By Graham Houston
The long, hard road comes to an end for 168-pound champions Andre Ward and Carl Froch tonight in Atlantic City, two years after starting their journey in the Showtime network’s innovative Super Six tournament. Ward is the betting favourite but Froch, who looked in fantastic condition at Friday’s weigh-in, exudes confidence and will have his backers. The tournament has given us compelling contests, upsets, debatable decisions and knockouts. It can be considered a success because — with the obvious exception of Lucian Bute — the best have fought the best at 168 pounds.
If you go by form, Ward is the clear choice to win tonight. While both men comfortably outpointed Arthur Abraham, Ward dominated Mikkel Kessler whereas the Danish boxer ground out a tough, close win over Froch.
However, Froch is the most formidable opponent Ward will have faced. Froch has an icy coolness in the ring and possesses power, mental and physical toughness and boxing acumen, not to mention supreme self-belief: In Froch’s own mind he is undefeated because he cannot accept that Kessler deserved the decision over him.
At home in Nottingham, with a roaring crowd behind him, Froch’s chances would be greatly increased, but at least he is meeting Ward basically on neutral ground in Atlantic City and he will have a contingent of British fans cheering for him.
Ward is fast and skilful, but Froch sees himself as the stronger man and the bigger puncher. It is Froch’s belief that he can knock out Ward but “Ward can’t knock out Carl Froch”.
At some point in the 12 rounds, Froch says, he is going to catch and hurt Ward, and that when he does his opponent will be in deep trouble.
Ward, however, feels that Froch is underestimating him. He will tell you that his opponents quickly find out that it is a lot more difficult being in the ring with him than it appears from outside the ropes.
Froch looks much the more rugged individual but Ward has shown the ability to prevail in physical fights, as when he survived cuts over both eyes to outfight and outclass the durable Sakio Bika, and when he soundly defeated Edison Miranda despite getting cut from a clash of heads in the opening round.
In Ward’s biggest win, he not only outboxed but also backed up — and roughed up — Mikkel Kessler, who couldn’t figure him out at all.
Sceptics had their doubts when Ward was wobbled by journeyman Kenny Kost and dropped by trial horse Darnell Boone — not considered much of a puncher — early in his career, but he has become stronger with maturity, as shown when he manhandled Miranda.
So, in Ward we have a versatile fighter who can box, move and also fight a rough, tough “inside” fight. He is constantly alert and adaptable, sometimes switching fluidly to a southpaw stance and scoring well from this position.
Froch isn’t as fast or flashy but he brings a gritty professionalism to his fights. You can never count Froch out of a fight as long as he is on his feet. Knocked down by Jermain Taylor and behind on the scorecards, Froch kept pressing in and putting his quicker, classier opponent under enormous mental and physical pressure before pulling out one of the most dramatic last-round knockouts you are ever likely to see.
Although Froch has stopped only one of his last six opponents he was meeting such a high calibre of opposition that full-distance fights were to be expected. I certainly see Froch as a bigger hitter than Ward, but Ward’s fast punches can have an effect if he can keep landing them — Froch sometimes seems to shun defence.
Ward is smart and versatile but 12 rounds is a long way to go when a fighter such as Froch is bringing the heat. How Ward reacts when he is under siege is going to be one of the deciding factors in this fight.
If Ward falters and starts to fall apart, Froch is quite capable of closing the show. Ward, though, has come through adversity and shown a sternness of character that must be respected. “Son of God”, as Ward calls himself, seems to have a sense of destiny. I sense an inner core that is just as steely as that possessed by Froch.
I think that Ward knows he must get respect to avoid Froch walking him down. We are likely to see Ward firing off sharp shots to let Froch know he can’t march forwards without paying a price. We could see shifts in tactics on both sides.
As his “Cobra” nickname implies, Froch will be poised to strike at all times yet I find myself going for Ward in this fascinating fight. I think that Ward has the wherewithal to box the disciplined, total-focus fight that is essential to victory and I see Ward’s speed as being a major factor. Putting it simply I believe he will be hitting Froch more than Froch is hitting him, but no matter who wins this is a wonderful match between two fighters who are a credit to boxing.
Visit fightwriter.com Subscribers’ previews include: Tupou vs Holmes; Andrade vs George.