by Cliff Rold
All the talk is done. The delays are past. The Super Six Super Middleweight tournament roller coaster heads into its final peak with the stakes as high as can be. The winner leaves with the silver cup, two alphabet titles, and the lineal World Championship left vacant since Joe Calzaghe moved on to Light Heavyweight in 2008.
Neither man was the favorite when the tournament began. Andre Ward, despite an amateur pedigree topped by a 2004 Olympic Gold Medal at Light Heavyweight, was seen as too green, too unproven, for a largely veteran field. An undressing of the excellent Mikkel Kessler in the first round set him on a rocket to the finals.
Froch, even with rousing wins over Jean Pascal and former Middleweight king Jermain Taylor on his ledger, entered without the favor of Europeans Kessler and Arthur Abraham. He has proven to be the ultimate answer to those who approach the sport looking for pound-for-pound talent first. Froch isn’t always pretty but he fights the best and, over his last six fights, has gone 5-1. He finds his aesthetics in the winner’s circle.
Froch-Ward as the Super Six final is why they fight the fights. Fighting the fights, earning it in the ring, is how boxing ends up with this sensational match.
Both men earn congratulations for arriving at this moment and deserve respect no matter the outcome.
Let’s go to the report card.
Titles: WBC Super Middleweight (2010-Present, 1 Defense)
Previous Titles: WBC Super Middleweight (2008-10, 2 Defenses)
Weight: 167.5 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 167.2 lbs.
Hails from: Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom
Record: 28-1, 20 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #1 at Super Middleweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 5-1, 1 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 5 (Robin Reid, Jean Pascal, Jermain Taylor, Arthur Abraham, Glen Johnson)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 1 (Mikkel Kessler)
Title: WBA Super Middleweight (2009-Present, 3 Defenses)
Weight: 168 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 168.3 lbs.
Hails from: Oakland, California
Record: 24-0, 13 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #2 at Super Middleweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 4-0
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 2 (Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Froch B; Ward A
Pre-Fight: Power – Froch B+; Ward B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Froch B; Ward A
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Froch A; Ward A
Some who favor Ward look to the trouble Dirrell gave Froch with movement and speed and see a similar advantage for Ward. It might be a mistake. Dirrell, for all his flaws, has otherworldly hand speed. Ward’s is a tick slower if still of exemplary class. Where Ward succeeds in ways Dirrell does not is in timing, focus, and tactics. He is very good at landing a first shot, quick clinching to stymie a foe, and then use the spaces he creates to land some more. Ward also knows how to come in low and then come up with offense, a hazard for any fighter trying to time Ward as he comes forward.
Froch, while not as quick, has shown improved timing in the tournament and possesses an unorthodox approach to counter Ward’s attack. Men like Abraham, Kessler, and Allan Green are all far more predictable than Froch, and punch from more traditional angles. Froch’s upjab, hard and sometimes looping right, and underrated footwork will be a factor. Ward could be open to uppercuts around his right glove coming forward. Froch, who holds his hands low, is good at stepping to the side and throwing a left hook/uppercut where foes don’t see it.
Defensively, Ward holds the edge. He just doesn’t get hit clean much and further complicates matters by being able to fight more than one way. He is very good at forcing fighters to come to him and controlling space when he wants to, and then is just as able to go inside. The rough stuff doesn’t bother him and he deals his share. That’s a place where Froch can meet him. If Ward follows the right with his head, Froch must be willing to let an errant left or right end with a hard forearm or elbow. In clinches, he has to punch with the free hand even if the occasional blow lands in a foul area.
Referee Steve Smoger probably won’t stop either man much in that regard.
Froch may have some edge in intangibles but not much. Both men have taken enough shots in the tournament, Froch more of them, to answer questions of beard. These are both pros that can take a shot. Ward is mentally strong and has shown character since the amateurs. He could have been the U.S. Middleweight entrant but packed on weight to go up the scale to help the team, beating bigger men straight through. He’s a gamer. Froch has seen better overall competition and, in his last two fights, looked the part of a man who learned his lessons, taking his game to new levels. Including his win over Pascal, Froch too has been a gamer, finding ways to win against men who appear to have greater physical gifts. He’ll need a new level on Saturday to best the most complete fighter he’s seen to date.
The biggest upset of the night would be if this fight ended before twelve scored rounds need be tallied. Neither man is a lights out puncher and both have proven their whiskers. A knockout is unlikely. Without a knockout, the fight becomes a game of rounds and Ward, who has lost maybe two or three since entering the field, is better at that game.
Froch may have fought tougher competition overall, but he loses more rounds. Saturday, he’ll probably need seven rounds in his favor to win. If he can stun or hurt Ward bad enough to make him think about coming forward in the first three rounds he’s got a shot.
The more likely scenario is Ward building an early lead in a dullish early portion of the fight and then trading rounds as Froch comes on late. If this were the fifteen round era, Froch’s chances might be better but he doesn’t have those critical late stanzas. The pick here is Ward in a sound technical performance, with Froch coming on late and stealing the crowd down the stretch.
The pick is made with little conviction, and the hope is high both fighters deliver in ways no one sees coming.
Report Card Picks 2011: 41-18
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]