Carl Froch: A Modern Great?

By Max SamuelIt was in London’s legendary York Hall, on the night of 16th March 2002 when current IBF and WBA super middleweight king Carl ‘The Cobra’ Froch, 31-2 (22) boxed as a professional for the very first time.The storied amateur had travelled the world, winning consecutive ABA middleweight titles in 1999 and 2000 before winning a bronze in the 2001 World Championships in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

But it would be the paid ranks where the story would really start, the Nottingham man reeling of 11 quick wins before his first major test, a fight versus the tough Charles Adamu for the vacant Commonwealth title. After winning on points, Froch under the tutelage of trainer Robert McCracken and guided by Hennessey Sports would improve his mark to 23-0 (19) over the next 4 years, steadily increasing the level of opposition, but nevertheless slipping under the radar – largely due to a certain Welshman by the name of Joe Calzaghe.

Froch was now 31 and by no means on the slide, in fact he was just getting warmed up.

As mandatory challenger for the WBC vacated by the aforementioned Welshman, the inevitable title shot would come. After 12 brutal rounds in his home town of Nottingham, against 21-0 Jean Pascal of Canada, Froch would emerge the deserved winner on all three judge’s cards.

So where next? With Calzaghe jumping to light heavyweight to defeat legends Bernard Hopkins and the faded Roy Jones Jr in money spinning fights stateside a fight versus former undisputed middleweight champ Jermain Taylor in America beckoned. In a fight of two halves Taylor would build up a tidy lead by the halfway point and also dropped Froch for the only time in his career before fading badly down the stretch. It would lead to one of the greatest rounds in super middleweight history as Froch would stagger Taylor before dropping him with a mere 60 seconds or so on the clock. Behind on the cards and with the clock counting down Froch would unload a barrage of shots before referee Mike Ortega would halt proceedings.

The ‘Cobra’ had well and truly arrived.

It would be at this point that Showtime’s ‘Super Six’ would be consummated by then chief Ken Herschman, an innovative round robin involving 6 of the top dogs at super middleweight.

After winning his first round fight, a nondescript 12 rounder versus the negative Andre Dirrell, Froch would square off against the pre tournament favourite Mikkel Kessler who had surprisingly lost his first fight against Oakland’s emerging Andre Ward. After 12 brutal rounds in Herning, Denmark where both gladiators would exchange heavy leather it was the Dane who would inflict the first defeat on Froch’s ledger.

However, Kessler would pull out of the tournament at this stage with a career threatening eye injury, meaning Froch’s next fight, versus Armenian born but German based Arthur Abraham would again be for the vacant WBC super middleweight title. In the fight, which took place in Helsinki and where he entered the underdog, Froch would master his opponent, utilising a long, ramrod jab to earn a wide points victory and become a two-time world champion.

After joining Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom stable and defeating grizzled veteran Glen Johnson in his next bout, the Cobra would enter the Super Six final against former Olympian Andre Ward in December of 2011, after the initial date would be postponed due to Ward suffering a cut in training. In Ward he would face a puzzle like no other thus far in his career, an unbeaten, versatile American who had grown in stature throughout the tournament. In another distance fight, Froch’s 5th on the bounce Ward would have his hand raised in a closer than expected decision. Although competitive Froch had frankly been outboxed for the much of the fight and never really found Ward’s chin with his vaunted back hand down the pipe.

Was this the end of Froch as a major player at 168lbs? The only big name to miss the tournament, Canada’s Lucian Bute thought as much and offered to defend his IBF title versus Froch, in the latter’s hometown of Nottingham, England. The tall, unbeaten champion had carved out a decent living fighting mainly in his homeland and entered the bout with a 30-0 (24) mark, albeit against second tier opposition. In a make or break fight Froch would destroy the previously unbeaten southpaw over five pulsating rounds. The look on promoter Eddie Hearn’s face (as he climbed into the ring before referee Earl Brown had officially waved a halt to proceedings) said it all, his marquee man was back on top of the world, maybe just entering his peak at nearly 35 years of age.

Six months later Froch would stay busy by defeating light heavyweight Yusaf Mack with a body shot in the third round. This would lead to negotiations for a rematch with the rejuvenated Mikkel Kessler who has just regained the WBA title with a three round drubbing of former Froch victim Brian Magee. Having won their first encounter in Denmark both sides settled on a money spinning rematch in London’s O2 arena. The Dane, a true gentleman acknowledging that he owed Froch a fight on UK soil.

