by David P. Greisman
It’s still true that the most important fight for a boxer is the one that makes him a champion, the one that makes him the most money, or the one that does both of these at once.
But the most important fight for a boxer is not always the most interesting fight for fans. Granted, there are those champions who are so great that their dominance over their opponents can be breathtaking to watch. There are others, though, that have us thinking that it’s just too bad that they’re just so good.
Wladimir Klitschko, for one, is so good that it’s become hard to describe his challengers as being, well, challenging. In fact, it’s the bouts between those who are more flawed whose fights are more fun. Last year’s battle between heavyweight titleholder Alexander Povetkin and cruiserweight beltholder Marco Huck was rather enjoyable, for example.
Andre Ward is extremely good as well. He’s seen not only as the best super middleweight in the world, but also as one of the best boxers in the entire sport. He outclassed his peers at 168 pounds in his five bouts over the two years of Showtime’s “Super Six” tournament. While he clearly excelled, he hadn’t truly excited until after the tournament, until last September, when he dominated, dropped and stopped light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson.
He remains important and interesting; his fights, previously showcased on Showtime, now have an HBO spotlight. As with the heavyweights who vie for Klitschko, the other super middleweights often set their sights on Ward. And as with the heavyweight division, there are other options of importance to the other 168-pound titleholders and contenders — and of interest to us.
This past Saturday brought one of those fights, a rematch between titleholders Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler. They had fought once before, about three years ago as part of the “Super Six” in a battle that brought the best 12 rounds of the entire tournament. Kessler had won that fight, albeit narrowly, before withdrawing from the competition, citing an eye injury. Froch bounced back with a pair of victories and a spot in the tournament’s finale, which he lost to Andre Ward.
We anticipated that Froch-Kessler 2 would be as exciting as the original. Froch wanted to make up for a defeat he felt he hadn’t deserved. Kessler sought to cease any further debate, while also reestablishing his place in a weight class that once was thought to belong to him — that is, until he lost to Ward in the first round of the “Super Six.”
This fight meant much to each. Beyond all of the above, there was the distinct possibility that the winner would get a rematch with (and a chance at revenge against) Ward. It was no surprise that HBO had bought broadcast rights to Froch-Kessler 2. It wasn’t just a good fight. The bout would establish a clear No. 2 in the division. It made sense to feature him before he went on to face No. 1.
It indeed turned out to be another good battle. This time, Froch won, outworking, out-landing and outpointing Kessler en route to a unanimous decision victory.
Froch now has a clear mandate for a second shot at Ward. Since they last met, Froch went on to dominate the one top-ranked super middleweight not invited to the tournament, Lucian Bute, whom Froch summarily dispatched last May in less than five rounds. Froch followed that by winning a keep-busy fight against Yusaf Mack in November.
Barring the Mack bout, Froch has been on an incredible run against quality opposition, dating back more than four years to December 2008. Back then, he beat then-undefeated (and then a super-middleweight) Jean Pascal, went on to stop Jermain Taylor, took an ugly split decision over Andre Dirrell, lost the first Kessler fight, out-boxed Arthur Abraham, beat Glen Johnson, lost to Ward, and then began anew with Bute.
There was a time when Froch looked as if he was winning in spite of his flaws. He’s since proven himself to be far better than he first seemed, a gritty but capable bruiser. He has yet to decline despite his style. Rather, he appears to still be improving despite the fact that his 36th birthday is barely a month away.
A rematch with Ward remains important to Froch. It doesn’t have to trump his other top options, though — a third fight with Kessler, or a bout against 48-year-old Bernard Hopkins.
Froch and Kessler packed arenas for their first two bouts, which took place in Denmark and London. Given the European television and ticket revenue, Froch does not need to face Ward to earn a sizable payday. Nor would he need to travel to the United States. Froch has increased his stature and stardom significantly. Years ago he was receiving much less television exposure than many of his British compatriots. Now, under a different promoter, he’s become a headliner at home.
Perhaps that’s why Bernard Hopkins has mentioned a fight with Froch. Hopkins will be defending his light heavyweight title this July against mandatory challenger Karo Murat, though he doubtless would prefer to face someone with more name recognition.
