by Cliff Rold
Some fights have the look. With the look, they breed anticipation.
They just aren’t going to stink.
It’s near impossible. The matchmaking, the players, blend too right. From the moment their names are paired, fight fans know the calendar have earned a circled date. This Saturday, we land on one of those circles.
In one corner, the man who has run the toughest gamut thus far in the Super Six Super Middleweight tournament, with a pair of tough nights leading into the tournament to boot. In the other corner, a fan’s fighter who has seen them all, beat his share, taken his lumps, and aged with grit.
This should be good.
Let’s go to the report card.
Titles: WBC Super Middleweight (2010-Present, 1st Defense)
Previous Titles: WBC Super Middleweight (2008-10, 2 Defenses)
Weight: 167.5 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 167 lbs.
Hails from: Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom
Record: 27-1, 20 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #2 at Super Middleweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 4-1, 1 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 4 (Robin Reid, Jean Pascal, Jermain Taylor, Arthur Abraham)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 1 (Mikkel Kessler)
Previous Titles: Ring Magazine Light Heavyweight (2004-05); IBF Light Heavyweight (2004, 1 Defense)
Weight: 166.5 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 172.4 lbs.
Hails from: Miami, Florida (Born in Jamaica)
Record: 51-14-2, 35 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #5 at Super Middleweight; #5 at Light Heavyweight
Record in Championship Fights: 3-6-1, 1 KO (including Ring Magazine title fights); 3-7-1, 1 KO (including interim title fights)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 4 (Clinton Woods, Roy Jones, Antonio Tarver, Montell Griffin)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 8 (Bernard Hopkins, Sven Ottke, Silvio Branco, Julio Gonzalez, Antonio Tarver, Clinton Woods, Chad Dawson, Tavoris Cloud)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Froch B; Johnson B
Pre-Fight: Power – Froch B+; Johnson B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Froch B; Johnson B+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Froch A; Johnson A
This is going to be a test all night for both men as they try to impose the distance they want to fight at on the other man. Froch is better suited behind his jab, working his right over the top and keeping daylight between he and Johnson. Johnson, with a tomahawk jab and a tank like guard, is going to want to get close, digging the left to the belly and chopping with rights to the temple and behind the ear.
While 42, Johnson hasn’t shown a tremendous amount of age yet. That doesn’t mean he’s the best version of himself anymore either. He was hurt badly in a Light Heavyweight title bout with Tavoris Cloud last year, a sign his legs may have at least a little give in them. There is also still the issue of weight. Johnson is making only his second start at 168 lbs. after years at Light Heavyweight, or 175. His first, the battle of Super Six subs with Allan Green last year, wasn’t the sort of extended battle that could test his stems.
The fight with Froch should be.
Froch has made a habit of extended battles lately. What’s impressive is Froch is showing he can win multiple ways. He’s an underrated boxer, showing off genuine skill, timing, and wise punch selection in wins over then-future Light Heavyweight champion Jean Pascal and former Middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham. Against former World Middleweight Champion Jermain Taylor, he showed he could grind, working his way back from a third round knockdown to steadily chip away en route to a final round knockout. Froch can also win ugly, something the first round of the tournament demanded against a sometimes fleeing, sometimes beautifully boxing Andre Dirrell.
He won’t have to look far for Johnson Saturday. Can he avoid getting tagged more than he gets to do some tagging? Froch can be harder to hit than he looks. Abraham couldn’t touch him; Kessler missed a lot and needed volume to offset it. If Johnson gets on Froch’s chest, the answer will be no. Froch has to time Johnson’s rushes with the jab and may find safety with wise clinching in spots. Johnson, alternately, can improve his chances by coming in low and letting the Froch overhand right sail to his back and shoulders.
In terms of intangibles, both men are known commodities. The chins are solid and they stay consistent no matter the night. Froch could have lost the Dirrell fight and did on some viewer cards; he could just as easily have won the Kessler fight in April 2010. In both, he was there all night. He’s mentally tough but, in Johnson, he meets someone who can match that.
Froch gets a lot of credit, and should, for a run of competition at the title level that has no soft spots. Johnson may have a tune-up or stay busy contest on occasion, but he too has fought beastly opposition, and it comes with a multiplier affect Froch doesn’t have yet, coming over a span of years that stretches into the 20th century. Johnson might be the best pro Froch has ever shared the ring with. Froch might not be in Johnson’s top four, at least on paper prior to this fight.
Will that experience come to bear on Saturday? Does Johnson’s history of getting short shrift in a lot of close, and some blatantly criminal, decisions matter here? In a fight one could feel safe predicting to go the distance, can a fight with this good a ‘look’ end up as it should be: twelve rounds of blood, sweat, and leather to determine the better man on the purest of terms?
No matter the winner, the feeling here is yes. The Super Six has yet to produce a downright terrible piece of judging. Sure, there was debate in both Froch-Dirrell and Kessler-Froch, but the debate was healthy with valid room on both sides.
That’s just boxing.
The incentive for the tournament has been to be fair and Johnson’s inclusion was a surprising case of strengthening the field late. Johnson looked good against a Green fighting hard for a measure of redemption and he won big. He’s going to give Froch all he can handle. The feeling here is Froch can keep up. He may not have as much experience as Johnson but he has enough to be well seasoned by now and that’s what matters.
Froch’s awkward counter shots in exchanges will help to keep Johnson off balance and his jab and right over the top will allow him to control enough rounds to end the night with his hand raised and move to the Finals to face Andre Ward.
If we see the Fight of the Year on the way there, all the better.
Report Card Picks 2011: 15-5
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 firstname.lastname@example.org