Carl Froch lost his WBC super-middleweight title to Denmark's Mikkel Kessler last night in a battle that was as memorable as it was brutal. Nottingham's Cobra was himself stung by the relentless aggression of an opponent cheered on by a frenzied crowd of 10,000 in the small town of Herning who saw their man live up to his label of the Viking Warrior to take a unanimous points victory.
After 12 rounds and some savage exchanges which curdled the blood, the ringside judges, two from Belgium and one from Italy, scored the bout 117-111, 116-112 and 115-113. I agreed with the last total by the Italian, who made Kessler the winner by two rounds, and it was a verdict that brought no real complaint from Froch, defeated for the first time in 27 contests.
Froch did well in the early rounds but was never really off the back foot and could not effectively counter Kessler's left jab. Both fighters ended with cuts around the left eye but the real damage was done to Froch's pride. "I feel terrible," he said. "I am gutted. But I feel that if the fight was at home it would have gone the other way."
In defeat Froch showed he had a big heart – and a granite chin. "I took some big punches off a big puncher. I give Kessler all the credit he deserves. He's a proud warrior. He stayed in there and dug in."
Kessler forced the fight all the way through and had the greater variety of punches which undoubtedly swayed the judges despite Froch himself landing some heavy shots out of a defence that was held alarmingly low.
The fight was part of the Super Six series round-robin competition between six of the world's top super-middleweights. It is run on a points system, with two for a win and a bonus point for a KO or stoppage. The top four in the table advance to the semi-finals in New York. So far all the bouts have been won by home boxers.
Froch, as always, was fighting for the wider recognition he craves. Understandably, even in glorious defeat he feels aggrieved that unlike Britain's two other world champions, Amir Khan and David Haye, he seems to be snubbed by mainstream TV. "I had to come to the backyard of a man they said was the hardest out there yet none of the major channels were interested," he said. "It's a disgrace."
The heavily tattooed Dane, a year younger than Froch at 31, gave Calzaghe a tough fight three years ago when the Welshman ended his unbeaten run with a hard-fought points victory. It was said he was not the same man, especially when he lost his title to American Andre Ward. He proved that wrong in dramatic fashion.
Froch's next opponent in the series – in Nottingham – is likely to be German-based Armenian Arthur Abraham, ominously another hard man.