by David P. Greisman
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Andre Ward and Carl Froch weren’t the favorites when the “Super Six” super middleweight tournament began, yet it is them who will meet in the tournament finals as the last men standing.
Their standing in the sport comes from the men they faced and beat.
Ward, an acclaimed Olympic champion but unproven pro when at the tournament’s outset, has defeated Mikkel Kessler, Allan Green, Sakio Bika (in an out-of-tournament bout) and Arthur Abraham.
Froch, a slugger who’d shown himself to be strong and durable but who wasn’t thought to be anything special, got past an ugly, controversial win over Andre Dirrell and a loss in a competitive war to Mikkel Kessler. When his fate in the tournament mattered most, Froch showed that he was more than a limited slugger, out-boxing Arthur Abraham to land himself one fight away from the finals.
To get there, he’d have to go through Glen Johnson. As with Ward and Froch, Johnson is a fighter who has long been more than what he appears to be. He is a 42-year-old fighter who is still competitive with younger champions. He is a fighter with more than a dozen losses who nevertheless cannot be counted out of finding a way to win.
To win against Froch, many thought, Johnson would need to pressure him, to break Froch from his announced strategy of boxing against a bruiser. Froch, meanwhile, would have to do more than box Johnson as he did Abraham.
Johnson indeed broke Froch from his strategy. But Froch responded by being more than a slugger and more than a boxer, withstanding Johnson’s assaults and putting together a complete performance en route to a majority decision victory.
The scorecards were an even 114-114, overruled by tallies of 117-111 and 116-112 for Froch.
Both men came out boxing, working behind their jabs and attempting to parlay those leads into right crosses. Each, however, was facing a foe not yet looking to engage. When Froch sent out his shots, they bounced off Johnson’s gloves and wrists. When Johnson punched, Froch stepped away or ducked.
Each probed, waiting to open up, waiting for his opponent to open up. The danger was inherent; in the third round, Froch gambled with a right uppercut from a distance and felt the consequences in the form of a counter left hook from Johnson.
Froch wasn’t shutting Johnson down with his activity. Johnson wasn’t reaching Froch – not yet, at least.
Against some aggressive fighters, you win by landing a lot of punches on a target that is regularly in front of you. Against other aggressive fighters, you win by making your opponent miss and by landing when you can.
The latter wasn’t working for Froch. The former would.
With the jab not breaking through Johnson’s guard, Froch adjusted and began to loop shots around, sending out left hooks and wider right hands in flurries.
With Froch opening up, Johnson was able to land clean, hard shots. Froch would take those single shots and then retaliate immediately with combinations.
“I made sure I answered immediately, not with one shot or two shots, but with three or four,” Froch said after the bout. “I did enough to win the fight. Put a good show on, without taking any silly risks.”
Johnson had moments. Froch had rounds.
“He's very tough and very durable,” Froch said afterward. “He's one of those guys who, when you hit them, if you can imagine sort of sparring an oak tree, that's the only way that I can put it into perspective. You hit him and he doesn't move. He's solid and he keeps coming forward.
“You don't feel like you want to throw the hard, hurtful shots, you just want to pick your shots and sort of get through the round,” he said. "Then you get into a comfort zone, and you can't get out of the rhythm of just being steady and comfortable, which is what I was in. I stepped to him toward the end to make sure that I won.”
Froch improves to 28-1 with 20 knockouts. Johnson, meanwhile, falls to 51-15-2.
Interestingly, while it was Froch who broke away from his strategy, it was Johnson who admitted to not fighting the way he had intended.
“I got into a slugging match and I was supposed to box. I got out of my game plan,” Johnson said afterward. “I was able to hit him, but I got greedy. I started coming on the inside, and he was able to take my best punches. That surprised me.
“I was supposed to fight the fight from that distance because I was faster than him and hit him at will. But when I was on the inside, trying to land the bigger punches, I kind of put him in the fight. He was able to come back with quick counter-punches.”
On the undercard:
- Zsolt Erdei TKO6 Byron Mitchell (light heavyweights).
Erdei wasn’t the main event, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell that by the roars of the Hungarian fans in the ballroom, a fan base that might actually have made up a majority of those in attendance tonight.
