It was a bad, bad night for Carl Froch here on Saturday when he lost his unbeaten record, his World Boxing Council super-middleweight title and issued a threat to withdraw from the Super Six tournament.
Froch dropped a tight but decisive unanimous decision to the local idol, Mikkel Kessler, in front of 10,000 rabid fans in his second series fight as part of the unique Super Six tournament.
The Dane had lost his World Boxing Association title in his first fight of the tournament last year in America. Froch now faces the daunting task of fighting in Berlin in the tournament's last group stage meeting. The Super Six involves six of the best boxers at super-middleweight who agreed an exclusive deal to fight each other in stages before a final in 12 months' time.
Here Froch looked tired and hurt at times by an opponent who was expected to rise to the crowd's expectations for a few rounds, before gently fading away in the second half of the fight. The reality is that Froch was in control after six rounds, looking comfortable, composed and dangerous before Kessler, cut and dazed on several occasions, rallied with the crowd on his back and refused to fold.
"I was hurting him, I was wobbling him but I didn't step on the gas," admitted Froch, who was bruised and cut at the end. "I guess I'm guilty of not making sure and not following up. I still think that it was close." It was, but Kessler deserved the decision.
The problem for Froch is his next fight, when he might have to go to Berlin in front of 20,000 to meet Arthur Abraham, possibly in August. The winner of the crucial third stage fight would automatically make the semi-final stage of the tournament. Abraham lost his second stage fight to Andre Dirrell, whom Froch narrowly beat last October.
"If I've got to go to Germany I will walk away from the tournament," claimed Froch. "I spoke about bad decisions, home-town decisions before the fight and I feel that in Nottingham I would still be the champion." On Saturday night, sadly, one of the three judges returned an outrageous scorecard of nine rounds to three in Kessler's favour, which was both a joke and an insult.
Froch's promoter, Mick Hennessy, and Abraham's man, Kalle Sauerland, have an agreement in place, which would in theory satisfy Froch, but Abraham will rightly insist on the fight taking place in Berlin. The destination dilemma was inevitably going to cause friction in the Super Six and this particular impasse will require the type of diplomacy that is notoriously missing in the boxing business.
If Froch had won here, it is possible that his claim for home advantage would have carried more persuasive weight, the edge at the negotiating table, but he lost in a performance that was poor. In the ring he seemed to be pulling the right up short in addition to moments of almost comically bad swings, swipes and desperate swats at Kessler, who is not an elusive fighter. It was, at times, a baffling performance from Froch.
In round five Kessler tumbled off balance to the canvas – it was ruled a slip – and at that point Froch was in total control and cruising. Kessler caught and hurt Froch with a simple right in round eight, which both buckled the Briton's knees and left an ugly cut across the bridge of his nose. In the final two rounds the pair, both cut, tired and bruised, exchanged punches all over the blood-stained canvas in an old-fashioned slow-motion slugfest of raw emotion and heart. It was not what Froch needed to do and at the end both looked sickened by the savagery of the previous 36 minutes. Amazingly, both insist they will be ready for the final stage fights in the Super Six at the end of August or in September.
Froch looks like he needs a break. This was his fourth 12-round championship fight in just 16 months and it completes an amazing quartet, arguably the best-ever consecutive sequence by a British champion. It was a great night for boxing fans, less so for the men in the Froch business, and perhaps it is now time to step back and take a breather from the ruinous schedule of the fabulous Super Six.