Oli Goldstein is back at Bad Left Hook this evening to take a look at Saturday's big fight between Andre Ward and Carl Froch in the long-awaited final bout of Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic.
It's been a long time coming. 12 fights, 8 fighters, 6 promoters, 3 pull-outs and 2 and a half years later, the climax of the Super Six World Boxing Classic is finally upon us - and what a final it stands to be, pitting Andre Ward against Carl Froch. The former, a 2004 Olympic gold medallist and the reigning WBA super-middleweight champion; the latter, a World Championship bronze medal winner and two-time WBC belt-holder.
This fight has been billed as a clash of brains and brawn, supposedly pitting the speed of Ward against the power of Froch. Both fighters have willingly acceded to those labels. Ward, always dressed to the part in a suit, cerebrally accepts that ‘any man can be knocked out'; Froch, often bedecked in a black Lonsdale tracksuit bearing the image of a snarling bulldog, insists that he's coming to render Ward unconscious. In one corner, the calm, philosophical fighter; in the other, the crazed, uncouth brute.
Yet for all the sound and fury of the Ward-Froch build-up, from talk of brutal knockouts to accusations of derogatory remarks about one man's faith, this fight is by no means a clash of brains and brawn. Ward might appear serene and Froch might appear brash, but make no doubt about it - this will be a fight between two smart boxers who both come to fight.
Andre Ward is not just a speedy slickster. As Froch's superb trainer Rob McCracken pointed out today, this man can box and, what's more, this man can fight. ‘People say he sticks to his boxing, but believe me, he can fight,' said McCracken, the usually quiet coach dropping his guard to correct the perception of Ward being largely a mover and thinker.
Yet McCracken's man, Carl Froch, is by no means merely a brawler. While this image of Froch originates largely from his self-projection of bravado and machismo, as well as a number of fights where Froch slipped into a habit of moving in straight lines as he sought stoppages, recent performances against the likes of Arthur Abraham and Glen Johnson have seen the Nottingham fighter return to a commitment to boxing alongside brawling.
Neither one man nor the other is exclusively a boxer or a brawler; both, however, will come to fight. Which is, appropriately, what makes this fight so hard to predict.
Ward will start Saturday's fight as the consensus favourite. With an unblemished state and having barely lost more than a few rounds in two years, the American is aided by the perception of his purported slickness, a kryptonite over the ages for the archetypal brawler that Froch has been ramped up to be. Moreover, having beaten Mikkel Kessler in shockingly dominant fashion just six months prior to the Dane's close victory over Froch, Ward's record boasts possession of the one man to defeat his upcoming opponent.
Fights, however, are funny things. On paper, they can scream all sorts of certainties; yet in practice, experience tells us to expect the unexpected. On paper, Ward deserves his status as favourite. In practice, things could work out very differently.
The pervading perception that Ward will be too slick for Froch is based on questionable, if not weak, foundations. Analysts supporting a Ward victory have pointed to Froch's struggles to deal with the slipperiness of Andre Dirrell, as well as the nature of their man's victory over Kessler. Troubled by Dirrell's movement, Froch plodded after the American in a straight line, growing increasingly frustrated by his inability to hit the ever-moving target. Ward, able to regularly slip his opponent's punches, looked glorious against Mikkel.
Yet a closer analysis of the styles of the two fighters today should successfully deflate this conception of how Ward vs. Froch will unfold. Starting with Froch, it is abundantly clear that since the Kessler loss, he has returned to fighting in a style more tailored to the intricacies of the sweet science. Having won his belt in a classic fight with Jean Pascal, Froch's desire to crowd-please rapidly degenerated into a total disregard for the nuances of boxing, replaced by a lustful hunt for the knockout blow. As such, he became a fighter who travelled almost exclusively in straight lines, which, considering his low-slung hands, always spelt trouble. Against Taylor, he triumphed; with Dirrell, he escaped; to Kessler, however, he lost.
If the Kessler loss was a personal tragedy to Froch, it also served as a moment of anagnorisis for the Nottingham man. As Showtime's excellent Fight Camp 360 cameras picked up in the aftermath of the fight, Froch promised his trainer that things would be different - and how they have been. Successive victories over Arthur Abraham and Glen Johnson have seen Froch abandon the straight forward, gun-slinger approach of yesteryear in favour of a more measured style. Moments of masculine bravura often creep into his performances, but they are brief, flickering even, in comparison to the fighter who first won his world title in December 2008. While Froch would once have settled to meet come-forward fighters like Abraham and Johnson head on, now he prefers to stick to McCracken's game plans, keeping distance and looking to step off to create new angles for combination punches. That chin is by no means unhittable, but with a higher-held left hand and better use of the high shoulder to block or deflect punches, the moments when Froch was caught flush against Johnson were more irregular in comparison with the Taylor or Dirrell fights.
However, for all the stylistic changes that Froch has implemented, he can't deny physical facts, and he will never be the quickest fighter around. In terms of raw athletic talent, Andre Ward is largely the superior man. That does not mean, though, that he will attempt to execute a gameplan even remotely resembling Dirrell's.
Ward, for all the smart suits and the nice guy talk, is a fighter. If indeed one of Carl's perceived advantages is toughness, it's a non-factor. One of the iconic images to emerge from Ward's defeat of Kessler most clearly embodied the American's fighting spirit. Caught by a sharp Kessler left uppercut, Ward clinched, before the referee separated the two fighters. Refusing to back down from the fight, Ward instantaneously threw a heavy lead right cross as soon as the referee called the fighters in. In other words, this guy comes to fight. He's never performed in a manner even closely similar to the frightened, frantic running of Dirrell, and won't start on Saturday. Ward will set his feet and look to throw hard, straight punches.
But Carl Froch isn't Mikkel Kessler, or Allan Green, or Arthur Abraham, three fighters with limited head movement and who generally stand directly in front of their opponents. The "old" Froch would have played directly into Ward's hands and allowed the American to set his feet, throw his faster hands and land the cleaner shots, but the "new" Froch, the Froch who fought Abraham and Johnson, won't be standing in front of Ward all night long.
Likewise Andre Ward isn't Andre Dirrell, or Kessler, or Glen Johnson. He's the consummate boxer-puncher, and he'll pose Froch a multitude of new problems on Saturday night, from his hand speed, inside game, variety of defensive postures and solid, straight punching.
And that's why Saturday night's fight is such an exciting prospect. Ignoring the bravado and the hype, the different lifestyles and cultures, the contrasting personalities and beliefs, this all boils down to two boxers who come to fight. Both tough; both talented; both champions. Neither man has faced anybody like the other, and neither man has ever fought in a fight of this magnitude. It's nearly showtime, and I can't wait.