Friday, December 16, 2011

Ward-Froch: Keys to the Fight

These are the keys that I think will determine that outcome of the Super Six World Boxing Classic finals between Andre Ward and Carl Froch:

1. Starting out of the Gates

Froch can sometimes start off slowly. In his fights against Jermain Taylor, Andre Dirrell and Mikkel Kessler, he dropped a number of early rounds in each fight. The fact that he only lost one of the three bouts demonstrates his resiliency and conditioning. However, in a fight that could be very close, Froch can't afford to get down on the scorecards. Ward may be too savvy to allow him to get back into the fight.

Ward doesn't necessarily start fights blazing but he seems to do enough to win rounds. He essentially takes a few frames to figure out his opponent and then decides which way he wants to fight. It's very possible, if not probable, that the first three or four rounds of the Ward-Froch will be very technical, as each fighter tries to identify what will work for him against a highly-skilled opponent.

2. Location, Location Location

Ward-Froch has the potential to play out in a number of ways. Both boxers are capable of infighting. Ward has excellent hand and foot speed while Froch's movement and technical skills are underrated parts of his arsenal. The conventional wisdom states that Froch will try to impose his will on the inside while Ward will try to win the fight with lateral movement, quick combinations and superior technique. However, I'm not so sure I buy that.

As the Super Six has progressed, Ward has become much more comfortable fighting on the inside. He dominated Arthur Abraham at close range and took the fight to Sakio Bika (which was technically outside of the Super Six but chronologically during the period of the tournament). Ward also has emerged as a solid body puncher, with his straight right hand, left uppercut and left hook. Although I'm not expecting that Ward-Froch will be the second coming of Castillo-Corrales, Ward has clearly demonstrated that he is a boxer who likes to mix it up. Infighting has become a much bigger part of his game.

In a significant twist, Froch decided to fight Abraham using lateral movement, a varied offensive arsenal and technical boxing skills. In the tournament's semifinals, there were a number of rounds where he fought Glen Johnson toe-to-toe; however, there were also several periods where he dominated Johnson by engaging him selectively and pottshotting. Froch demonstrated throughout the Super Six that he is just as comfortable boxing as he is brawling.

Ultimately, both fighters like to fight on the inside but are also impressed with their boxing ability. This dichotomy will force several strategic and tactical changes throughout the fight. Expect Froch to try and check Ward's chin early, but if/when Ward remains unharmed, Froch will resort to plan B – and he definitely will have one.

3. Chins

Much has been made about Ward's chin because he was knocked down in his seventh professional fight in 2005. Let me repeat that: Ward was knocked down once in 2005. Since that fight, Ward has lost only a handful of rounds and has never been in serious trouble. Yes, it's unexpected that an Olympic gold medalist gets dropped by an anonymous 6-2-1 fighter. However, knockdowns happen; it's a part of boxing. As his career has progressed, Ward has sured-up his defense and improved on his conditioning. His chin problems have yet to resurface. Ward's chin may not be impenetrable but it's certainly not a liability. Additionally, he feels confident in his whiskers. Boxers who don't trust their chins are loath to fight on the inside (see Klitschko, Wladimir).

Conversely, most believe that Froch's chin is genetically linked to the Rock of Gibraltar, but Froch was knocked down in 2009 by Jermain Taylor, a fighter with only decent power at super middleweight. Certainly, Froch has a good chin, but, like most fighters, if he gets hit enough and by the right shots, he can go down.

In addition, don't dismiss the possibility of Ward dropping Froch during an off-balanced moment. Froch, at times, still moves awkwardly and he can be timed as he moves out of the pocket. Perhaps Ward lands a left hook as Froch tries to clumsily disengage. Maybe Ward scores a flash knockdown.

4. Judges

I am very happy to see that competent judges have been selected for the fight. John Keane (England) John Stewart (New Jersey) and Craig Metcalfe (Canada) are experienced arbiters that have been involved in many high-profile international fights.

Metcalfe may be the least well known of the three. He's from Alberta, Canada but has become almost a de facto go-to judge for the New Jersey Athletic Control Board; he's judged two of Sergio Martinez's recent fights (Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams II) in Atlantic City. He also judged Abraham-Taylor in Germany. Keane is an excellent judge in Britain (he's also a referee). This year, he rendered solid verdicts in a couple of close fights – Groves-DeGale and Chavez-Zbik. Interestingly, in both fights, he selected the counterpuncher who landed the harder shots, instead of the busier fighter. John Stewart is one of the best judges in America and often is selected to travel overseas for major international fights (for example, England, Germany, and South Africa).

Nevertheless, each judge has particular predilections and proclivities. Will it be Froch's single, hard right hands or Ward's fluid combinations? Will Froch's grappling and banging on the inside be rewarded or will it be seen as ineffective aggression? Again, this has a potential to be a very close fight. What the judges choose to select in close rounds will play a large role in determining the victor in the fight.


I think that Ward wins this fight based on his activity level and clean punching. His hand speed and unpredictable style will frustrate Froch at various points throughout the match. I expect to see a lot of holding and grappling; this will not be a beautiful fight to watch. However, I do believe that Froch will have his moments, landing his straight right hands and sneaky left hooks. Ward will be crowned the Super Six king, but there will be enough close rounds for the fight to end in controversy, or at least in disputed fashion. I believe that Ward will win the fight 116-112 or 115-113, but will all three judges see the fight the same way?

Andre Ward beats Carl Froch by Majority Decision.
116-112, 116-112, 114-114.

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