Sunday, 5 June 2011

Boxing needs more like Carl Froch

On the whole, boxing is diminishing as a mainstream sport in Britain and the US. Part of this is of course down to the move away from terrestrial television and into the lucrative but low-audience world of pay per view. The lack of American stars in many weight classes is also cited as a hindrance to the continued development of the noble art in the land of the free. However, a large part of the explanation lies in the politics of the sport and the inability of many promoters to enable the fights that are on the wish-list of the paying public. The days when the best would fight each other on a 'win some lose some' basis appear to be over as prospect protection and preservation of the zero in the loss column have become key components of building a boxer first into a star and then a massive revenue stream.

With that in mind, those fighters who are willing to take on all comers in the current climate are indeed a rare breed. These are the men who make possible the big events we all crave, by risking their health and their professional reputation to challenge themselves against other elite competitors whenever and wherever possible. That Carl Froch is such a competitor is beyond doubt to many who have heard of him and understand what 'the Cobra' has achieved. The only minor issue is that even after his latest majority decision victory over former light-heavyweight World champion and evergreen tough guy Glen Johnson, Froch still falls just short of being an instantly recognisable household name. He may or may not care about his legacy in this sense, but it is unfortunate to come across many people who genuinely like the sport and still aren't aware of exactly who or what Froch is, for it genuinely is their loss.

After winning a bronze medal at the World Amateur Championships in 2001, 'the Cobra' turned pro and moved to a 23-0 record while following the old-fashioned career path of claiming English, British and Commonwealth titles. As he racked up the victories, there was a nagging sense that his career was stalling with the absence of any world level opportunity on the horizon. While a fight with Joe Calzaghe would have represented a massive opportunity for Froch and a money-spinning domestic showdown for both men, the Welshman was at the stage where marquee events in the States and the money that came with them were the only things on his radar - this was unfortunate as a Calzaghe-Froch fight may well be regarded as one of those great occasions that did not happen.

Meanwhile, European champ Cristian Sanavia and former amateur foe Denis Inkin both pulled out of proposed bouts that would have given Froch greater exposure, and his the limited nature of his options was illuminated when the best contest on offer was a one-sided massacre of former WBC champion Robin Reid. This was a terrible fight for all involved, with 'the Reaperman' clearly out of shape and a shadow of his former self while 'the Cobra' landed at will with a barrage of heavy and largely unanswered blows. The Reid corner eventually pulled their man out after a fifth round of target practice in which he was floored. This represented the ultimate 'marking time' fight but eventually the wait would be over. Calzaghe's move up to 175lbs gave Froch a shot at the vacant WBC title against unbeaten Candian Jean Pascal.

When he took the strap with a decisive victory in a fight of the year contender, one could have forgiven him for taking one or two 'safe' paycheques against less than top drawer opposition (a quick glance at Pascal's subsequent record will vouch for his calibre and the impressive nature of the result). However, what has become quite apparent in the two and a half years since is Froch's desire to constantly challenge himself, taking on the best available opposition. Jermain Taylor, the former undisputed champion at middleweight and one-time conqueror of Bernard Hopkins, was stopped in a dramatic final round while 'the Cobra' trailed on the cards. When the Super Six tournament was unveiled as a means of finding the top 168lb fighter on the planet, Froch was, quite naturally the first to conclusively put himself forward.

This has brought him three further victories at world level against former US Olympian Andre Dirrell, rugged ex-middleweight king Arthur Abraham and the latest success against Johnson. There was also a narrow points loss to former unified champion Mikkel Kessler in his native Denmark, and with 'the Viking Warrior' kick-starting his own successful comeback last night. following a year long lay-off due to an eye injury, there may well be a rematch further down the line if Froch can first get past another US amateur star and unbeaten pro Andre Ward. This should be a fascinating clash of styles between Ward's fast, flashy in-out approach and Froch's usual gameplan of cutting off the ring and cornering his opponent. The nature of the Super Six means that there will be opportunities downstream for both men, but the accolade of best Super-Middleweight on earth is the sort that would motivate Froch more than any amount of money ever could.

I just hope that 'the Cobra' now gets the exposure and name recognition that his achievements clearly deserve. The decision of his former promoter Mick Hennessy, to broadcast his fights on the pay per view channel PrimeTime, cannot have helped in this regard, but now managed by Matchroom's Eddie Hearn and back fighting on regular Sky, his profile should be raised considerably by having a greater target audience. Possessed of concussive power, a granite chin and a will to stand and trade with a low left hand, any bout involving Carl Froch is invariably good value and regardless of the result of the Super Six final, we are talking about a fighter who is already one of the greatest British boxers of all time if judged on record alone. Every single one of his title fights and defences have been meaningful contests against quality opposition, and it is not often you can say this in modern boxing. If the sport can just find a few more like him then there is hope for it yet.

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