NEW YORK – Three days before their fight for the World Boxing Council super-middleweight title will inaugurate Foxwoods’ MGM Grand Arena as a boxing venue, the Carl Froch-Jermain Taylor-Lou DiBella-Mick Hennessey traveling road show arrived, en masse, into the Big Apple Wednesday afternoon, replete with a couple of barkers from the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal nation. It rolled through Times Square and convened at a midtown Manhattan eatery renowned for its boxing ambience, its large steaks, and its surly waiters.
As he gazed out at the packed room it seemed clear enough that Froch had never been in the presence of so many cameramen, publicists, scribes, and Pharisees at once.
Taylor, of course, has, though not recently, and he readily admitted that he was rather enjoying this return to the limelight.
“I’ve been here before, and it’s a great feeling to be back,” said the man who was once the undisputed middleweight champion of the world. “For my last fight against (Jeff) Lacy I didn’t see none of you reporters there. Just a couple of cameras. And come to think of it, those were the throwaway kind.”
For the benefit of those still attempting to come to grips with Froch-Taylor’s place on the contemporary boxing landscape, promoter Lou DiBella attempted to lay down a prospective storyline — that Saturday night’s title bout at the Connecticut casino is about “names,” which is to say that Taylor will be trying to get his back, while Froch will be seeking to establish his credentials here in the colonies.
This was before Lou got totally carried away with himself and started trying to tell a room full of people who know better “Neither one of these guys has ever taken a step backward,” and, as his nose really started to grow “You’ve never seen Jermain Taylor in a bad fight.”
Huh? Kassim Ouma? Cory Spinks?
Still, DiBella’s was a well intentioned ploy, but it is perfectly understandable that the attempt to trade on Froch’s anonymity wasn’t a notion the visitor seemed anxious to entertain.
Cornered and surrounded by a clutch of reporters the minute he walked into the upstairs function room at Gallagher’s, the Englishman was almost immediately asked by an American writer whether he had come to fight in the US so that the world will know who he is.
“The world already knows who I am,” pointed out Froch for the fellow’s edification. “I’m the world champion. Jermain Taylor happens to be my mandatory. That’s why I’m here. As the champion, it’s my duty.”
Of course, truth be told, he didn’t have to rush right into this one, either. Froch could have taken a safer first defense back in Nottingham and made a million or so from British television, but when it all was said and done it would have meant little in the big picture he envisions – a win Saturday night, followed by unification bouts against Lucien Bute and Mikkel Kessler “and whoever the WBA champion turns out to be. I don’t even know right now,” confessed Froch.
A year older than Taylor at 31, Froch is a well-spoken young fellow, a product of an education at Loughborough University in Sheffield who confesses to playing a passable Johnny Cash-style guitar as an avocation. He has been a professional for seven years, during which he has defeated each of 24 men placed before him. And it isn’t as if somebody just handed him the belt he’s defending on Saturday.
“I’d worked my way up to become the WBC mandatory, which put my into position to fight Joe Calzaghe,” said Froch. “But Joe Calzaghe gave up the title rather than fight me. I think he knew what I knew: That he was all wrong for me. I fight very well against southpaws. Joe Calzaghe was the best fighter in the world, but he didn’t want to fight me. And there was a reason Joe Calzaghe didn’t want to fight me.”
Actually, there were several of them, very few of them having to do with Froch, but that contention is part of the package – a fighter DiBella describes as “arrogant,” Taylor as “cocky.” Froch prefers to describe himself as “confident.”
“And if I don’t have confidence in myself, who is going to believe in me?” he asks.
There are doubtless some among his countrymen who do share his confidence, but it isn’t as if he has arrived on these shores with the collective hopes of the British people riding on his shoulders, a la Ricky Hatton and before him, Naseem Hamed. Froch certainly enjoys more support than, say, Michael Jennings, the earnest but hapless British welterweight who came over to try Miguel Cotto in February, but even the books back in Nottingham make him a 3-2 underdog, and until ITV rang in with a late deal to pick up the fight on a tape-delay basis, Froch’s first title defense wasn’t even going to be shown on British television. (His connections had cobbled together an arrangement to show it on internet pay-per-view at roughly $15 a pop. Not exactly Calzaghe numbers.)
Once Calzaghe abandoned the WBC title to fight his last two bouts in America, and as a light-heavyweight, Froch was matched against Haitian-born, Quebec-based Jean Pascal, whom he solidly outpointed in their battle for the vacant belt in Nottingham last December. The pair apparently emerged from that fray with renewed respect. When Froch set up training camp on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls three weeks ago, Pascal became his principal sparring partner, and by all accounts performed a creditable Taylor impersonation.
Pascal, incidentally, could own a world of his own by early summer. He bounced back from the Froch loss by knocking out Pablo Nieves at the Montreal Casino on the afternoon of April 4, and now appears headed for a challenge to another Montreal immigrant, Romanian-born WBC light-heavyweight champ Adrian Diaconu. (Having watched Diaconu’s plodding performance against Canadian journeyman David Whitthorn a few hours after Pascal disposed of Nieves, the champion appears to be every bit as much the ordinary plodder he seemed when he first saw him in Boston seven years earlier. Diacono-Pascal, a joint promotion of InterBox and Yvon Michel, will take place at the Bell Centre, probably the second weekend in June, and we like Pascal’s chances.)
Taylor seems willing to give Froch his props (“He’s the champion. He has the belt. You have to respect that, and I take my hat off to him for putting his title on the line here in America), but there’s one thing I know how to do that he’s never done – and that’s take a belt from someone.
“Sure, he’s a cocky fighter – now,” said Taylor, who has been there and done that. “He hasn’t lost yet. But he’ll learn.”
If Froch seems a trifle brash, Taylor exudes a quieter confidence of his own.
“I’m not making any excuses for the fights with Kelly Pavlik, but there’s nothing like the big one, and once I win Saturday night, the next one will be even bigger. I respect that Froch came over here to fight me. He didn’t have to come. But I’m back – and I’m not playing with this thing.”
Taylor recognizes that the 168-pound division he finds himself part of today is probably deeper and more talent-laden than the 160-pound roost over which he ruled a couple of years ago, with a multitude of big fights awaiting the winner. (Unlike Froch, Taylor was at this point unwilling to enumerate them. “I’m not looking past Carl,” he said, “but ask me that same question right after the fight and I’ll tell you something then!”)
Bute, who seems eminently beatable among the other super-middle claimants, is high on the list of both participants, but don’t count on that one happening just yet. Although the Rumanian-born Montreal resident presently owes Librado Andrade a rematch in his mandatory, Don Majeski, who does the matchmaking for Bute’s Canadian promoters, said Wednesday that the winner of the co-feature of Saturday night’s co-feature between Allan Green and Carlos De Leon Jr. would likely produce Bute’s next opponent, in a July fight at the Bell.
We’d like the Froch-Taylor winner’s chances (and for that matter, the loser’s, too) over Bute, and both DiBella and his British promotional counterpart Mick Hennessey say they’d be willing to go to Montreal for that matchup. And, having committed itself to three telecasts from the Bell Centre since October, so, obviously, would Showtime.
But first things first.
“Jermain Taylor is going to be very disappointed Sunday morning, because I’m sure I’m taking this belt back with me to England,” vowed the confident Froch.
Froch’s trainer, former Commonwealth middleweight champion Robert McCracken, also voiced “confidence.” On the other hand, no one would accuse McCracken of cockiness in rating his man’s chances against Taylor:
Said McCraken: “I’m pretty sure we’ll still have the belt after the fight.”