Carl Froch beat Glen Johnson to retain his World Boxing Council super-middleweight title on Saturday and reach the final of the Super Six tournament in the type of fight that leaves both fans and critics claiming victory.
Johnson is 42 and fought most of the 12 rounds from behind the dubious safety of a high guard and at a slow and calculating pace. Froch was wide-open to almost every single Johnson right, looked troubled by short lefts to the ribs and needed a serious talking-to in the corner on several occasions.
However, Johnson is a bigger man and during the last decade has mixed with distinction with at least 23 world-class fighters. Froch was having his sixth consecutive tough outing in a sequence of fights that should in reality make him the envy of most present and past British world champions. It was certainly a fight of two halves, two interpretations and thankfully only one possible outcome in a sterile ballroom in Atlantic City.
At the end Johnson accepted defeat for the 15th time in his long and distinguished career; Froch was unusually subdued when his hand was raised after the calculations of two wise judges and a comic act from Japan. The Japanese judge scored it a draw, meaning he was four and six rounds away from his two fellow judges; a miscalculation that should guarantee he never works ringside at a world-title fight again.
Froch opted to keep the action at a sensible distance in the opening half of the fight but was guilty of going missing for large sections of rounds when Johnson pushed him back. Froch was not in trouble, never worried or desperate but he needed to adjust, counter with power and hurt Johnson. It is not a tickling contest, as Ricky Hatton often said. Johnson lost his chance to win the fight by not forcing the pace more in the first six rounds. Alternatively, Froch never gave him the space or angles to push on.
"He put me off my plan, he made me change and that cost me the fight," admitted Johnson, who did enough in the opening rounds to make a mockery of the oddsmakers in America's second city of gambling.
Froch moved his feet less and moved his fists more as rounds seven, eight and nine ticked by and he moved clear of his fading assailant. He had the lead by round nine and romped home as Johnson suddenly started to move and look like a 42-year-old veteran; one who had been spotted jogging on the beach a few days before the fight with a towel wrapped round his neck.
"This has been a hard series of fights. I just hope people realise that before judging me," said Froch. "It's the final now and that will be a big night for me and for British boxing."
Froch now meets unbeaten 2004 Olympic gold medal winner Andre Ward in the Super Six final in November at a venue in Los Angeles or Las Vegas. Ward's three fights in the Super Six have all been in America, including two in his hometown, and Froch, who has fought four times inside the tournament, has had three on the road. It is not fair and Froch's only complaint has been in the form of an apology to his loyal travelling fans in such tough financial times. On Saturday night Froch put in a champion's performance in a fight where he looked slightly off his best against a quality boxer, but he was still far too good.
He won, it was not a classic, but he still left the ring with the belt and that is what real champions do again and again and again.
* Christy Martin returned to the ring six months after a brutal attack on Saturday, losing in Los Angeles to Dakota Stone after breaking her right hand. Martin was winning on all three scorecards when the ring doctor stopped the fight in the sixth and final round. Jim Martin, her husband and long-time trainer, is charged with attacking Martin at their home in Florida.