by Cliff Rold
Sometimes the sum is greater than the whole of the parts.
It took a little longer for Carl Froch to get the respect of the boxing world than it should have. He wasn’t the fastest fighter in the sport. He wasn’t the biggest puncher. His coordination and awkwardness didn’t suggest masterful athleticism.
In a world obsessed with aesthetics, he relied on the little things too often taken for granted. He was tough, tenacious, durable, and smart enough to figure out who he was in the ring and make it work. Add in a salty personality and a chip on his shoulder and Froch became one of the biggest winners of his generation in a strong Super Middleweight era.
What Froch was, more than anything else, was willing. In an era where top names often fight only two to three times a year, he was willing to make the most of his ring appearances. From 2008 until his final fight in 2014, Froch fought a who’s who superior to almost anyone else in boxing.
One week after announcing his retirement, we ask how good he was, measured against all time?
In answering the question, this series examines five categories:
2) Competition Faced
3) Competition Not Faced
4) Reaction to Adversity
5) What’s Left to/What Did He Prove?
Research for this piece included review of fighter records via BoxRec and several Froch fights.
As always, it begins with…
The Tale of the Tape
Born: July 2, 1977
Hailed From: Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom
Turned Professional: March 16, 2002
Record: 33-2, 24 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 10-2, 5 KO
Titles: WBC Super Middleweight (2008-10, 2 Defenses; 10-11, 1 Defense); IBF Super Middleweight (2012-15, 4 Defenses); WBA ‘Regular’ Super Middleweight (2013-15, 2 Defenses)
Current/Former Lineal World Champions Defeated: 2 (Jean Pascal UD12; Jermain Taylor TKO12)
Current/Former Lineal World Champions Faced in Defeat: 1 (Andre Ward)
Current/Former Alphabet Titlists Faced: 6 (Brian Maggee KO11; Robin Reid RTD5; Mikkel Kessler L12, UD12; Arthur Abraham UD12; Glen Johnson MD12; Lucian Bute TKO5)
Froch turned professional at the age of 24 after an amateur career capped with a Middleweight bronze medal at the 2001 World Championships. Beginning in the paid ranks just a few pounds over the Super Middleweight limit of 168 lbs., Froch would stay within the confines of the division for the last ten years of his career.
Froch built his way to contention in the shadow of UK Hall of Famer Joe Calzaghe, winning an assortment of regional titles before earning a mandatory shot at, and winning, the vacant WBC Super Middleweight crown against future WBC and lineal Light Heavyweight Champion Jean Pascal.
Two fights later, he would enter the much-touted Super Six Super Middleweight tournament, losing the WBC crown in the second round to Mikkel Kessler. Froch would regain the then-vacant belt in his next fight against Arthur Abraham after Kessler left the tournament due to injury. Froch would lose the belt again in the tournament final, a unification contest with WBA titlist Andre Ward. Froch, Ward, and Abraham were the only men in the original tournament field to make all of their scheduled dates.
Froch bounced back from the Ward loss to win the IBF belt from Lucian Bute and added the WBA’s sub-title in a rematch with Kessler. Ward remained the WBA’s “Super,” or actual, champion. Froch would fight twice more against regional rival and top ten contender George Groves, topping his career with a knockout win in front of over 80,000 fans at Wembley Stadium in London.
It is a boxing cliché that a fighter can only fight who is put in front of them. Often left out is that, once given leverage, many fighters get real picky about the men they see across the ring. From the 2008 fight against Pascal until the end of his career, Froch went to scratch a dozen times. There is only one name, Yusaf Mack, one might view as a soft touch.
The Super Six created a structure for all of the participants to face a string of quality opposition. Froch’s stretch of challenges was not confined to the tournament. He entered the tournament off two quality wins and would face serious top ten Super Middleweights in four of his next five fights after the Super Six was over.