A move to super middleweight would also be a new challenge for Hopkins, who was the lineal champion at 160 before moving up to 175 and becoming champion there. He’s beaten younger foes and broken records, most recently becoming the oldest boxer to win a world title.
He skipped past the 168-pound weight class, though. If he were to drop down, or to at least drop down near that limit for a catch-weight fight, it wouldn’t come against Ward — a friend who looks at Hopkins as a mentor.
That leaves Froch as the next best viable opponent.
It could happen, should Hopkins beat Murat. Yes, Hopkins is a Golden Boy Promotions fighter. Yes, Golden Boy bouts are no longer being bought by HBO. And yes, Froch’s latest fight was shown on HBO. Froch doesn’t have a multi-fight contract with that network, however.
He has options.
He can try to avenge the one other blemish on his record by facing Ward again.
He can step into the ring with Kessler once more in what could be another entertaining bout, capping off their trilogy.
Or he can give Hopkins another shot at history and try to take out a legend in the process.
The 10 Count
1. I understand what HBO’s broadcast crew was going for in having Andre Ward break down past video of Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler prior to their rematch this past Saturday — Ward, after all, is not only an analyst for the network and the super middleweight champion, but he also had fought and defeated both men.
And it even made some sense that he was delving into Froch’s and Kessler’s respective weaknesses, as those fighters would be seeking to exploit them during the bout.
Yet it seemed to me that HBO was in effect telling fans primarily that Ward is vastly superior and that Froch and Kessler are second-rate, or at least second tier. While it’s indeed true that Ward is much better, I would have preferred the network work to show the good qualities of the two guys who were actually in the ring that night.
Fortunately Froch and Kessler put on another entertaining bout, a good follow-up to their battle from three years ago. Hopefully they built more fans with the HBO spotlight. Hopefully their action spoke louder than Ward’s words.
2. Boxers in the United Kingdom are apparently expected to be role models who just happen to lace up their gloves with the intent to inflict bodily harm. That’s the lesson from yet another story about the British Boxing Board of Control being overly sensitive.
This time it was Carl Froch in the regulating body’s crosshairs.
Froch, in the days before the Kessler rematch, was quoted by The Daily Star as saying this:
“I will kill this f***** if I have to. It sounds brutal, it sounds horrible, but that’s what this fight means to me. When I am smashing his face in, I am going to go for the kill. I want to do him some damage. I want to put the record straight.”
That led to this response from the organization’s general secretary, Robert Smith, as quoted by Britain’s Press Association:
“Carl’s comments are inappropriate and we are disappointed in him. They are very uncharacteristic from Carl, who is usually a very well-behaved and measured young man. We are surprised and disappointed in his comments. I have spoken to his management team of Rob McCracken and Eddie Hearn, and we are looking into it and will deal with it accordingly.”
Froch ended up apologizing on Twitter, which is ridiculous, since there’s no harm in a fighter hyping himself up before the bout. Boxers don’t just prepare themselves physically, but mentally as well, and so we will hear fighters say they are willing to die in the ring, and we will hear them amp up in the way Froch was quoted as doing.
Sadly, the BBBofC has a history of punishing or threatening to punish fighters for stuff like this. Heavyweight Tyson Fury was fined £3,000 for a tweet he sent last October insulting fellow British big man David Price, and in 2011 the BBBofC threw a fit when David Haye tweeted a misogynistic joke.
3. Given the comment from HBO’s ringside scorer, Harold Lederman, following Round 3 of Saturday’s main event — in which he said that Froch “murdered” Kessler with the jab — would anyone actually be surprised if the BBBofC said that Lederman isn’t allowed to work in the U.K. again until he apologizes?
4. I loved Carl Froch coming to the ring to the tune of Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle.”
But something tells me we’ll never hear Zou Shiming walk out to the tune of that band’s “Chinese Democracy.”
5. So far this year, HBO has broadcast fights out of North America, South America, Asia and Europe.
Gives new meaning to “World Championship Boxing,” doesn’t it?
6. If you’re like me, you might have looked at the upcoming boxing schedule and noticed (and dreaded the thought of) the upcoming return of Zzzzzzzzzzahir Raheem.
The former featherweight and lightweight contender is now 36 and hasn’t fought much since being knocked out by Ali Funeka in July 2008. He didn’t fight for nearly two years after that, coming back in 2010 for two bouts against journeyman Roberto Valenzuela, then spending another two and a half years on the shelf before stopping Santos Pakau this past March.
