Monday, December 19, 2011

Notes from Ward-Froch

Andre Ward's counter left hook was the key punch of the fight. That punch negated Froch's wide, looping right hand and minimized his ability to land power shots. In addition, Froch’s clean-up left hook often missed its mark.  Ultimately, Froch had no consistent way to land anything that could hurt Ward. Froch was certainly game throughout the fight, be he was outclassed.

Virgil Hunter had the perfect game plan for his fighter. He instilled in Ward the importance of short and compact punches against Froch. Hunter encouraged Ward not to overcommit with his offense. He knew that Froch could only win if the fight devolved into a brawl or if Froch landed something big while Ward was off-balance or not in proper defensive position.

Additionally, Hunter had Ward stay close to Froch, who needs space to unload his punches. Ward complied and kept the fight in a phone booth. He used his physicality to crowd and discomfort his opponent. From a strategic perspective, Froch was beaten by the fifth round.  All Ward had to do was execute and not get caught with anything silly.

Froch, who likes to let his hands go, was unable to throw his three and four-punch combinations. Because of Ward's hand speed and pressure, Froch had to devote the majority of his energy to defense. Although, Ward didn’t have knockout power, he seemingly hurt Froch on a number of occasions.

As the fight progressed, Froch seemed exasperated with Ward's clinching. More than once, he lifted his arms along the ropes, practically begging referee Steve Smoger to break them apart. Throughout his career, Froch had usually been the more physical fighter; here he was uncomfortable with Ward's assault.

And it was an assault. Ward's grappling, wrestling, mugging and holding made for a rough fight to watch. His strategy was the correct one but his style of fighting didn’t lead to overwhelming excitement in the ring. He won the jab contest, used his left hook to neutralize Froch and opened up on a few occasions with some pinpoint right hands. When he wasn't throwing punches, he was holding or wrestling.

I don't know how two of the judges scored the fight 115-113. To almost everyone in the arena, the fight was a wipeout. (Interestingly, the British judge scored it 118-110 for Ward.)

Smoger can sometimes be frustrating. To his credit/fault, he tries to be as unobtrusive as possible. There were many occasions on Saturday where Smoger could have acted faster to break apart the fighters. If he had done that, the fight certainly would have been more entertaining. However, he wants boxers to get out of their own trouble with minimal interference from him. It's a stylistic idiosyncrasy of his and quite often it leads to good fights.  Here, I would have liked for him to have been more active in the ring, but overall he is one of the best referees in the business. Even though the fight was rough and physical, he kept control of the action and didn't let it devolve into a foul-filled skirmish, which often happens when there is a lot of infighting.

Ward has progressed from a young, slick boxer to a physical banger. He still throws punches was textbook technique, but his mauling style makes his opponents uncomfortable. What differentiates Ward from scores of other pressure fighters is that his aggression is not reckless; it is purposeful. His punches are short and effective. He also cuts off the ring very well on his opponents, keeping action contained at close range. His style will be tough puzzle to solve and he seems to have gotten better as his competition has improved.

For Froch, he remains viable for several appealing fights in the next year. A rematch against Mikkel Kessler is the obvious play and a bout against Lucian Bute would certainly be entertaining.  Froch should feel no shame in losing to Ward; he distinguished himself throughout the tournament and provided some of the Super Six's most thrilling moments. Once an obscure fighter who couldn't even get on British TV, Froch has turned himself into a must-see international draw.

Kell Brook knocked Luis Galarza out in the fifth round on the undercard of Ward-Froch (although the stoppage was premature). Making his American debut, Brook seemed tight during the opening moments of the bout. However, his class quickly emerged as he pasted the game but overmatched Galarza around the ring. Brook's most impressive punch was actually a sharp, counter left jab (a punch you don't often see) that froze Galarza in his tracks. From there, Brook followed with crisp right hands and left hooks.

At this point, Brook's left hand is the more developed of his two hands. This may not become a major problem because an orthodox fighter deploys his lead hand far more often than he does his power one (at least most orthodox fighters do, and Brook would certainly be in this category). However, I’m not convinced that Brook’s right hand will ever become a "plus" punch for him against world-class opposition.  It's accurate, but he doesn’t turn it over like he should. He throws it like his hand hurts or he doesn’t really believe in the punch.

Brook has a varied arsenal and can beat fighters in many ways. He has excellent technical skills and I was impressed with his footwork. Still, on a few occasions, he was a little reckless in exchanges, whereby Galarza was able to catch him with counter rights directly on the button.

Quibbles aside, Brook did his part.  He created excitement with his performance.  He is now ready for top-10 welterweights. A fight with Mike Jones has been discussed over the past year and that would be an excellent matchup. Brook has the tools to ascend towards the top of the division and if he stays committed in the gym, he could become a major player at welterweight by the end of 2012.

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