By Jake Donovan
Despite a boxing society littered with countless alphabet trinkets, the mantra remains true that the fighter defines the belt rather than the belt defining the fighter. Carl Froch will soon be forced to put that theory to the test.
The three-time super middleweight titlist returns to the ring this weekend, when he faces Yusaf Mack in his hometown of Nottingham, England. The bout is a rare (perceived) break from a grueling three-year stretch, which saw Froch engaged in the Showtime Super Six World Boxing Classic and then come right back to face then-unbeaten Lucian Bute.
Froch (29-2, 21KO) placed as the runner-up of the 2½-year long round-robin tournament. His wins over Andre Dirrell, Arthur Abraham and Glen Johnson propelled him to the finals, with losses coming against Mikkel Kessler and then in last year’s finals against Andre Ward.
Determined to prove his worth at the top level, Froch wasted no time in lining up a bout with Lucian Bute, perhaps the best super middleweight in the world NOT in the tournament. Froch made it look easy, hammering the previously unbeaten southpaw en route to a fifth round knockout this past May.
The win made Froch a three-time titlist, acquiring the IBF super middleweight strap which Bute held since Oct. ’08. With such wins often come mandatory obligations. Adonis Stevenson has emerged as his mandatory challenger, thanks to sanctioned elimination wins over Jesus Gonzalez and Donovan George.
Froch was granted an exemption in order to get in this weekend’s voluntary defense against Mack (31-4-2, 17KO). The American challenger is given such little chance to win, that all talk has centered around Froch’s next move.
The brash Brit has called for rematches with Ward and Kessler, while also saddled to a contracted rematch with Bute next spring. What has yet to be mentioned by his team is the possibility of honoring his mandatory challenge and facing Stevenson.
While Froch and his handlers believe that several future options exist, there are only two if he has any designs of holding onto the alphabet strap currently in his possession.
“He can unify, (or) he can request an exemption to fight Bute,” clarified IBF spokesperson Jeanette Salazar in an e-mail reply. “If (the exemption) is denied and he does not want to fight Stevenson, then he would have to give up the title.”
Bute held up his end of the bargain, though in a tough 12-round decision win over Denis Grachev earlier this month. The bout took place at a catchweight of 170 lb, though the regional light heavyweight belt at stake disallowed its outcome to have any bearing on his super middleweight ranking. Simply put, there would be no grounds to skip ahead of Stevenson.
Before Froch worries about the future, he still has to get past Mack this weekend. The bout headlines an Integrated Sports PPV telecast (3PM ET/12PM PT) and could conceivably serve as his final hometown showing.
The terms of his contract with Bute call for the rematch to take place in Montreal, while sought-after sequels with Ward and Kessler would also most likely require road trips.
It’s quite possible that none take place with his currently owned belt on the line. By his own admission, Froch, 35, is comfortable with the career he’s already enjoyed and is looking to add to his legacy at this point.
Reversing past defeats against Ward and/or Kessler would do the trick, regardless of what’s at stake. If it comes before a defense against Stevenson, then the stakes would feature one less belt, should any potential exemption be denied by the IBF.
“[I]f that were to be the case, Stevenson would fight the next leading available contender,” confirmed Salazar.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox