by David P. Greisman
Atlantic City, N.J. - As promised, Carl Froch would not be knocked out by Andre Ward. As promised, Andre Ward would not be knocked out by Carl Froch.
But it was Ward who could do nearly all he wanted to do. And it was Froch who could do nearly none of what he’d sought out to do.
Ward stymied Froch for much of 12 rounds en route to a unanimous decision victory, taking the decision by a scorecard of 118-110 from John Keane and surprisingly close tallies of 115-113 from both Craig Metcalfe and John Stewart.
“He was very tricky,” Froch said after the fight. “He was slick and elusive and did a good job of keeping himself out of harm’s way. It was quite hard to hit him. The name of the game is to not get hit, and he did that well.”
The victory made Ward the winner of Showtime’s two-year “Super Six” tournament among many of the top super middleweight fighters, and also unified his World Boxing Association title with Froch’s World Boxing Council belt. It came in front of an announced attendance of 5,626, though the crowd appeared to be half that.
Nevertheless, the victory underscored that Ward is the best at 168 pounds and pushes him ever closer to a showdown with Lucian Bute, the other top fighter in the division and a man who was left out of the competition.
“I had a supernatural run with the Olympics, and me coming to the tournament as a young pup was supernatural as well,” Ward said afterward. “We told you that this was what we wanted to do. We wanted to fight on the inside and on the outside, and we pulled it off tonight. We were able to beat him to the punch, and that’s what won us the fight.”
Ward made it his fight. That meant the fight had some beautiful moments from Ward. That also meant some very ugly moments.
Ward and Froch came out more tentative than tactical in the first, neither throwing at the outset, then both choosing to work behind the jab. Froch landed a right hand to the body in a clinch, followed by a uppercut, and Ward responded with a clean left hook as they were breaking from each other. Ward landed more often in this opening stanza, ducking or moving away from Froch’s jabs and right hands.
Ward returned to that left hook in the second, throwing it whenever Froch was backing away from a clinch, and also using it as an occasional counter when Froch approached. Each continued to jab, and Froch threw in a few thudding body shots, though not enough to even the fight up.
Froch had more success in the third round, which started out slow but had its momentary lull broken by a Froch left hook, then a right hand to the body, then another. Two of the three judges scored the third for him, 10-9.
Ward worked effectively on the inside in the fourth, taking that round from two of the three judges. He muscled Froch to the ropes, landing hooks, and then put together a three-punch combination as Froch moved away.
Froch’s face in the fifth clearly showed him to be perplexed, and after the fight he admitted to being so.
“It was a bad night for me, obviously,” Froch said. “I couldn’t get anything going. That’s obviously due to Andre Ward. He’s very slick, slippery and he’s tricky in close. I wanted to put shots together, but he ducks and he slips and he slides. I tried desperately to get shots off. I never found myself in the zone. He was either too close, smothering me, or too far and out of reach.”
If Ward had been neutralizing Froch with defense in the first five rounds, then he also punished him with offense in the sixth, landing several right hands and left hooks that left Froch reeling.
Ward seemed to take his foot off the gas in the seventh. Afterward, it was easier to understand why.
“I hurt my left hand in training and I couldn’t say anything about it,” Ward said. “I hit him on the top of the head in the sixth round and hurt it. But we fought through it.”
Froch looked winded. He had no snap on his punches, rarely was landing cleanly, and was unable to take Ward off his game plan.
“I was a little surprised how slow Froch was,” Ward said afterward. “I noticed it right away.”
The fight soon degenerated into ugliness in rounds eight and nine, both of which were full of clinching, wrestling, body shots and rabbit punches.
Though Ward appeared to be pulling away, Froch came out with more energy in the 10th, showing the grit he’d also demonstrated in his come-from-behind win over Jermain Taylor and his back-and-forth battle with Mikkel Kessler.
It was still Ward’s round in the eyes of two judges.
Round 11 was a foul-fest, largely due to Ward. Froch threw far more punches, taking the round on two of three cards. Ward seemed more interested in clinching, holding, digging his head into Froch, driving him to the ropes and then throwing body shots.
Needing a knockout or multiple knockdowns to win, Froch came out in the last round in pursuit of Ward. A landed left hook was acknowledged by Ward nodding his head. Froch grew frustrated with Ward’s holding, seeking to throw Froch off him and then driving his left forearm into Ward’s face and throat.
Froch’s comeback never came.
Froch had an impressive run through the second half of tournament, though it didn’t start off well for him. His first Super Six bout was an ugly split decision win over Andre Dirrell. That was followed by a loss in a competitive bout with Kessler. But he rebounded, out-boxing and out-pointing Arthur Abraham, and he moved on to defeat Glen Johnson (a substitute for Kessler) in the semifinals.
Ward’s run was even better.
He defeated Kessler by unanimous technical decision in his first fight, winning a world title (and taking out the man who had been the tournament favorite) when that bout was stopped due to Kessler suffering a cut from a clash of heads. He’d out-pointed Allan Green (a substitute for Jermain Taylor) and then, when Andre Dirrell dropped out of the Super Six, beat Sakio Bika by unanimous decision in an out-of-tournament bout.
The 27-year-old from Oakland, Calif., improves to 25-0 with 13 knockouts. Froch, 34, returns to Nottingham, England, falling to 28-2 with 20 knockouts.
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter at twitter.com/fightingwords2 or on Facebook at facebook.com/fightingwordsboxing, or send questions and comments to [email protected]