Erdei gave them what they wanted, dispatching a long-past-his-prime Mitchell with two knockdowns in the sixth round. The time of the stoppage was 1:58.
Erdei was once the lineal light heavyweight champion that nobody in the United States knew about. Then he jumped to cruiserweight, retired, and came back once more as a light heavyweight. In his second fight back, he looked to have shaken off much of the rust that he’d shown six months ago on the undercard to Sergio Martinez’s knockout of Paul Williams.
The caveat, of course, is that Byron Mitchell, who long ago was a 168-pound beltholder, was essentially a punching bag standing in front of an Erdei with overwhelming hand speed and a willingness to put together combination after combination.
Erdei’s promoter, Lou DiBella, is hoping to insert his fighter back into the picture at light heavyweight. In the meantime, DiBella can use him to sell tickets to his faithful.
Erdei is now 33-0 (18). Mitchell is now 28-8-1 (22).
- Edison Miranda Rayco Saunders (very-much-over-the-limit light heavyweights)
Miranda, fighting for the first time in more than a year following a stoppage loss to Lucian Bute, returned to the ring at 182 pounds ,taking an eight-round unanimous decision over divisional measuring stick Rayco Saunders.
This fight was fated to go the distance. Along with his extended layoff, Miranda at 182 pounds doesn’t carry the pop that made him exciting at middleweight and, to a lesser extent, super middleweight. And Saunders had only been stopped once in his 13 previous losses.
Scorecards were 80-73 and 79-72 (twice). Miranda got in rounds, and now the question is which light heavyweight will pick him to be a sacrificial name for his ledger.
Miranda, originally from Colombia, improves to 34-5 (29). Saunders, of Pittsburgh, falls to 20-14-2 (8).
- J’Leon Love UD4 Lamar Harris (middleweights)
The scorecards, 40-35 from all three judges, reflected Love’s ability to step away from Harris’ wide, clubbing punches, then jump in with straight, hard shots.
Love scored a knockdown on the St. Louis resident in the third round. Love, of Detroit, was easily able to handle Harris’ attempts to turn the fight around in the fourth, and Love turned the action around, pushing Harris back on the defensive until the final bell.
Love improves to 7-0 (5). Harris falls to 6-8-3 (4).
- Ivan Redkach TKO6 Alberto Amaro (lightweight/junior welterweight)
This fight went six rounds but could’ve easily been stopped in the fifth. Amaro, who fights out of Catano, Puerto Rico, is the kind of guy who applies a wealth of determination to compensate for his deficiencies. He continually came forward against Redkach, a Ukrainian who now calls Los Angeles home.
The southpaw Redkach used right hooks and left crosses to strafe a target consistently in front of him. On those rare occasions when Amaro could get inside, he wasn’t able to do much effectively, allowing Redkach to rest.
The bout seemed to be in sparring session mode until the fifth, when Redkach landed a straight left to Amaro’s body that sent Amaro staggering back. Redkach closed in, mixing hard hooks to the body with heavy shots upstairs. Three lefts and a right put Amaro down toward the end of the round, and the bout reasonably could’ve been stopped then, if not earlier.
Steve Smoger let it go, checking in on Amaro in his corner before the sixth and final round. The bout would last for 106 more seconds.
Redkach is now 7-0 (6). Amaro is now 6-6 (2).
- Badou Jack TKO5 Hajro Sujak (light heavyweights)
Jack is a prospect fighting out of Las Vegas who had advantages in speed, skill and technique over Sujak. That meant Sujak, of Bronx, N.Y., was often left weathering storms of quick flurries and strong shots and then lacing his responses in-between.
Eventually Jack’s advantages left Sujak at too much of a disadvantage. Jack pummeled Sujak in the red corner in the fifth round, then beat him against the ropes, then kept doing that for another several seconds after Sujak’s corner threw a towel in the ring.
Once the referee finally noticed the flag of surrender resting on the canvas behind him, he called a halt to the bout. The time of the stoppage was 1:30.
Jack improves to 6-0 (5). Sujak falls to 6-2 (2).
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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