It’s not just whom he fought but when he fought them. Froch faced five undefeated fighters in twelve title fights: Pascal, Andre Dirrell, Ward, Bute, and Groves. He defeated four of the five, stopping Bute and Groves. After a controversial stoppage win over Groves in their first fight, a fight Froch was widely losing, Froch granted an immediate rematch. Johnson, while aging, was coming off a knockout win of Allan Green and remained a tough out. Jermain Taylor had lost to Kelly Pavlik at Middleweight and was coming off a win against Jeff Lacy. Kessler had lost only to Calzaghe and Ward. Abraham was coming off his first loss, via disqualification to Dirrell.
None of these fighters were shot. Most were still near their peak and rated in the top ten at 168. Pascal would go on to be the first man to defeat Chad Dawson, capturing the honors at Light Heavyweight. Ward, while largely inactive since the end of the Super Six, remains one of the world’s premiere talents. Groves is slated for a title opportunity later this year.
Competition Not Faced
As always, this section is concerned with fights that did not occur. Explorations of the business of boxing or ‘A/B’ side considerations are not the point. Having never moved to Light Heavyweight, hypotheticals about whom he could have faced there would be unfair. As a career Super Middleweight, the competition he missed is only fairly judged there. There are at least a few names to consider.
Froch wanted a fight with Calzaghe but Calzaghe moved on to Light Heavyweight and retirement before the fight could become a serious question. Froch never seemed too interested in trying to avenge his loss to Ward. It’s always a positive for a fighter to try to avenge losses, which Froch did with Kessler. It would have been nice to try against Ward.
The split between the WBA “Super” and regular titles meant some titlists for that organization who Froch never faced, namely Dimitri Sartison and Karoly Balzsay. One could also add the name Robert Stieglitz who reigned for the WBO in parallel to the rest of the action in the division. Anthony Dirrell and Sakio Bika both held WBC titles for a period during Froch’s last title reign.
There will also be those who point to countryman James DeGale (now a titlist in the division) and Middleweight Gennady Golovkin. After the Groves rematch, DeGale was Froch’s IBF mandatory and Golovkin was heavily discussed prior to Froch’s retirement announcement. Both would have been excellent foes, but ultimately Froch chose to fight no one at all, ending his career at 38.
Reaction to Adversity
Froch faced plenty of adversity in his career and was the sort of fighter whose ring character was well defined at the end. Part of the reason he was elevated to a stadium draw by the end was the respect his reactions to adversity engendered.
Froch, while never in a ‘Fight of the Year’ selection from the Ring or BWAA, was in several classics. While Super Middleweight has only been around since the 1980s, it has never been short for high quality action. Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns II, the domestic wars between Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Steve Collins, and Michael Watson, Benn-Gerald McClellan, Frankie Liles-Tim Littles, and Calzaghe-Kessler helped define the class. Froch added to that legacy of violence.
It started with his first title fight, a blistering twelve round affair where Froch outhustled the faster, more athletic Pascal. His very next fight, Froch had his chin checked in a big way, dropped for the first time by Taylor in the third round. Froch got up and grinded his way back into the fight. He was losing rounds but slowly winning the fight. In the final round, needing a knockout to win, Froch found it.
He would only be on the deck one other time, in the first fight with Groves.
While the stoppage in that fight was controversial, the guts he showed in surviving that first round shot and the remainder of the round were impressive. That he had turned the tide and might have been on his way to a victory without controversy was too. The finish of their second fight was far more conclusive but oft forgotten is that it was another highly competitive affair. Froch was down on one scorecard, and just barely ahead on the other two, when he nailed Groves into the floor.
Those were just the best examples. He tackled adversity in plenty of other scrapes. Technically outmatched by Dirrell in his first Super Six fight, Froch used naked aggression and pressure in the rounds Dirrell took off to eek out a close one. Many fighters in the early hole Froch found himself in might have settled for the loss. He put himself in position to win by refusing to stop pressing. In losses to Ward and Kessler, it was Froch coming on late. He never really came close to beating Ward but he did make a case for victory the first time against Kessler and clearly bested the Dane in their rematch.
There was just no quit in Froch.
What’s Left to/What Did He Prove?
Assuming Froch stays retired, there isn’t anything left to prove. At 38, his prime isn’t coming back and one can hope he can enjoy the riches he collected and life as a commentator.
