I was reading an article on the BBC about Carl Froch being regularly criticised, and it left me thinking, who really has the best claim to being the True Champion at Super Middleweight? As great as the Super Six undoubtedly is, it isn't going to provide a definitive claimant as a new lineal Champion, what with Lucian Bute being absent from the competition. So, I thought I'd take my own look at the guys who I feel have the best claim and see what everyone else thinks!
Lucian Bute: Bute's undeniable skills as a boxer, coupled with his burgeoning power, have led to many lauding him as a lb-4-lb contender, as well as having the strongest claim for being the best fighter at 168. Indeed, at the moment, Boxrec has an image up on the frontpage of Bute with an 'I'm #1' t-shirt. However, is this really the case? Just taking a look at Bute's opposition, it becomes strikingly apparent that his resume is somewhat thin. Before stepping up to paper title level, he'd acquired a good win over Sakio Bika and a win over the brilliantly named James Obede Toney, who subsequently lost to Roman Karmazin. Bika is certainly a very solid win: rugged and relentless, he goes down as one of Joe Calzaghe's tougher opponents. However, the fact that an argument exists for Bika being Bute's best opponent to date is indicative of the gulf in quality on his record. Moreover, my next problem with claiming Bute to be the True Champion at Super Middleweight is the fact that when he has faced adversity in his career at the top against this lesser opposition, there remains a niggling doubt about whether he still deserved to be a paper titlist against Librado Andrade. Sure, he won the fight - but only after an almighty cock-up by Marlon Wright stopped Andrade really going in for the kill.
Andre Ward: If anyone doubted Andre Ward's potential to be a really top-flight fighter, those doubts were surely erased after his performance against Mikkel Kessler. His rise to the top was slow: having made his debut in 2004 on the back of an Olympic Gold Medal with all the natural talent in the world, one could be forgiven for being disappointed by the fact that it took five years before he was finally fighting for a paper title. Stylish against the desperately limited Edison Miranda, Ward's decision to step up and fight Kessler appeared to be a bold one. As we all know now, it would turn out to be a good one, with Ward dominating almost every minute of the 10 and a half rounds we got to see. However, as guys on the website have pointed out, the Kessler that Ward beat up appeared to be an almost entirely different one to the guy that Joe Calzaghe fought in 2007. Bereft of ideas, flummoxed by Ward's speed and blinded by his surprisingly effective jab (and even more effective head attack), Kessler had the look of a guy who recognised he was near the end. Indeed, even against a decidely average foe in Gusmyr Perdomo, Kessler looked surprisingly... off. Nevertheless, this is not meant to detract from Ward's achievement, yet as with Bute, a niggling doubt remains that he hasn't faced a good enough level of opposition to claim to be the lineal Champion. Kessler, who I'm leaving out of this argument on the basis of that loss, had only faced one fighter of any note in Dimitri Sartison since Calzaghe: was Ward's win really that good? I think we'll know a little more after Kessler fights this weekend, and perhaps after Ward takes on the dangerous but limited Allan Green in June.
Andre Dirrell: Dirrell is here on the basis of the fact that he possesses every physical talent necessary, and, moreover, a win over formerly unbeaten Arthur Abraham. Against the two aforementioned guys, Abraham is, in my mind, the best name on anyone's record. Yes, question marks shall persist about Abraham until he beats a really top-tier guy (Jermain Taylor's shot; no doubts about it in my mind); however, the difference between Abraham and Kessler is that Abraham has shown very few cracks in his armoury, while Kessler's appeared to be on the wane since the Calzaghe fight. I hate talking about the Carl Froch fight for a number of reasons: number one being that I'm a huge Froch fan, and number two being that it was a god-awful fight. I scored it a draw, which begrudgingly means that, without the point deduction, Dirrell would have won on my scorecard - and, to go with that, I'm pretty sure my scoring close rounds for Carl owes a lot to my Froch-fandom. Again, there is a lack of quality opposition on the Dirrell record; however, with Abraham down in the W column and with Froch in the (very disputed) L column, I think Dirrell has a better claim than either Bute or Ward to being the divisional champion.
Carl Froch: And, finally, to the man himself. What's not to love about Carl Froch? Yeah, he talks a load of trash about Calzaghe, but hey, he's fought an extremely high level of opposition already and, instead of winning the belt and holding it hostage, went straight out to America to test himself against Jermain Taylor. Pascal was an excellent win, of that there are no doubts; Taylor was, in many ways, an even better one, as we got to see all the characteristics of Carl Froch the fighter - heart, power, chin, shoddy defence, and above all, an incredible will to win. He was caused a great deal of problems by Dirrell and probably deserved the loss; however, it is to Carl's credit that he managed to get that one even to a close decision when one considers the stylistic problems Dirrell was able to cause him. However that display, unfortunately, is the reason why I can't consider Carl to be the definitive divisional champion either. Did he win?
No ... probably not.
I think that these are the top four guys in the division, and each in his own way holds a genuine claim to being the True Champion at Super Middleweight. However, it simply is such a strong division, and there plainly isn't a guy who holds an absolute claim, that it is very difficult to enshrine one of these guys as the True Champion. Let's hope that there's a winner of the Super Six (and not via a disputed win, please god) who then goes and fights Bute to give us a real Champion! Might be time to get down from my fence now...