed his right hands often and showed an improved hook.  In addition, he went to both Abraham's body and head with precision.  Abraham didn't look comfortable the whole fight, refusing to emerge from his turtle-like defensive shell.  By the end of the night, Froch was toying with Abraham, dancing around the ring and firing shots at will.

Froch's new dimensions, specifically his movement in the ring and his incorporation of a variety of punches, have been one of the more surprising developments of a tournament full of the unexpected.  He enters the semifinals of the tournament against Glen Johnson.  Froch, now the decided favorite against Johnson, has talked about the importance of moving outside of the pocket against Johnson and fighting him with intelligent aggression.  

In addition to his technical improvement, Froch has illustrated that he is becoming a student of boxing.  In the past, Froch would stand right in front of his opponents, hoping to break them down with his pressure.  As he has faced a better class of opposition, he has realized that to beat the best, he had to add more to his arsenal. 

The fight with Johnson should be tremendous, with both fighters trying to land power shots; expect a battle of wills and right hands.  With Froch's increased fluidity inside of the ring, he now has a couple of ways to beat Johnson.  Should he win, he does possess the power and mental fortitude to give Andre Ward (assuming he gets by Abraham) a significant challenge.  

Froch has been dismissed and underestimated a lot of times throughout his professional career.  A first or second place finish in the Super Six would be a significant accomplishment for him.  In the tournament, he has already defeated an Olympian as well as a former middleweight champion.  

Additionally, Froch has jumpstarted his professional momentum by signing a new promotional agreement with Matchroom.  With the ink barely dry on his new contract, Matchroom was able to place Froch-Johnson on Sky TV.  The five-fight contract with Matchroom, as well as his existing relationship with Showtime, should provide Froch with ample opportunities to fight big names once the tournament ends, including Lucian Bute and a rematch with Kessler.  

For a once slow, crude brawler who was seen as a British afterthought in the super middleweight division, Froch now finds himself right in the middle of the action.  Should he continue to develop both in and out of the ring, he could ascend to the upper echelon of the sport and make some real money along the way. 

Froch has often been impatient throughout his boxing career.  He believed that he should have been a bigger name with a higher profile.  If he wins the Super Six, his stature in the sport will ascend very rapidly and he can put those old, pesky grievances to bed.

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