In the ring, he was as defined as any fighter in the modern era for better and worse because of the depth of styles and foes faced. He could be outboxed, but it took a great talent in Ward to do it bell to bell. He could also box better than credited, using a skill approach in dominating power threat Arthur Abraham. If forced into a firefight, he was at home.
The most important thing he proved in going 10-2 from the Pascal fight to Groves II is something that would benefit more fans and fighter legacies if it were the norm.
Froch proved a fighter in the limited schedule era could make the most of every appearance without having to take an inordinate number of easy landings between real fights. The easy landing should be the long layoff between fights. Making it a combination of layoff and fights can mean years between matches anyone really needs to take serious. Froch didn’t force fans to regularly endure that.
The Super Six made taking the five fights there an obligation. How he followed the tournament proved the nature of the man.
There are plenty of big stars in recent years that wouldn’t have taken on the undefeated Bute immediately after the loss to Ward. They might have milked it and looked to cash in. There are still other fighters who might have taken a step back after the first Groves fight. For a little while, quotes from Froch seemed to indicate he might.
Win or lose, and he mostly won, until he retired Froch let the question of better man between rivals be settled in the ring.
Measured Against History
There have been more talented Super Middleweights than Froch. There have been more accomplished fighters statistically. There are few who can say they left so few stones unturned. Sven Ottke was carefully managed and protected. Calzaghe didn’t really move to clean out the division until late in his reign and never consistently faced the level of opposition Froch did. Benn, Eubank, and Collins faced each other but never James Toney or Roy Jones and vice versa.
Guys like Jones and Calzaghe did enough against enough quality foes, and in additional divisions, to be argued as better than Froch. Relative to their time, they didn’t test themselves at Super Middleweight as much as he did with more natural talent. Jones followed his win over Toney with fights against the absurdly outmatched Antoine Byrd and Vinny Pazienza. Calzaghe didn’t begin to unify the division until he’d had a belt almost eight years.
Froch went Pascal to Taylor to Dirrell to Kessler to Abraham to Johnson to Ward to Bute to Mack to Kessler to Groves twice. Go ahead and nitpick a fight or two along the way. Make a case for some controversy in a couple spots.
That schedule was impeccable. 10-2 against that schedule merits entry to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Like the fighter, the resume sum was greater than any individual part.
The era Froch fought in was the best in the division since the stacked days of Benn and Jones. There were business reasons some big fights didn’t happen in that earlier era (disparate international markets, network exclusivity contracts) but all that really matters is whether fights happen or not.
In the end, the most substantive opponent in the division Froch missed is Stieglitz. He did beat an Abraham who bested Stieglitz three out of four. There was no Bika fight but he pancaked Bute; Bute easily outboxed the rugged Cameroonian. There was no DeGale but he beat the lone man who has defeated him to date in Groves. No one fights everyone but Froch came damn close.
He made the fights.
That he never pursued a rematch with Ward is somewhat unfortunate, but he still fought him. No one has to ask what might have been. There was a guy in his era that was just better than Froch. That’s no shame. We saw it to know for sure. The lack of a Ward rematch is a concession to two things. The first is that, economically, he didn’t need to do it. The second is that, competitively, it wasn’t a fight Froch or his team really thought they could win.
Froch was better than everybody else and was ultimately more important to the era than Ward has proved to be. He’s the one that kept taking big fights, developed into the biggest draw in the division, and gave the most fans something to look forward to.
In the end his reward won’t be getting recalled as an all-time great. He didn’t quite attain that level. He never beat someone we’d call genuinely great and lost to the one opponent likely to qualify in Ward. Froch’s reward, made clear under the farewell lights in Wembley and combined with the memories of Taylor and Bute, was to reach the status of fistic folk hero.
He is a standard bearer for what can happen if a fighter just makes the fights and lets the chips fall where they may. The sport would be healthier with more of him and is the less for his exit.
Verdict on Carl Froch: Worthy of the Hall of Fame
Author’s Note: This is an occasional series that examines the most accomplished of modern fighters in seeking to establish how their careers stack up with history’s finest.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org