Monday, May 27, 2013

Opinions and Observations: Froch-Kessler II

Trainer and fighter. When the two work in perfect concert like they do with Rob McCracken and Carl Froch, it's wonderful to watch. Breaking down Froch's performance in his unanimous decision win in the rematch against Mikkel Kessler, it's clear that the game plan was to win on volume, exploiting Kessler's judicious nature in throwing punches.

Froch stayed in the pocket almost the whole fight, working behind his jab and mixing in generous amounts of right hands and left hooks. It wasn't so much that Froch beat Kessler to the punch with better hand speed as it was that he threw a lot more, peppering Kessler with shots until the Dane decided to move his hands. When they traded, the fight was essentially even, but because of those huge gaps from Kessler, Froch was able to earn the victory.

The final punch stat results confirm Froch's decided advantage in activity. Froch doubled up Kessler's punch output (1034 to 497) and quadrupled his power punch attempts (668 to 165). Certainly CompuBox, or any punch counting system, has flaws with the way it records landed punches, but with numbers so obviously one-sided from Saturday's fight, the punch stats paint a vivid picture of why Froch was victorious.

When Kessler was more aggressive, there were some beautiful rounds of boxing, specifically the 7th, 8th, 11th and 12th. However, he let Froch take the fight on activity and wouldn't let his hands go enough to have a legitimate case to win the fight.

Froch wasn't just scoring with pitty-pat punches. He had real success with his angled right hands, specifically his right hand behind Kessler's left ear. These shots damaged Kessler and made him reticent to return fire. Kessler did score with his own right hands and left hooks, but Froch took these punches very well and kept coming forward. For the judges, Froch was much busier and he seemed to land the more powerful blows. I had the fight 116-112 for Froch, as did one of the judges, but I have no problem with the other scorecards (118-110 and 115-113) for Froch.

To be outthrown by over 2-1 through 12 rounds and win a fight, you have to either be some sort of defensive master or knock your opponent down a few times. Kessler did neither of those things. True, he demonstrated good defensive technique at many points throughout the fight, ducking and spinning away from Froch's right hands and blocking a lot of his jabs. However, Kessler also got hit with scores of big shots. To butcher a phrase from Jerry Maguire, he didn't help the judges help him. He wasn't busy enough and ceded too much of the ring generalship game to Froch. At 34 and very inactive through the last three years, perhaps Kessler didn't have the stamina to be busy enough to win a grueling 12-round fight. Or, maybe he wasn't willing to take the risks associated with letting his go with more frequency.

Kessler also made the grave mistake of not being first against Froch. When Froch can set up his offense, he throws punches from weird angles and is tricky to time and counter. Although Kessler scored with some solid counter right hands and left hooks, he didn't throw enough of them to blunt Froch's edge in clean punching and effective aggressiveness. Strategically, he gave Froch a huge advantage in the fight by letting him set the pace and tempo. Furthermore, in order to slow Froch down, he needed to clinch and grapple on the inside. Ultimately, Kessler wasn't able to stymie Froch's forward movement or make the fight more uncomfortable. These were opportunities missed.

Rob McCracken is simply one of the best trainers in the business. He develops unique fight plans that tilt competitive matchups in his fighter's favor. Consider how Froch used the ring and engaged in spots against Glen Johnson, the way he boxed from the outside against Abraham, how he lunged in and avoided a pocket facing Bute or how he bested Kessler on volume.

Nobody would argue that Froch is some kind of technical marvel in the ring. His hand speed is adequate, his footwork can sometimes be lumbering, his power is good, not great and he tends to throw more looping than straight shots. Nevertheless, McCracken has taken this flawed fighter to the top-ten of boxers in the entire sport, a tremendous accomplishment. In addition, McCracken has rallied his fighter when down big  to win (Jermain Taylor) and helped him recover from tough losses (Kessler and Andre Ward). In Saturday's fight, he kept reinforcing the need for Froch to stay behind the jab and not make it a war. He knew that volume would be the key to the win, not trying to score a knockout blow.

On the other side of the relationship, Froch deserves praise for his teachability and desire to improve. Instead of settling for self-satisfaction on account of his past accomplishments, Froch has shown that he's a willing pupil. Initially a brawler in the ring, he has demonstrated the willingness and discipline to add new dimensions. No, he doesn't have the best jab in the world. But it was forceful and accurate enough to keep Kessler in a closed box through most of the fight. He understood that the safest place to be against Glen Johnson is anywhere except directly in front of him. He bought into beating Abraham and Kessler on volume and not through a spirited fight to the death.

Ultimately, what this shows is a sense of humility and a respect for his opponents. The great boxers win – think of Floyd Mayweather, Andre Ward or Bernard Hopkins. It's not about always looking good. They understand that to beat a good opponent, they have to do specific things to shift the bout in their favor. It's about checking their egos at the door. The greats won't always be able to get the crowd and/or media buzzing on their behalf, and they have accepted that reality. Froch is usually a very entertaining fighter. Sure, he could have gone for broke on Saturday. It's also possible that he could have been knocked out. He fought aggressively but intelligently on Saturday.

Froch's high ring I.Q. is why he is better than the sum of his technical skills. He makes good adjustments in the ring, fight-to fight and round-to round. He listens to his trainer. He understands his limitations. He has the fortitude to take risks against top fighters and enough savvy to know when to pull back and follow the game plan.

On another note, it was wonderful to see a sold-out crowd in London's O2 Arena cheering on a boxer who couldn't even get his fights on English TV a few short years ago. (Saturday's bout was also a pay-per-view in the U.K.) Froch is an excellent example of perseverance in the ring. Similar to Juan Manuel Marquez, who became a boxing star later in his career after the retirement and/or erosion of Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, Froch's popularity in boxing has been belated. He initially came of age during the time of Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe, and he was seen as an afterthought. At the time, he was with a smaller promoter and the British networks and press dismissed him as too crude and unskilled. However, he kept winning and putting forward spirited efforts against excellent opposition. In time, he ascended to the top boxer in England and the fans and media finally warmed to him. Saturday was his opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his labor. Everyone was there to see him, and he didn't disappoint.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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2 comments:

  1. Great points. Well written. But he WILL lose against ward. Whag he needs to learn js inside fighting. Ward will beat him to punches, time froch jab , then smother punches fighting inside. Diff dimensionz that will confuse froch

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