By Terence Dooley
Nottingham’s Carl “The Cobra” Froch proved he still has his sting on Saturday night when scoring his first stoppage win in three-years and doing so against one of the top boxers in the super middle division in Canada’s Lucian Bute at the Nottingham Arena. Froch hammered the Romania-born southpaw to defeat at 1:05 after an utterly dominant performance to wrest away the IBF belt and hand his stricken foe his first defeat in 31 fights (against 30 wins with 24 KOs).
Froch, now 29-2 (21), dropped a decision to Andre Ward in his previous bout. The American cemented his status as the division’s number one with a dominant display in that one, picking up Froch’s WBC belt in the process, and the meeting with Bute was considered a final fling of the dice for Froch despite the fact that he has only lost to the very best in the world. His other defeat was a close point’s loss to Mikkel Kessler in April 2010.
Froch’s recent run of fights reads: Jean Pascal, Jermain Taylor, Andre Dirrell, Kessler, Arthur Abraham, Glen Johnson, Ward and Bute – a phenomenal run which has yielded a 6-2 (2) haul for Froch. Furthermore, Froch has done things the right way, showing respect for his opponents post-fight while picking up British, Commonwealth, WBC, WBA and IBF titles.
There have been no bites, threats to eat yet-to-be-conceived children, “glarsings” or claims that he will “literally shoot” someone. Froch simply agreed to face a killer’s row of guys and did so without too many complaints, his oft-repeated excuses about volcanic dust clouds contributing to the Kessler loss notwithstanding.
Now, though, the tide has turned, his win over Bute brought in a BARB peak of 576,500 viewers on Saturday night, the tabloid press have started to take notice and Froch spent Monday speaking to the major news outlets; he has also lined up a few TV spots. Crossover fame at last for a man who has fought the best only to watch in bemusement as lesser guys gained the column inches.
“It is hard to put my feelings into words to be honest, but I’ve become a world champion for a third time by beating an undefeated guy who is the best at the weight,” said Froch when speaking to BoxingScene on Monday afternoon. “A lot of people wrote me off, they said I had no chance of winning, but not only did I win, I absolutely obliterated him and there’s no question that I dominated from start to finish. Anyone else in the ring with me that night, including Andre Ward, would not have lived with me – it is as simple as that. I felt so good. My preparation had gone well, so I was firing on all cylinders. I feel elated.”
As for his public perception, long recognized as one of the world’s toughest and most daring fighters by boxing fans, Froch believes he is now a genuine crossover star. “The tables have turned, I’m now massive and my phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” he said.
“I’ve been on the local news and the national news, I am going on the Chris Moyles show and my Twitter page has gone through the roof – it is brilliant. I don’t seek redemption or credit, I box because I love it and I always fight guys at the top-level because I’ve always wanted to be the best in the world at what I do ever since turning professional. There is no point in being half-hearted, taking on ready picked opponents and retiring undefeated. I want to be the best and fight the best – when you do that time and time again, you drop the odd close decision.
“What I did the other night is phenomenal, it has never been done by any other British fighter and I’m willing to put myself in there to do what I’ve done. Now people are recognizing and acknowledging it. I am getting the respect and credit I deserve. It feels great – I’ve been put on the pedestal that I deserve to be on.”
Froch’s inclusion in the Super Six tournament earned him respect and recognition in the U.S.A. and Europe. Unfortunately, the general British sporting public missed out on his early Super Six outings against Andre Dirrell, Mikkel Kessler and Arthur Abraham as they took place on Primetime and Premier Sports. Froch’s switch to Matchroom last year brought Sky onboard, providing the platform required to capture a new audience.
“What do you think?” asked the new champion when asked the admittedly banal and obvious question of whether he is happy with his recent exposure. “Of course I am. Working with Eddie Hearn and Matchroom has put my profile through the roof with the best years ahead of me. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Eddie and Matchroom for all their dedication. The thing about Eddie is that he’s passionate about the sport. He is not a desperate man, he is driven by desire and passion, very much like myself, and when you’re driven by them things you are successful – as I was on Saturday night.
“The crowd turned up to watch me because of what I’ve done and put into the sport – they respect and appreciate it. It is not just me, it is my team and Eddie is a massive part of a small team. We’ve just got Robert McCracken [Froch’s trainer], Eddie and Matchroom, but look at what we’ve achieved.”