In an atmosphere only created by a British crowd, the two combatants would trade shots throughout the entire twelve rounds in a fight that would be etched on the memory of everyone in attendance and also watching on Sky’s Pay Per View. The emotions were evident throughout and Froch, having built up a lead over the first few rounds working off the jab would revert to type as the fight ebbed and flowed throughout the middle rounds. Froch, looking the fresher in the championship rounds and unwilling to give ground in front of 20,000 blood thirsty patrons, tried his best to put Kessler away in the later rounds. At the end, both men would embrace knowing they had given it their all and it would be Froch’s hand that was raised by referee Pete Podgorski, winning on all three judges scorecards. ‘This man’s not lying down for anyone’ commented Froch in reference to the final stanza in which he appeared to be on the verge of a stoppage. Battered and bruised but overjoyed at wiping one of the blemishes from his ledger, the end was most definitely not on the cards for one of Britain’s greatest ever fighters.

After a deserved period of rest and recuperation and after calling out for a rematch with the inactive Andre Ward, Froch would plump for a fight versus fellow Brit, and IBF mandatory challenger ‘Saint’ George Groves who will enter the ring on 23rd November at Manchester’s Phones 4U Arena with an impressive 19-0 (15) record. In a situation not dissimilar to when Froch was moving into world title contention and the consensus champ Joe Calzaghe was sitting atop the pile this is very much a story of experience and grit versus youthful enthusiasm.

With 5 years at the top and numerous miles on the clock from his spartan work ethic not only in the ring, but also in gym wars with the likes of IBF middleweight title holder Darren Barker and regular sparring partner Tony Bellew, will Froch suddenly fall of a cliff against the younger man? Will Groves, who’s shown the ability to box to a plan and also get off the canvas to win, be able to stand the kind of heat that Froch will almost certainly dish out?

Both men came head to head on a recent episode of Sky’s Ringside and discussed a sparring session from a few years ago, during which Froch dropped Groves with a right hand. Froch declared that Groves dropped ‘like a sack of spuds’ from the shot which he claimed was pulled. Groves insisted it was a flash knockdown, the sort of thing that ‘happens’ in sparring. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle but the reality is that this is Groves’ first test at this level (and no a fight versus a fellow novice James DeGale in which Groves showed an ability to think his way through a fight doesn’t constitute ‘this level’).

That being said Groves has been improving and looks bigger at the weight than he did a few years back and has been on a roll, earning 3 KO’s in 2013 since being took the distance by former Froch foe, the ancient Glen Johnson (who had clearly faded significantly since his fight with the Cobra some 18 month and a retirement earlier). However as this fight was consummated he split from long term trainer Adam Booth in favour of reuniting with old friend Paddy Fitzpatrick. An unusual move, especially given that Booth is known as a tactical genius and had been with Groves his entire professional career.

Nevertheless, whether it be naivety, bravery or simply the knowledge that he has gears that boxing fans and pundits alike have yet to see, Groves is steadfast with his declaration that he will be the first to knock out the Nottingham warrior. Indeed many insiders believe the early rounds could belong to Groves with his obvious advantages in youth and speed and Froch never known for above average speed of both foot and hand. However, those same voices also realise that in Froch we’re dealing with one of the gutsiest fighters on the planet.

No he will never top any mythical pound for pound lists (or for that matter even the super middleweight division whilst one certain Oakland resident is in the division), but his will to win, meticulous training regime and consistent ability to fill arenas with rabid fans, is something to behold – all 20,000 tickets for this fight were sold in a mere 10 minutes.

At 36 years of age Froch is certainly on the back nine, although we’ve seen no sign of fading, in fact he has an enviable ability to up the tempo of a fight almost at will, even when exhausted. However this is also the kind of age where fighter can simply just fall off a cliff, especially against a younger, faster foe although I personally don’t think that will happen. The general consensus is that Groves may steal a few of the early rounds but the overall strength of the older man will prevail in what is shaping up to be a classic proud champion versus green challenger type of affair.

The reality is Froch, at 36 won’t be around too much longer but I tend to agree with the consensus, it’s just come too early for Groves and with big paydays on the horizon against Golovkin, Ward and even a potential rubber match against Kessler, he’ll struggle to gatecrash the party. It’s been a pleasure watching the Froch story and it’ll be a pleasure seeing how one of Britain’s greatest ever fighter can round out a truly stellar career.

Hope you enjoy the fight.