By Jake Donovan
From the moment he emphatically stopped Lucian Bute last year, Carl Froch began preparing for an exit strategy. The 35-year old still has plenty of fight left in him, but that’s not to say he sees plenty of fights left in his future.
A soft touch title defense against Yusaf Mack last year was met with Froch’s plans for the future – avenging both career losses, a contractually forced rematch with Bute (should it ever be enforced) and then off to the sunset.
One item was scratched off of the bucket list when Froch survived the best of whatever Mikkel Kessler has left to take a well-earned unanimous decision Saturday evening at O2 Arena in London. The feat allowed Froch to avenge his first career loss, which came three years ago on the road in Kessler’s native Denmark.
Both fighters are much different versions than the ones who surfaced on that night in April ’10. Yet the 12 rounds of action produced on Saturday were frighteningly similar – yet with one major difference.
“The main difference was in the first fight, I was backing off and letting him dictate the pace,” Froch acknowledged in assessing both fights as a whole. “I let him push me off and was meeting him. I was discouraging him and putting him on his back foot. I got hit with too many punches (then) and Kessler got hit with too many punches (tonight). That was the big difference.”
Froch was the busier fighter and also the more accurate throughout the evening, his punches visibly hurting Kessler far more than the opposite proved to be true. It can even be argued that his two career losses – to Kessler and to Andre Ward, both coming in the Super Six tournament – have made him a better fighter.
Kessler didn’t stick around long enough to go on record with HBO, who made the road trip to merry old England for the sensational rematch. But among the broadcast panel existed enough of an authority on the subject to discuss not only Froch’s improvements, but whether or not boxing fans can expect a sequel of another kind in the near future.
“He’s coming off of two big victories since our fight. Lucian Bute and now Mikkel Kessler,” acknowledged lineal super middleweight king Andre Ward, who was on hand to call the action as HBO’s expert color commentator. “It’s not like he’s been idle. He’s been active, he’s been working. So from that standpoint, it makes sense – and, he seems to believe there was some sort of injustice the first time around so we need to correct that.”
There might be a problem with that, however. Froch isn’t necessarily in a hurry to race towards Ward, especially on the heels of 24 completed rounds of savage warfare with Kessler.
“Should we do it again,” Froch asked of a possible third fight with Kessler. “That's up to the promoters, but I would like to do it again, make it 2-1.”
Such a fight appears more appealing to the Brit than another potentially ugly clash of styles with his other conqueror.
“I don’t know, it’s a tough one,” Froch (31-2, 22KO) admitted when presented with the choice of part two with Ward or a trilogy with Kessler. “I've always said I'd never like to fight Andre Ward again. No disrespect to Andre Ward. I’ve been a little disrespectful enough to somebody who’s a great fighter.
“He’s a boxing purist; he’s very good at what he does. But he's not an entertaining fighter, not one I'd like to watch. He's effective at what he does. He knows how to win. But he's not a fighter's fight. He's not a brawler and doesn't bring the crowd out of its seat.”
Froch and Kessler both repeatedly brought the sold-out crowd out of its seat over the course of their 12-round affair. Save for a brief lull during the middle rounds, neither fighter gave an inch or was prepared to not give the fans its money’s worth. It was mission accomplished and then some, as many were left with the impression that what they witnessed was one of the best fights of 2013 to date.
The win is just the latest in a growing list of accolades in Froch’s incredible run over the past five years. His resume over that time is second to none, dating back to his thrilling points win over Jean Pascal to pick up a vacant super middleweight title.
The feat looks even better in retrospect, as Pascal went on to capture the lineal light heavyweight crown. His reign ended with his landing on the wrong side of history, conceding his crown to Bernard Hopkins, who became the oldest fighter in boxing history to win a lineal World championship. Still, Pascal represents one of eight Froch opponents (nine if you count Kessler twice) who have at some point laid claim to a major title.
It’s that statistic – coupled with his eye-catching knockout of Bute and now his revenge-fueled win over friendly rival Kessler – that has many believing Froch is a lot more than a distant second to Ward in the super middleweight sweepstakes.
Still, seeing is believing.
“We won’t know unless he fights me (again),” Ward said, when asked if we are in the presence of a born-again fighter.
That is the question Froch is left to ponder as he maps out his future.
“[H]e's the only other guy out there to beat me. It’s a fight out there I know I can win,” Froch believes, before clarifying. “I'm not saying it’s easy. I'm not saying I WOULD beat him. But I could beat him if I do it right. So let's get him over to the United Kingdom and let's get it right.”
When the fight takes place doesn’t seem to be as much as an issue as where. Ward is slated to return to the ring in September, perhaps around the time when Froch and other major players in the Matchroom Sport stable can expect to fight again.
Promoter Eddie Hearn already referenced the time frame as when George Groves – an unbeaten super middleweight who won in undercard action – will have his next fight, as the Brit was targeting the winner of the main event. He mentioned the O2 Arena as a possibility to once again play host. The venue was filled to capacity with 18,000 strong, a far cry from the feeble crowd that filed in for the Dec. ’11 Super Six finals between Ward and Froch in Atlantic City.
Once upon a time, Ward (26-0, 14KO) was able to pack ‘em in at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, including his breakout win over Kessler in 2009. His drawing power has dramatically declined since then, with an announced paid crowd of 8,500 for last year’s knockout win over Chad Dawson a respectable total but not one that reeks of leverage at the negotiating table.
Still, Ward is the division’s true champ, one of the very best in the sport and the last man to beat Froch. In his mind, it’s enough to call his own shots rather than be dictated to by opponents.
“At this stage in my career, I’m open for any fight that makes sense,” Ward insisted when broached with the subject of a Froch sequel. “If a rematch makes sense - I don’t know if it would be in the U.K. or the United States, but Froch’s promoter needs to show me how bad he wants it.
“(Froch) has a big fan base here, but they have to understand, I don’t HAVE to come here. If I want to, it’s because I want to reward the U.K. fans.”
For the moment, there exists evidence that Ward is interested in such a fight, if not because it’s one of few realistic options outside of moving up in weight. HBO dangled his name as a carrot for the winner of Saturday’s fight, and for what it’s worth Ward is fine with what Froch represents in 2013, regardless of his post-fight comments following this win.
“Carl Froch respects me,” Ward firmly believes. “He can say what he wants to say, he can say what he wants about me being effective (but not exciting). I have a great fan base. When you can’t defeat a certain style, you tend to knock it.”
Following his own lead, Ward knows enough to pay proper respect to his next potential opponent.
“That being said, right now it’s not about me. Carl Froch put on a great performance and I take my hat off to him.”
Whether or not Carl Froch will jump at the chance to knock that very hat off of Andre Ward’s head remains to be seen. Even if – from most fans’ perspective – it’s the very next move he should make if completing his bucket list remains the primary objective.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox