At first glance Yusaf Mack is a 32 year old fringe contender that's had very impressive moments in his big fights but has ultimately lost most of them. When stakes were raised the highest Mack has never won at all. In recent years, and against the two biggest names on his current resume, Mack was stopped by Glen Johnson and Tavoris Cloud in fewer than 8 rounds. Carl Froch poses a challenge many consider even more daunting. So why should anyone believe things could change in a career that's already spanned 12 years?
Once upon a time Yusaf Mack was an undefeated prospect that began his career with a record of 16 wins and 1 draw before taking a substantial step up in class. Inside of his first 17 bouts Mack's most notable opponents were Willie Lee and Sam Reese. Mack debuted against Lee, who was 2-0 at the time and would go on to defeat Alex Bunema years later. Reese made a career out of testing undefeated prospects and even won sometimes. Reese also beat Enrique Ornelas.
But while Mack was able to defeat both Lee and Reese, he had to settle for a draw against Jose Aponte. On the other hand it was only Mack's 4th fight while it was Aponte's 36th. To make the experience gap even more unbalanced Aponte had already fought former world champion Tracy Harris Patterson, 20-0 future world champion Paul Spadafora and 14-0 future world champion Leonard Dorin. Aponte hadn't fought someone with only 3 fights since he was a prospect himself. Just taking the fight shows how confident Mack's management was in his abilities.
Mack, who goes by the alias Catta amongst friends, took his career to the next level when he met Randy Griffin in his 18th fight, televised by ShoBox. The fight ended in a draw but Mack feels he deserved to win and claims Griffin agreed with him. Three years later Griffin went on to give Felix Sturm all he could handle and narrowly came short of capturing the WBA middleweight title. Griffin was fortunate to get a draw against Mack; Sturm was fortunate to escape with a draw against Griffin. Sturm has made a career out of questionably title defenses, but it's impressive nonetheless.
Less than 2 months after the Griffin "draw" Mack was back to his winning ways with a 2nd round KO of former NABF light heavyweight champion Donnell Wiggins, live on ESPN Friday Night Fights. Mack then captured the vacant USBA super middleweight title by stopping Shannon Miller in 8 rounds at the legendary Blue Horizon (located in Mack's hometown, Philadelphia). Yusaf made USBA title defenses against Richard Grant and Christian Cruz before returning to FNF against Alejandro Berrio. It was then that Mack's career began to have hiccups.
Ultimately the winner of Mack-Berrio would earn an IBF world title shot and make good on it. Unfortunately for Mack this was his first career defeat. From the opening round Mack established himself as the superior boxer and landed the harder shots as well. But Berrio stood up to Mack's bombs and kept applying pressure. He drew Mack into a war and Mack paid for it. The Philadelphian instinct to stand and trade took Mack out of his game. Mack-Berrio became a dog fight and the more durable, better conditioned fighter won. A similar story played out 2 fights later against Librado Andrade on the HBO PPV undercard to the Manny Pacquiao-Marco Antonio Barrera rematch.
Considering that Andrade was Mack's last opponent in the super middleweight division and how that turned out, one has to question how much Mack can offer by returning to the division 5 years later. Although persuaded to return to super middleweight by dollars rather than sense, Mack insisted things were different this time around during his Nov. 2nd media day. Mack first abandoned the super middleweight division largely because he drained himself to make weight. He cut well over 20 pounds for his fights and it's not as if he was previously walking around fat like a Roberto Duran or a Ricky Hatton would. The weight was tough to get off and Mack didn't allow himself enough time to do it the right way. The training camp for Carl Froch, whom Mack fights this Saturday, Nov. 17th, is another story entirely.
From early September through early November Mack kept his weight around 177lbs, a number I can personally vouch for as I watched him weigh himself after a long sparring session at the beginning of this monitored duration. When I interviewed Mack during the media day he said he'd be 172lbs on Nov. 10th, the day he left for England. Froch, who without a doubt is looking for a "soft touch" after a grueling Super Six schedule among other big fights, may be in for a surprise with what he's actually getting with Mack.
Froch's last 8 fights have been the most challenging schedule in boxing today. He rallied late to defeat Jean Pascal and Jermain Taylor after bruising battles, controversially escaped Andre Dirrell, endured a grueling fight of the year candidate with Mikkel Kessler, dominated Arthur Abraham, waged a tougher than expected war with Glen Johnson, was out classed by Andre Ward, and ran over Lucian Bute. Every fight minus Bute went 12 hard fought rounds that would take something out of any mortal. And now Froch has to fight a man who's heavily motivated, relishing his role as a 10-1 underdog, and just might be in the best shape of his life. Here are a few things Mack said during media day:
I'm willing to die come November 17th...I'm leaving it all in the ring that night...Whatever I've got to do come November 17th, I'm doing it...I've been here before. I've been here a few times. I've just never kicked the door open. Now I'm here; I'm in shape. Everybody see me trainin' every day. I box no less than 13 rounds. I'm ready. Let's have it...Everybody know, if I'm in shape...can't nobody beat me. Everybody know that. Every fight I lost, I was beaten, I just gassed out. What they gonna do when I don't gas out?
What is Carl Froch going to do if Yusaf Mack doesn't fade? All I can tell you is this: I bet you Froch doesn't want to find out.
Random Et Ceteras
Notable Mack sparring partners leading into Froch fight: Dhafir "No Fear" Smith, Garrett "The Ultimate Warrior" Wilson, and Steve "USS" Cunningham. Mack found the jabs of Smith and Cunningham particularly useful to prepare for Froch, who he doesn't believe is on their level in that department.
Style revisions / strategies: Mack, who has shown tendencies to drop his hands in the past, plans to keep them up against Froch. He believes that as long as he does Froch won't be able to get to him. He also believes he'll be able to "out slick" Froch in general and will make Froch respect him with his power.
What got Yusaf into boxing: his brother Stevie Mack (a light middleweight from the 1980s), his father, and his trainer Percy (aka Buster) Custus. Buster has worked with Yusaf since age 7 and their relationship is so close that they refer to each other as uncle and nephew despite not having a blood connection.
Boxing stars that Yusaf looked up to and learned from: Bernard Hopkins (who has trained at the same gym and sparred with Yusaf), Evander Holyfield, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Meldrick Taylor
What Yusaf plans to do if he's victorious: give back to his city and family. He particularly wants make his mom's life easier.
Expected cornermen on fight night: Robert Hines (former IBF junior middleweight champion), Nazim Richardson, and Buster Custus
Scouting preparation: As I personally provided Yusaf Mack and Team Shuler (members of the James Shuler Memorial Gym where Mack trains) with DVDs of Froch fights I can vouch they have the Brit well scouted. They've seen everything from Pascal to Bute.
Some quotes demonstrating the extremes Mack is willing to go to:
I already know, everybody know if I go over there and [we] go to a decision they're not going to give it to me. I know that. I got [to] beat him up and punish him. I'm [going to] headbutt him, elbow... I'm [going to] do whatever I've got to do to win. If they disqualify me, hey... (Implying ‘so be it')
Tricks out of a Bernard Hopkins or Bennie Briscoe playbook may be in store for Froch, but I won't detail them... I also didn't bother detailing any of Mack's light heavyweight career after Andrade, but feel free to ask questions below if you're curious.
Integrated Sports will televise Carl Froch-Yusaf Mack and selected undercards in the USA while Sky Sports will broadcast in the UK.
Ryan Bivins is a staff writer for BadLeftHook. You can contact him on twitter (@sweetboxing) or through email (email@example.com).