A Fighter's Fighter: The Carl Froch Way

Carl Froch's legacy in British boxing is secure, even though mainstream British press coverage eluded him over the years. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Depending on the angle of perception, the A52 running through Derby to Nottingham is merely a functional grey road accommodating dull metal heaps chuffing back and forth. An irreversible gateway for industrial caverns, its pylons married to a rusting sky: one great inevitable sprawl between inorganic conurbations. From one metropolis to another, the A52 rolls itself on, a cog in the engine, one part of a ceaseless network of mournful roads plodding into the vague distance.

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Yet take a different perspective, and the A52 is transformed. The potholes imbued with meaning; the tarmac, a narrative. Take up a different angle, and this long, winding road becomes a vital sign of a glorious past, a physical monument soon to be worn down by the gradual persistence of man and nature; yet enshrined with a history that shall remain impervious to malleable time. From another perspective, this is the Brian Clough Way.

On Saturday, Carl Froch shall make his way to the Capital FM Arena knowing the significance of what that road stands for: the legacy it preserves, the greatness it remembers. An unromantic symbol of a bygone era.

For the Brian Clough Way remembers a past when Nottingham, briefly, became the centre of the footballing world. Managed by an irrepressible, self-fashioned genius, Nottingham Forest accomplished feats that the sport shall almost certainly never see again. Having long languished in the second division of English football, Brian Clough was duly hired and charged with transforming the club into contenders. Just eighteen months into the job, he had led them into the highest tier. A year later, they were the champions of England.

Carl Froch was less than a year old when Clough began forging a new history for Forest. Shortly before his second birthday, the club would become champions of Europe; twelve months later, they would further cement their place in history, as the only English team to retain that much-coveted trophy.

Yet football operates in cyclical ways. As one team propels themselves to untouched heights, another soon responds - invention and innovation challenged by the unquenchable thirst of those whom glory starves. Empires rise and so empires must fall. Today, inseparable from its duties to remember the past, the Brian Clough Way must also survey the wreckage of the present: Nottingham Forest, a shell of its former greatness.

*

Great football clubs engage with their local communities in remarkable ways, creating a sentiment that is often impossible to replicate through an individual. One thinks of the proud identity of Liverpool Football Club, forged out of its unique relationship with the surrounding population. One remembers the striking images of thousands parading their victorious team through the city. One thinks of the ecstasy and agony.

Occasionally, however, there emerges an individual into whom a collective group of people will voraciously channel their passions. The likes of Ricky Hatton, taking 40,000 Brits with him to Las Vegas, or Frank Bruno, the darling of the nation. More importantly, Barry McGuigan - whose remarkable mixture of charisma, kindness and religious neutrality, not to mention a devilish fighting style, ensured that an entire country split down its centre could, briefly, forget its own self-mutilations.

That Carl Froch has not obtained the same kind of diverse and passionate following is not altogether particularly surprising - for Froch's career has been pursued in strikingly different ways to those aforementioned fighters. Though his relationship with former promoter Mick Hennessey had always appeared strong, their split in April 2011 was ultimately testament to a greater reality: that Carl Froch, despite two world title tilts and global respect, had not become the star both his personality and talent warranted. Backed by neither Sky nor terrestrial television, while fighting in Helsinki, Herning and Connecticut, Froch was cast in a remarkable position. Though secure in his standing as Britain's leading fighter, his fame was paradoxically obscured - the consequence of misunderstanding and mismanagement. Where Bruno had the BBC and Hatton had Sky, Froch was hidden away on little known and little used Primetime TV. Even his epic final round stoppage of Jermain Taylor failed to pick up any live coverage.

This reveals far more about the managerial failings of Hennessey than it does about Froch - a man whose thrilling style and verbal agility should certainly have lent neatly towards attaining TV interest. After picking up his first title belt in a brutal encounter with Jean Pascal, fought in Nottingham and shown live on ITV, Froch should have been able to use that victory as a platform to greater things. In some ways, it was, as Froch bucked an increasingly irritating trend and employed that WBC belt as a means to attaining bigger and better fights. Yet that was also the last time a Froch fight was available live and free-to-air before his May 2010 encounter with Glen Johnson, while the two bouts shown on Sky thanks to his Matchroom deal have both taken place in the earliest hours of the morning.

*

Time has long been the steady stalker haunting the shadows of those men who call themselves boxers. Time is always there: lurking in the background one day, silently creeping up behind the next. What is long time becomes short time; what is short time simply ceases to exist.

There are no anomalies to this equation. Time has its way eventually - a reality which certain fighters find impossible to condition themselves to.

One way or another, time is catching up on Carl Froch. Now aged thirty-four, with thirty fights behind him and a recent history which bespeaks of a procession of brutal encounters, Froch is moving ever closer towards the twilight of his career. Though boxing occasionally provides a Bernard Hopkins or Antonio Tarver, these technicians will ever be few and far between. Suffice to say, with his tendency to rely on a granite chin to grit his way through fights, Froch is highly unlikely to join this very limited club.

*

And so, on Saturday night, Carl Froch will return to compete in Nottingham for the first time in two and a half years, perhaps entering the final chapter of a storied career. One spent fighting all over the globe, relentlessly pursuing the hardest challenges and best competition. One that has stood firmly against the modern grain.

Perhaps questions will persist after Froch has retired - what would have happened if he had left Mick Hennessey earlier; how much more money would he have made taking a few lighter touches on home soil...

Yet for the boxing fan who watches the sport week in and week out, for the boxing fan forced to watch the endless machinations which put paid to any number of "dream fights": for that boxing fan, Carl Froch will have provided enduring memories of an honest British fighter who made the most of his talents and sought to carve out his own little corner within boxing's history.

On Saturday night, as Carl Froch travels over the Brian Clough Way, as he reaches that twenty foot ring in the Capital FM Arena, he shall do so with an entire city cheering him on, the last bearer of a magnificent sporting history. A modern fighter representing an ancient tradition worn thin over time. A man whose history won't be enshrined in a road, but a fighter who did things his way: the Carl Froch way.

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