Carl Froch has come a long way from the opening round of the Super Six World Boxing Classic, when Showtime analyst Antonio Tarver was tripping over his name and calling him “Crotch.” To the American boxing public, the then-unbeaten “Cobra” was regarded less for his venomous bite than for his serpent’s tongue. Froch was brash enough to claim Joe Calzaghe was avoiding him but lacked the resume to fully back up his tough talk, and the general opinion, at least on the southpaw side of the Atlantic Ocean, was that the Nottingham native was the fifth most likely combatant to win the Super Six. The number-six spot went to Jermain Taylor, whom Froch had defeated via come-from-behind 12th-round knockout in his previous fight. But the other four contestants were all given better chances of winning, either because they’d proven themselves more or because their ceilings were perceived to be higher.
Nineteen months have passed since the tournament began, and Froch is regarded in an entirely different light now. According to the online sports books, he’s about a 4-1 favorite to reach the Super Six finals. It’s amazing what added exposure and a series of impressive performances against top competition will do for you. Even though he suffered his first loss during this tourney (a could-have-gone-either-way decision to pre-tournament favorite Mikkel Kessler), when you view his last five fights as a whole, you can’t help but give the man his due. He decisioned Jean Pascal, who later went on to become the light heavyweight champion of the world. He knocked out a still viable Taylor. He won a split decision over Andre Dirrell. He lost to Kessler. And he dominated Arthur Abraham in every conceivable way. To go 4-1 running that gauntlet, you have to be an elite fighter. Fact is, just about every pound-for-pound list that stretches to a top 20 now includes the erstwhile Mr. Crotch.
Froch’s run to a favored role in the Super Six semis is a fantastic and unlikely success story.
And yet it’s trumped completely by that of his next opponent.
Glen Johnson WAS afforded all of the respect Froch wasn’t two years ago, but Johnson’s Super Six success is fantastic and unlikely because he wasn’t in the Super Six when it began. And he wasn’t the first or second alternate lined up. He wasn’t a super middleweight at all, actually. Johnson, who meets Froch this Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City for the right to face Andre Ward in the tournament finals, was a 40-year-old light heavyweight contender who was in between losses to Chad Dawson when the Super Six began. When he got the call to enter the tourney in the final fight of the round-robin portion, he was coming off another defeat to Tavoris Cloud. But he knocked out Allan Green last November. He earned the number-three seed with one punch. Now, at 42, Johnson has a chance to be the coolest of party guests: the last to arrive, the last to go home.
When the Super Six began, the “smart” money said Kessler or Abraham, or quite possibly both of them, would be in the finals. Instead, the final fight will be either Ward vs. Froch or Ward vs. Johnson. Clearly, the business of making predictions is overrated. So the point of this column is not to tell you who’s going to win on Saturday night.
It’s to tell you which outcome is better for boxing and for the Super Six.
Let’s start with the most superficial element: Froch’s nearly pristine record vs. Johnson’s banged-up old jalopy of a record. “As far as I’m concerned,” Froch said last week, “I still consider myself unbeaten.” Indeed, Froch’s one defeat to Kessler was debatable. But then again, so was his win over Dirrell. So let’s call it square and say his record is what it should be, 27-1 (20 KOs). If he beats Johnson, he’s 28-1. That looks pretty on the marquee next to Ward’s mark of 24-0 (13).
It damned sure looks prettier than 52-14-2, Johnson’s record entering the finals if he defeats Froch.
Again, it’s a purely superficial point of discussion. But this Super Six tournament, as much as boxing fans have buzzed about it for the past two years, has struggled to get beyond the fringes of mainstream attention in America. And those web and print editors and sports talk show producers out there who can only name about a half-dozen active boxers are nothing if not superficial when it comes to the fight game. So it’s probably a good thing for the tournament, promotion-wise and exposure-wise, if the two fighters in the finals have one loss between them.
On the other hand, all those defeats help make Johnson the better human-interest story, which is the other thing that mainstreamers are willing to latch onto. And the ugly record is only part of his underdog appeal. There’s also the fact every single man, woman, baby, and puppy on the planet likes Johnson on a personal level. (How could you not like a guy who, when asked what advantages he holds over Froch, answered, “My advantage is being Glen Johnson”?) And there’s his age. Fans love watching old athletes triumph, as a certain 46-year-old light heavyweight who spent much of his career being rooted against reminded us last week. The lovable 42-year-old with double-digit defeats on his record reaching the finals of the Super Six is a hard hook to resist.
However, there is some devil’s advocate to be played with regard to the age issue. Ward is 27 and seems to be in his prime. Froch is 33 and seems to be in his prime. There’s something to be said for a finals match that features two fighters at the peak of their respective games. And if you have an eye on the future, certainly it’s better for boxing to see a 33-year-old emerge as a star than a 42-year-old who, theoretically, shouldn’t have too many more good years in the game.
Or does Johnson have more good years left than we think because he’s finally fighting at the correct weight?
“I wish I would have listened to my manager a long time ago and gone down there [to super middleweight] sooner,” Johnson said last week. “The main reason is that I didn’t think I would be able to maintain that weight. I always felt like super middleweight wasn’t who I was and I didn’t want to put the strain on to make that weight.”
As it turned out, Johnson appeared strong and healthy at 168 pounds against Green—at least as good as he’s looked at light heavy at any point in the last five years. It’s hard to say based on one fight, but maybe super middle is the right weight for Johnson at this point in his career and he’s a bigger threat to Froch and Ward than most people realize.
Of course, the question of who’s a bigger threat to Ward, who has to be regarded as the current overall favorite to win the Super Six, is a crucial one to this discussion. It’s important for boxing that we get as competitive a final fight as possible. It’s also important that we get an entertaining style matchup in the finals. I’d give Froch the edge on probability of defeating Ward (he’s more versatile than Johnson and can come closer to matching Ward’s speed), but I’d give Johnson the edge on probability of making a fun fight against Ward (Johnson will apply pressure; Froch and Ward might mesh awkwardly and feature more missed punches).
The ultimate argument in favor of Froch is this: It’s better for the integrity of this ambitious tournament of two of the original six fighters make the finals. If it’s Ward vs. Froch, it’s easier to say the Super Six was a success and both fighters had to take lengthy and demanding roads to the end. “The final person to hold the Super Six Cup will have withstood the test of time,” Froch claimed. That’s true if that person is Froch or Ward. If that person is Johnson, he will have withstood the test of Father Time but he won’t have been time tested in the Super Six.
In the end, just as often happens when trying to pick the winner in a fight, the head and the heart say two different things with regard to which final I’d rather see. The heart is pulling for Ward-Johnson. The head is pulling for Ward-Froch.
And both them are pulling for an entertaining fight this Saturday. And, oh yeah, they’re pulling for a fight that doesn’t end in a draw.
Eric Raskin can be contacted at RaskinBoxing@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin and listen to new episodes of his podcast, Ring Theory, at http://ringtheory.podbean.com.