Bu Jim Cawkwell
A model wife, multiple world championships and the respect of his peers and fans worldwide offer plenty of justification for the almost constant grin occupying Carl Froch’s face. But what must please him just as much is the fact that immediately south of that grin is one of the toughest chins in boxing. Calling himself “The Cobra,” one expected Froch to possess lightning speed and reflexes. Though his unveiling to the world audience revealed Froch to be a few leagues down from a genuine speed merchant, it showed the strength, tenacity and immense punch resistance that have become his fighting identity.
When Jermain Taylor asked “who is Carl Froch?” scoffing at the notion of fighting an unknown, it was a just question to ask at that time. After eleven rounds, two minutes and forty-five seconds in Froch’s intimate company, Taylor had his answer. Since then, Froch has not won every fight, but almost everyone he has fought to this day – whether a champion or contender – were considered world class. Froch’s next outing is no exception. He has unfinished business with Mikkel Kessler and it’s good to know this is the year that their instant classic gets its sequel.
Kessler also enjoys the limelight in his home nation, international renown as a skillful fighter and multi-time champion. What Kessler has over Froch – and what Froch finds difficult to stomach – is the claim of beating Froch for the first time, taking his then WBC world title. Competitive though it was every moment, Froch is perhaps right to feel aggrieved of losing his title in a close fight in which he as the champion should have received the benefit of the doubt.
Both used the jab to great effect, trying to establish their presence in the center of the ring. So busy and industrious was Kessler that he often forced a more languid Froch into fighting on the back foot. But Froch’s less frenetic approach was not a physical shortcoming, it was part of his swagger, the cool confidence that allowed him to stride forward and launch wide, ambitious combinations. Kessler might have found more success going forward, but Froch was far more defensively versatile than expected on the night.
Their exchanges were frequent, brief and violent, with Kessler lashing in rights to the body and clubbing Froch with left hooks to the head. Froch’s unpredictable timing and combinations seemed the more hurtful weapons in the fight, stunning Kessler several times. But by the eighth, the pace and body attacked slowed Froch right down, and he seemed uncharacteristically reluctant to engage Kessler while trying to catch himself. It’s likely from then on that Kessler – with better head movement and foot-work allowing him to get inside and deliver sharp flurries – stole the judges’ eyes.
Hopefully, what awaits us when the two meet again later this year is more of the same. Though both of them have a few more years of mileage, neither of them is considered to be approaching the end of their careers. Medical issues stymied Kessler’s career in the last five years and Froch is by far the more active fighter. But two dramatic wins in 2012 against fringe world level opposition suggest Kessler is hitting prime form at the perfect time.
However, whatever Kessler did last year does not come close to competing with the feat accomplished by Froch and the momentum it gives him going into their rematch. Dejected after the anti-climax of losing to Andre Ward in the Super Six final, Froch entertained ideas of retirement, preferring to remove himself from boxing altogether rather than simply exist outside of the elite level.
Lucian Bute entered his fight with Froch undefeated and a heavy favorite, but Froch, sensing his career in jeopardy, fought as such, snuffing out any semblance of Bute’s offense early and barreling forward. It seemed that everything Froch landed affected Bute, and the longer it went, the more apparent it became that Bute was in over his head and in serious trouble. That was how Carl Froch climbed back on top of the world, but it’s easy to see what really stirs him is the chance to redeem the losses given to him by Kessler and Ward.
Ward has separated himself from the pack, demonstrating that he is good enough at just about everything and determined enough to overcome any challenge. Nobody has come close to Ward as he has always managed to impose his will and break down the best fighters out there including Froch and Kessler. But only disposing of Kessler buys Froch the chance to settle with Ward, and Kessler – himself wanting a second crack at Ward – will not go easily.
Expect a tense fight with several momentum shifts and more frequent firefights as both boxers understand the ramifications of losing such a significant bout. Froch’s confidence is undiminished despite his losses, but his accuracy needs to improve from the first fight so that he can throw less to greater effect, preserve his energy and be able to match Kessler’s work rate in the later rounds.
Kessler’s aggression and consistency won him the first fight, but with the rematch now staged in England, he needs to avoid Froch’s heavy hands and win not only rounds but the drama, the big moments of the fight to leave no doubt.
Jim Cawkwell can be reached at [email protected]