By Graham Houston
After years of saying how good he is, Carl Froch gets the chance to prove it in his biggest fight when he defends his WBC super middleweight title against Jermain Taylor at Foxwoods on Saturday, with Showtime televising in the U.S. and Super Channel in Canada, while in Britain ITV will have delayed coverage the next evening. (Fans in Britain and Ireland can also watch on internet PPV should they be so inclined.) For the first time in his career, Froch will enter the ring as an underdog.
He showed grit and savvy when he outpointed the flashy, undefeated Jean Pascal in his last fight, in December, but this time Froch is far from the home comforts of Nottingham in the English midlands. He meets a skilled, elite-level American ex-champ who has boxed on a much higher level.
The crowd at Foxwoods in the Connecticut woods will be cheering for Taylor. Froch will most likely hear boos when he is introduced to the crowd; chants of “U.S.A.” will be a rallying cry for Taylor.
Froch has never faced anything like the pressure that he will be facing in Connecticut. He seems unconcerned, saying that he not only thrives on pressure but that the big occasion will give him the extra surge of adrenaline that has not always been there when he has boxed at home. The ring will never have seemed a lonelier place for Froch, though, than it will be when the bell rings for the first round on Saturday night.
All of Froch’s career so far has been leading to this moment. If he wins, he establishes himself as a big-time attraction on the world stage. If he loses, sad to say he will go home as just another British fighter who couldn’t back up his words when the stakes were high and the chips down.
Froch, although the champion and undefeated, is the underdog. He has fought just once outside of the U.K. as a professional — a stoppage win over Costa Rican trial horse Henry Porras in Los Angeles — although he boxed overseas in international tournaments as an amateur, including two wins in Saskatchewan over Canadian Olympic representative Donald Orr.
The fight against Taylor, a championship bout in the U.S. and live on premium-cable American TV, will be a new experience for Froch. Taylor, however, has fought on the big stage a number of times.
Froch has the unbeaten record, but Taylor has the superior pedigree.
While Froch was twice the English national amateur champion and captured a bronze medal in the world championships, Taylor won an Olympic bronze medal.
Apart from the impressive win over Pascal there is nothing on Froch’s record that really stands out at the world-class level. His best wins prior to beating Pascal were a knockout over the capable Irish southpaw Brian Magee — and that was a close fight up to the 11th-round finish — and a blowout over a faded and semi-interested Robin Reid in five rounds, although Froch’s two-round demolition of usually durable Sergey Tatevosyan is perhaps an underrated performance.
Taylor, though, has the two wins over Bernard Hopkins — both admittedly debatable — and the gallant draw with a peak-level Winky Wright. He almost knocked out Kelly Pavlik in their first fight, and Taylor boxed very well in the rematch although unable to keep up with Pavlik’s pressure and punch-rate in the later stages. He is a boxer who is accustomed to being in big fights against a very high standard of fighter and this, coupled with the Foxwoods setting, is the reason he is the betting favourite.
Froch is viewed in the U.S. and also to a certain extent in Britain, I believe, as a dangerous but still somewhat unproved fighter who might be dazzled by Taylor’s speed and skill level.
He is a fighter who has always believed in himself, though, and soon we will see if the self-belief is justified.
I think that the early rounds are going to tell the tale. If Taylor immediately starts having his way, jabbing, hooking, bringing over the right hand, moving smoothly and making Froch look amateurish and flat-footed, the fight will be as good as over.
Froch must, I believe come out with assurance and let Taylor know from the start that he is in for a long, hard night. Even if Froch is outpointed in the early rounds, as long as he can keep in the fight, perhaps hurting Taylor once in a while and not eating too many shots, he can still come on to win, because I believe that the later rounds are where the British fighter can have his greatest success.
I consider Taylor, 30, to be the faster and more polished boxer, but Froch, 31, seems to be stronger and heavier hitting.
Froch would appear to have a natural size advantage as he has been boxing his whole career at 168 pounds whereas Taylor has boxed just twice at a weight above 160 pounds — the hard-fought loss to Pavlik in their second meeting and the comfortable points win over Jeff Lacy in his last fight.
I believe that if Froch can keep the fight on a competitive basis for the first six rounds, there is a real possibility that he can force his way into control in the second half of the contest.
The most worrying aspect of the fight for Froch’s supporters is the way that he holds his hands low. He believes that this keeps him relaxed and better placed to strike with swift, hard shots when he sees an opening, but it could get him into trouble against Taylor, who throws hard, fast right hands and hooks.
Pascal hit Froch with some big shots but the British boxer adjusted smartly and was able to get his left jab and combinations working to assert his authority. His camp is convinced he can do the same against Taylor.
I thought that Froch was outstanding in his title-winning fight, hittable but with an unquenchable will to win over a worthy opponent.
It could even be argued that Pascal is more gifted than Taylor — but he doesn’t have Taylor’s big-fight experience. Taylor knows what it is like to be in long, gruelling championship fights. Pavlik kept the punches coming, but Froch doesn’t have Pavlik’s grinding workrate. Froch can definitely punch, though, and he is capable of being explosive with his hooks, right hands and especially his uppercuts even in the closing stages of a contest.
What worries me about Taylor is that he has shown a tendency to fade and he knows what it is like to be badly knocked out. If Taylor is unable to outclass Froch or get him out of the fight early, he could start feeling the strain, mentally as well as physically.
I have gone back and forth on this fight but I think I found a clue when looking at my notes on November’s Taylor-Lacy 12-rounder. Taylor did a lot of holding in that fight, and was cautioned on a couple of occasions by the referee. Although the ref ruled a slip when Taylor went down in the fifth, it was noted by Larry Merchant in the HBO commentary that Taylor acted like a fighter who had been knocked down, the way he grabbed hold of Lacy. I made the note that Taylor looked “strangely vulnerable” but that Lacy was “too slow and plodding to be very effective”. Yes, Taylor won widely on points, but this was against a sadly faded Lacy who was in effect a one-handed fighter, the left hook hardly ever in evidence. I keep asking myself whether the severe knockout defeat in his first fight against Pavlik took a little something out of Taylor.
Maybe I am underestimating Taylor, and perhaps he will come out with one of his sharpest performances and maybe even make it look easy — this would not be a total shock. I am going with Froch, however. I think his jab and hand speed are comparable to Taylor’s, and I have a feeling that he might be a little too hungry, too big, too strong and too tough for his higher-profile opponent. I’m taking Froch to grab command in the last third of the contest and forge ahead to take a points victory — with a late stoppage not an unthinkable outcome.
Note: Odds are for entertainment purposes only