American analyst Al Bernstein has banged the drum for Froch over recent years. The Showtime pundit and long-time fight figure has always recognised Froch’s marketability, but also understands that crossover appeal is hard to come by. It is not just a case of fighting the best and reaping the rewards according to Bernstein.
“I think boxers almost feel compelled, and they are encouraged by the media in general, to behave badly,” said Bernstein when speaking to me about fighters in general and Froch in particular for April’s issue of Boxing Monthly. “Then you have fighters who behave well and are labeled ‘boring’, [WBC and WBA super middleweight champion] Andre Ward is a perfect example of this. We live in an age where the squeaky wheel gets more attention. Restrained behaviour doesn’t seem to get rewarded as much.
“I think Carl is a perfect example of someone who is who he is. Carl is no shrinking violet – he is a challenging type of guy. I kidded him by saying he looks like one of those guys from a Guy Ritchie movie, he has got that edge to him and it comes across in an organic way.”
It seems that Bernstein’s appreciation of Froch’s blunt, no-nonsense approach is spreading. “In a word, yes,” said Froch when asked if he has finally cracked it. “I’m getting genuine recognition. The people who are giving me credit and praise now always gave me credit, but the people who had sat on the fence, it is almost as if they’ve come to the other side and there’s just one side now – Carl Froch fans.
“My Twitter page doesn’t get one bad comment. It is quite vile and disgusting the way people talk to other people on Twitter, but I’ve got to be totally honest, I don’t get any bad stick or press. The reason for that is that I don’t deserve any. I do everything correct. I’ve come through in the hardest way possible in the toughest sport. I don’t need to talk rubbish – my fighting does the talking for me and that performance the other nights shows what I’m all about.”
Bute looked shell-shocked by round two; he took a shellacking in the third, but bravely managed to see out the fourth before the fight's brutal ending, which did not come as a surprise to Froch. “Yeah, it was the punch power and the fact that I’m very accurate,” said Froch as talk turned to the finish.
“Rob did a lot of hard work with me, keeping my feet in range and keeping my centre of gravity right without reaching in for shots. We’ve also worked on making me faster. I’ve always been very fast, but when my mind’s not sharp, my body is not very sharp. When my mind’s on it, you noticed that I was even faster than Bute on the night.
“Bute is a lovely guy. I’m not being brash or arrogant, but that was a hell of a beating and if you get beat in that style and manner it is going to affect you. Don’t forget that he got beat by a fighter on top of his game coming off the back of a terrible loss to one of the best in the world. I was at home, but my back was to the wall and he got absolutely obliterated by the best and can hold his head up high.
“Put Ward in front of me in Nottingham that night and he would not have gone the distance either – I guarantee you that. I want him to read this and realize that the rematch is there if he wants it and he hasn’t got a chance against me in that type of form.”
Ward, though, is unlikely to take Froch on straight away given the outcome of their first fight. “Son Of God” also seems the type of American who believes that the earth is still flat and that any attempt to head over the horizon will result in him falling over the edge and landing in the seventh circle of hell. Ward is unlikely to ever fight outside the U.S.A.
“That’s his problem isn’t it,” stated Froch. “I’m on top of the world, so it is all good.” There is also talk of a rematch with Kessler, which is a natural fight and one that is easier to make. Froch agreed: “That is a massive fight that everyone wants to see.”
The litmus test for his growing appeal will come in December when the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year nominations are announced. Froch was snubbed altogether last year. An Olympian is likely to win in 2012 no matter what the boxer does next, but he hopes to be recognised by the network.
“If the BBC get their act together and realize what I’ve done then of course, they should at least acknowledge me,” he said to my question of whether he'll be a contender should he beat Kessler or another top-level opponent. "They didn’t even shortlist me last year, which everyone went mad about and said was a disgrace, so I’d like to win it, yeah.”
Eddie Hearn also believes that Saturday’s victory was the culmination of an attempt to widen Froch’s public appeal, telling me that his man is now getting the praise his exploits deserve. “I think it has all changed now,” said Hearn.
“I noticed it this morning more than any other day. It feels that Carl’s finally getting the credit he deserves. Carl is a fighter, he doesn’t go through life thinking, ‘Bloody hell, I need to get more press inches’, or wants more people to talk about him, but Saturday was a turning point in that respect.
