Boxing: Froch v Ward: an epic in the making
Saturday 17 December 2011
After his six world title fights in four different countries have been shown on three different television channels in Britain it is perhaps no surprise that Carl Froch is still far removed from the fame he deserves.
Froch is back on the road tonight when he fights American Andre Ward in Atlantic City in the long overdue final of the experimental Super Six tournament, which started in October 2009 and was due to finish last April. It will be Froch's fifth fight in the tournament, designed to find the best at super middleweight from an impressive starting line-up of six, and his fourth consecutive fight outside Britain.
"I know that I have done things the hard way, the old-fashioned way and nobody will ever be able to accuse me of avoiding fighters or being scared to travel overseas for a big fight," said Froch, who has taken risk after risk in a succession of quite astounding fights that started a year before the Super Six was invented.
However, the uncertainty about broadcast rights, a few injury scares, the volcanic ash that nearly delayed a fight and a remote venue or two have limited his devoted flock. There is also a perception that he is a reluctant participant in the media circus and that, combined with a lack of big fights in Britain, has left Froch seeming a bit remote and a long way short of the star he should be. It would be convenient to be able to say that victory against Ward will change everything and suddenly transform him into a big star but that would be a lie. Ward is cut from the same cloth as Froch and that is why tonight's fight has a similar feel to many of the long forgotten epic contests that truly defined eras in a way that the far more glamorous and lucrative encounters never really did.
This is not Chris Eubank against Nigel Benn, it is not Ricky Hatton against Kostya Tszyu and it is most certainly not Lennox Lewis against Mike Tyson. Tszyu and Tyson were not at their peaks and Benn and Eubank were not the best at their weight at the time in the world. Froch and Ward deliver that rarest of beasts: a fight between two world champions at their peaks and at their right weights. Ward has not lost a fight since 1998, winning a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics, adding the World Boxing Association super-middleweight title in 2009 when he beat Mikkel Kessler, who is the only man to have beaten Froch, and slowly developing into the most overlooked fighter in America.
He has been given the inside track in the Super Six and has fought twice in Oakland, California, where he was raised and still lives, and one other time in the same sunny state. In 24 fights as a professional, which includes 13 quick wins, it is doubtful if he has lost more than three rounds and there are now, assuming he beats Froch like the bookies expect, finally some big fights on his horizon.
In the ring, Ward can often be dull to watch with a style that promotes preservation and allows him, with his speed and mobility, to win without taking too many risks. He can, however, have a fight when he needs to and there were moments in the Kessler bout, which ended with the Danish boxer cut and broken-hearted in round 11, when Ward had to stand and deliver. He was not slow in stepping up and trading punches, but many in Froch's team seem convinced Ward will not have the heart to go into "the trenches", which is what Froch has been promising for months.
Froch has gone the distance in five of his last six fights and the one stoppage, a brutal and memorable fight in America against Jermain Taylor, came with just 14 seconds left in the final round. Ward has also gone the full distance in his last three and five of his last seven fights, so a long fight appears to be the safe bet. However, Ward was cut in training two months ago, pushing this fight back seven weeks and that tender wound could be a target for Froch, who has also promised to fight dirty if Ward starts fouling him.
Thankfully, the third man in tonight's fight is a stern but fair referee called Steve Smoger; there will be no repeat of last weekend's officiating – Smoger has gone on record to say that he would never have taken any points off Amir Khan.
Ward's speed will be the decisive factor and his right hand, which Froch has dismissed, could also cause a problem. Froch has to take a risk, force the pace and not fall behind as he chases glory. It will be a spectacle. Make no mistake: this is a real fight.
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