Boxing: Underpaid & overlooked: the unbecoming hero of the ring
Carl Froch is as good a fighter as Haye or Khan, but his world title defence tonight won't make him millions. He tells Steve Bunce why
Saturday 24 April 2010
Carl Froch is covering smooth circles in the Nottingham ring trying his hardest to find a true line for his punches and a reasonable line for his words. It is not easy, as good as he looks; a fighter in his element, moving menacingly through his preparations for tonight's contest.
In Herning, a small Danish town near Legoland, Froch will defend his World Boxing Council super- middleweight title against Mikkel Kessler as part of the unique Super Six tournament. It is also the latest instalment – the latest brick in the wall – of Froch's battle for recognition, one that has proved frustratingly slow since he won the title two years ago.
"I've had the bad luck to turn into a world champion during a recession," says Froch. "The men and women in charge at TV companies don't want to gamble, they want to back the winner after it has won – well, I'm a winner. Perhaps it has something to do with boxing being a working-class sport. I know the TV companies need to be braver. It's a disgrace that my fights have struggled to get on TV.
"I've got to try and not sound bitter about the situation and that is not easy. There are other British fighters getting Sky pay-per-view and I have nothing against them, but what about me? I've done all that I could do, beaten top fighters and been in entertaining fights. I just have to keep winning, and winning in style." So far he is unbeaten in 26.
But for all that sound and fury there is another side to Froch, one that stands in contradiction to the man who wants it all. Later, once the public session in the gym is over, he is transformed from athlete to citizen. He is happy away from the neon. "I don't want to be like Beckham – I like my life, I like going under the radar most of the time," he says.
In America and Canada, Froch has a set of solid TV deals in place, deals he once described as providing him with "proper life-changing money". However, Froch has a close friendship with David Haye, who possibly cleared in excess of £6m in his last two Sky pay-per-view fights, and that is surely a figure that keeps the Nottingham fighter awake at night. It is hard to find the right words at times, when there is a danger of coming across as twisted and angry, but Froch has done his best in recent months to tame his comments.
"I don't begrudge a single fighter any of their money and he [Haye] is a good friend of mine," he goes on. "We both started live on the BBC, we both deliver exciting fights packed with action. Good luck to him and to Amir [Khan]. I just believe that Carl Froch deserves the same."
In 2008 Froch won the WBC title in a classic distance fight against the previously unbeaten Jean Pascal in one of ITV's last committed nights of quality boxing. It was, if the truth be told, scheduled too late but it still delivered an audience of over 3m viewers at 11pm. The fight rightly won awards all over the world – but failed to land Froch a TV niche.
"I never get the credit that I deserve," said Froch after a public session in his Nottingham hometown, which was part of Lonsdale's 50th anniversary celebration. "I should have been on Sky pay-per-view after the Pascal fight. ITV should have jumped at my next fight and Setanta, who claimed to be the Home of Boxing at the time, were not bothered. It was crazy, totally crazy. I was a real champion and then nothing."
Froch's first defence was in America against Jermain Taylor, a former world champion and the pre-fight favourite, and it was even better than the Pascal scrap. Froch was dropped for the first time in his career, was trailing with just 14 seconds of the 12th and last round left on the clock before he salvaged the fight with a knockout. The fight was not shown live on British television, but thankfully ITV put it out the following day.
Once or twice Froch and the people in the Froch business have simply run out of diplomacy – a rare enough commodity in boxing – during their search for respect, recognition and the money. Froch has been with his promoter Mick Hennessy since he turned professional in 2002 and Hennessy has a reputation, which he wears with pride, of refusing to back down when negotiating for his boxers. He is confrontational and loyal.
"I've sat with TV executives over the years and listened to their bullshit again and again," said Hennessy. "I've heard it all ... he's too old, he turned pro too late, he lacks power, he's not exciting, the money is short right now. Heard it all and I just shake my head. What more does Carl Froch need to do?"
Last summer Froch, who is rising 33, joined the Super Six, a tournament involving six of the best super-middleweights in the world, and in October he beat the American Andre Dirrell in front of 8,000 fans. Primetime entered the boxing TV market with the fight; it was not a classic because Dirrell, who was unbeaten in 18, came to steal a victory and win ugly. It nearly worked on the night.
The Kessler bout is the second in the Super Six tournament and will complete a brilliant quartet of consecutive fights for Froch, which is arguably the best sequence by a British world champion. Kessler is more than capable of beating Froch and the bookies have once again made the British boxer the underdog.
"I could fight bums like so many British champions have done in the past and have an easy life," continued Froch. "I've beaten top fighters at the right time and not taken the easy route like Joe Calzaghe. I think that I've surpassed him now. I've not got any respect for him because he took on old men and unknown fighters and turned away from live and dangerous opponents." Froch and Calzaghe have been swapping insults, nasty and personal attacks, for a long time and it intensified when Calzaghe retired last year.
"Calzaghe was fighting bums for years and every now and again he would fight a better boxer. I know that he was at the top for a long time, but he only took a few risks. I've gone in at the deep end – I'm old-school."
A win in Denmark will add to his credentials and will make his continued existence in the sporting shadows an even bigger mystery. "I just want the recognition that I deserve," says Carl Froch, champion.
Froch v Kessler is on Primetime (Sky Channel 480 and Virgin on Demand).
Carl Froch: Career highs
*Born on 2 July 1977 in Nottingham, "The Cobra" is unbeaten in 26 professional fights and holds the super middleweight championship belt. He began boxing as a nine-year-old and during a successful amateur career won two ABA middleweight titles and a bronze medal at the 2001 world championships. Since turning professional in 2002, the 32-year-old has been English and Commonwealth super middleweight champion and also held the prestigious Lonsdale belt. He became world champion for the first time in December 2008 with victory over Jean Pascal and successfully retained his WBC title with victories against the Americans Jermain Taylor and Andre Dirrell last year, the latter part of the Super Six World Boxing Classic tournament.
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