Raheem will be fighting again this coming Saturday. He is scheduled to face another fighter from the past, former 130-pound title challenger Justin Juuko, who is now 40 and whose name should seem familiar to those who saw him lose to Floyd Mayweather in 1999, to Diego Corrales in 2000 and to Miguel Cotto in 2002. He also lost to Jose Armando Santa Cruz in 2005. His last appearance was April of last year, when he got knocked out in two by Gabor Veto.
As for Raheem: “He's got a lot in the tank and doesn't run like he used to, as Zahir is much more relaxed in the ring now,” said boxing matchmaker Rick Glaser. “Zahir is fighting in the low 140s, and a title fight would be either 135 or 140, depending on who the champ is and their style.”
7. The career indecision of a British heavyweight, part one, starring Audley Harrison:
- BoxingScene.com headline, March 23, 2010: “Audley Harrison Vows to Retire if Michael Sprott Wins”
- April 9, 2010: “Audley Harrison Knocks Sprott Out in Dramatic Fashion”
- Nov. 13, 2010, after his loss to David Haye: “Audley May Consider Retirement: ‘I Have to Reflect’ ”
- Dec. 1, 2010: “Audley Harrison: I Won’t Retire, Let the Haters Continue”
(Harrison didn’t fight again until May 2012, winning a bout and then going on to face David Price in October 2012. Price stopped Harrison out in the first round.)
- Oct. 15, 2012: “Audley Admits: It Looks Like My Journey is at an End”
- Oct. 24, 2012: “Audley Ponders Return: I May Roll The Dice Once Again”
(He won the one-night Prizefighter tournament in February 2013, then signed for an April 2013 bout with Deontay Wilder.)
- April 4, 2013: “Audley: If Wilder Beats Me It’s Over, But Risk Worth It!”
(Wilder stopped him in the first round.)
- April 27, 2013: “Audley Admits: It’s Looking Like it Could Be The End”
- April 29, 2013: “Audley to Discuss Boxing Future With His Family”
- May 1, 2013: “Thanks For the Memories: Audley Harrison Retires”
- May 21, 2013: “Audley Not Retiring: I Can’t Walk Away Off That Loss”
8. The career indecision of a British heavyweight, part two, starring Danny Williams:
BoxingScene.com headline, Nov. 17, 2004, prior to Williams’ fight with Vitali Klitschko: “Danny Williams: ‘First Title, Then Retirement’ ”
- July 11, 2006, after Williams’ loss to Matt Skelton: “No Retirement, Danny Williams To Fight On”
- March 3, 2007: “Retirement Still an Option For Danny Williams”
-March 6, 2007: “Danny Williams To Continue Fight Career”
- Dec. 16, 2009, The Times of London: “ ‘I’m shot,’ says Williams in getting ready for farewell”
- May 6, 2010, East Side Boxing: “Danny Williams Aims To Beat Dereck Chisora, Retire – and Then Become a Bodyguard!”
(Williams lost to Chisora, then came back on March 5, 2011, with a win over a fighter with a record of 2-21-2.)
- March 30, 2011, BoxingScene: “Danny Williams To Continue To Fight The Good Fight”
- Dec. 7, 2011: “Danny Williams Finally Admits Career is Over and Retires”
- March 19, 2012: “Danny Williams To Fight Again, Farewell Fight on June 10”
- Sept. 20, 2012: “Danny Williams Continues To Fight Despite the Risks”
- May 18, 2013: “Kelvin Price Dominates and Retires Danny Williams”
9. The retirements of Audley Harrison and Danny Williams are on and off more than Ross and Rachel were.
10. At least Harrison and Williams actually retired before un-retiring. That’s more than we can say for Evander Holyfield and his never-ending career. He’s turning 51, last fought two years and 20 days ago, and is reportedly in negotiations for a November fight with Polish prospect Krzysztof Zimnoch.
TMZ reported last week that Holyfield owes more than $327,000 in child support for just one of his kids. Boxing writer Luke Furman said last week that Holyfield has asked for $250,000 for the Zimnoch bout.
Zimnoch was born in September 1983. Holyfield turned pro in November 1984.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter @fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at [email protected]