“Carl didn’t have a regular broadcaster to give him that platform before, and more importantly someone who would get behind him. Look at what Sky did last week. They had five build-up shows before this fight. That is what builds fan bases and profiles. The public had access to Carl and they loved him.”
Still, Froch isn’t ready for divadom just yet, preferring to spend his Monday morning decorating one of his properties. Indeed, this DIY approach roused Hearn’s ire on Saturday.
“Carl drove himself to the arena,” revealed Hearn. “I was furious. I asked him what he was thinking and he said, ‘It is only a ten-minute drive’, and today he’s at home doing DIY and stuff like that. Carl’s a normal bloke who deserves everything he gets and that is what is so pleasing.”
Gone are the days of Froch taking part in PPV fights on Primetime’s excruciatingly poor platform or the subscription wasteland of Premier Sports. Channel 5 and BoxNation are the two other games in town, but in Hearn’s opinion Sky is the best bet when it comes to building fights and fighters.
He said: “Channel 5 coming back into boxing is great, but there’s no regularity and no cross-promotion with other sports. There’s no exposure through Sky Sports News, who show weigh-ins and press conferences – these things build the fighters. There’s only one place to fight, and that is Sky Sports.
“That fight was shown live in over 20 countries around the world. The Super Six series had its good and bad points, but the biggest good point is that it made him an international superstar, which he deserves, and showed that you can’t help but love watching Carl Froch. Again, he is just awesome to watch and that is why people buy tickets and tune in – you get non-stop entertainment from a great fighter and great man.
“That was a must-win fight for Carl. It was a financial gamble bringing Lucian over, but I told Carl, ‘Don’t worry about Matchroom, worry about Carl Froch’, because it is his career he was fighting for. Getting that fight in Nottingham was great, look at the atmosphere. That’s how we want every fight to be. You saw it with Kell Brook and Matthew Hatton – packed out stadiums with everyone singing and having a great time. More importantly, you want to have people leaving the arena saying, ‘That was the mutt’s’, which is the most important thing because they want to get home and watch it again on TV.
“People need something to aspire to. They can turn on the TV, see people having a great time and think, ‘Wow, this boxing game is great’, which is exactly what we have done with darts. People turn the darts on, see people going crazy and think, ‘We should go to that!’.”
It is not just the fans who get carried away, either. Hearn invaded the ring just before referee Earl Brown administered his count. Upon realizing his mistake, Hearn backtracked only to turn sharply on his heels to get back into the ring when the fight was officially waved off. Forget talk of a DQ or appeal, Hearn isn’t a chief second, as he put it the invasion was a case of a “mad fan” leaping into the ring and celebrating prematurely.
“Listen, there wasn’t anyone who didn’t think the fight was over,” said Hearn. “Carl jumped onto the ropes, he thought it was over. As I’ve gone to get up I’ve seen [Bute’s trainer] Stéphan Larouche on the canvas getting ready [to stop it himself] and as I’ve turned around, I’ve seen the ref giving out the count. As I got out the ring, everyone was coming back in, so I got bashed everywhere, but it showed what it meant to everybody. It was a gamble, but sometimes you have to take chances. As they say, ‘He who dares wins, Rodders’.”
British light-heavyweight titlist Tony Bellew was also at ringside. “Bomber” has forged a close bond with Froch due to their hard-fought sparring sessions. For Bellew, this was more than just a big win; it was a vindication of Froch’s no-nonsense approach to his craft.
“It was great, I have worked with Carl for 12-months,” said Bellew. “He is a great fella who gives me great advice on a regular basis, so I was really happy for him the other night. Carl is a friend of mine. The setting was magnificent to say the least. I was fighting in there with him every minute and every second. I am so happy for him. Carl works so hard, he is a family guy and he is very impressive. If he performs how he can do then he can beat anybody he wants to.”
He added: “It was also heart-warming to see Eddie show how much the win meant to him. When he got in the ring it was a real Jerry Maguire moment. Here was a guy who treats his fighters with respect and as friends enjoying the moment. It was humbling to see.”
Humbling, brutal and decisive – the fight inspired many emotions. The overriding one, though, is of a job well done on many levels. Froch is not one of Bernstein’s “squeaky wheels”; he is a well-oiled fighting machine who is finally getting his due in the U.K. and beyond.
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