Froch vs Inkin Preview

froch vs inkin29.02.08 - By John Alutus: There is only one month left until the most anticipated super middleweight fight of the year so far. Unbeaten contenders Denis Inkin and Carl Froch will face each other in a WBC eliminator fight to become the mandatory challenger to the Champion, Joe Calzaghe's title, in Nottingham, England, on the 29th of March. At stake is not a shot at Joe Calzaghe, but instead Calzaghe's soon-to-be-dropped WBC belt, which the victor, along with the fame and fortune that comes in train, would most likely simply inherit. The winner is also widely expected to join Lucian Bute and Anthony Mundine in the trio of the most likely challengers to Mikkel Kessler's almost certain future domination of the division. But things are not so simple, unfortunately.

Denis Inkin had an impressive amateur career; he won the Military World Games twice, in 1997 and 1999. Froch does too; he won a bronze medal at the World Amateur Championships in 2001. There are further resemblances.. Both are unbeaten, both almost equally highly rated, and both, at 30, at an age when they will most likely never get a better chance to win a world title, albeit a vacated one. What is more, despite their undoubted talent, both have been overprotected. Neither Inkin nor Froch have beaten or even been tested by a world class opponent yet, as professional boxers. Inevitably, they will now, when they face each other, in a last ditch rush for glory. These similarities aside, the two could not be more different. Whilst Inkin is quiet, modest and reserved, Froch is arrogant, loud and brash; whilst Inkin is a technical strategist who lacks certain physical and mental attributes, Froch is blessed with great physical characteristics but lacks technique and displays crude strategy. The best of both would make for an unstoppable combination!

It is not the first time the Russian, fighting out of Germany, and the Nottingham born and bred fighter will have met, however. In 1999, Inkin was knocked down in the fourth round of the England v. Russia international, with five seconds left on the clock, by none other than Froch. Then, Inkin managed to get up to win on points. For his part, Froch always felt he could have done better that night. He will certainly be looking for revenge on the 29th! The stakes are higher still! The manner in which each is likely to lose to the other would expose some critical limiting factors of each of their games. This might realistically put them out of contention as serious challengers to the best fighter at 168, in Calzaghe's absence – Mikkel Kessler.

Unfortunately, there was an event which raised doubts over the full significance of this exciting match-up. Until the 24th of November, last year, Denis Inkin was seen as the slight favourite to beat Carl Froch, and rightly so. Inkin was seen as one of the most skilled and technical orthodox boxers in the division. He was known for doing consistently good, clean work and sticking to his strategy in a disciplined and cool manner. He was known for having a good, tight defence and for being able to take a punch. Most analysts were dutifully putting the knock down at the hands of Froch in the amateurs to the back of their minds; allowing themselves to be swept away into reading too much into this incident long-past would have been unnecessarily presumptuous... But then, in the second round of his run-of-the-mill encounter with unspectacular journeyman Martin Abel Bruer, Inkin was dropped again by a straight right from a man who is anything but a big puncher.

Nothing could save Inkin now from being considered the underdog to Froch, despite Froch's very open defence and nonchalant style. Froch was going to win by brutal knockout, even if he was going to be outboxed in every round up to that point. Inkin's chin was simply less than very good and couldn't stand up to Froch's scrutiny. His lack of focus displayed a lack of mental strength and ambition and this Froch would surely capitalise on, eventually, most analysts thought. Thus, a bit of the enthusiasm surrounding this well-matched contest vanished into thin air. This meant, of course, also that were Froch to win by stoppage, he would not, in doing so, have proved himself as much as we all previously hoped or anticipated. The sense of disappointment was enhanced by the thought that Froch would not be able to win a clear close decision against Inkin, unless he dropped the Russian at least twice, and by the complementary thought that Inkin could not get up after being dropped twice by Froch and still make the count. Froch would surely end up finishing the job, even without assistance from the referee, but not necessarily by showing an improvement… Disappointing…

But don't despair! Even assuming Inkin's chin is not solid enough to see him through at the highest level in a division inhabited by hard punchers, Froch could still impress enough in stopping Inkin, despite Inkin's depleted stock, to merit being named in the same sentence as Bute and Mundine. For that to be the case, not only must he show an improved level of performance, but so does Inkin. The Russian must redeem himself in proving that his knockdown at the hands of Bruer was a one-off, to be put down more to the lack of respect he must have had for the cannon-fodder being fed to him by his German promoter, than to his relatively poor chin. Respect, Inkin will surely have, for his opponent, though, as indeed will Froch himself. With that respect, hopefully, Inkin will bring much needed focus to the fight, and with that focus, a performance that could get the best out of a Froch too. The latter has himself indulged for far too long in fighting unchallenging opposition, to the detriment of his development as a fighter, preferring instead to live on laughable and tedious self-generated hype. Hopefully, a motivated Inkin should make us see a different, better Froch. But if Inkin makes it out alive against a dangerous opponent like Froch, given his chin, that probably means he won on points. Kessler, beware!

Will Inkin really win, though? Even if he is at his best, if indeed his chin is less than very good and if Froch improves over his performance against shot Robin Reid, last year, Inkin should lose. If Froch doesn't improve, however, an Inkin at his best could still scrape through and win on points, especially if his last knockdown was due mostly to a lapse in concentration. The reason lies with some critical shortcomings in Froch's game.

Froch's main asset is his iron chin, one of the best in the division. He has been hit flush many times and just walked through the punches, recovering almost instantaneously and counter-attacking straight away, effectively. Who could forget Reid's overhand right, telegraphed from miles away, he took flush in the fourth round, without batting an eye? His second main asset is his one-punch KO-power punch, which although harder than Alejandro Berrio's is a bit less dangerous because it is telegraphed – Froch plants his feet solidly before striking, allowing his opponent to prepare. His third main asset is his very long reach. His fourth - his very good reflexes. It is these outstanding physical qualities that he bases his game on, rather than technique, skill or strategy. But how impressive these physical qualities are!

For all these physical advantages, Froch's style is frustrating, despite a good attack. His defence is open and very poor, at the highest level. His foot-work is bear-like and quite sloppy. He doesn't use his powerful piston-like jab enough. His guard is not high enough; he keeps his left hand low, stalking his opponent, moving forwards and backwards in fairly straight lines, balancing from one foot to another. For defence, he doesn't keep distance with his jab but keeps a tight right-hand guard. Froch doesn't believe in head-movement; I am not sure if he has it anyway. However, he loves to use his very good uppercut, his strong right cross and his good left hook, and he does so effectively. When he attacks, he pounces! His rather crude game plan is based on treating his opponent with disdain before jumping him, hitting him with some hard, accurate body shots and accurate hooks and right crosses to stop him. It's worked a treat so far against good journeymen, but it won't be enough at the highest level. If Froch could improve his defence, cut out his numerous banal mistakes, keep a high guard and increase his work rate, especially with the jab, he would be a formidable opponent for anyone, including Kessler!

As to Inkin, he is a very good, technical boxer and counter-puncher, in classic Eastern European mould. If he had slightly more power, speed, better footwork and change of pace, he would be a very good fighter indeed, bar his chin, lack of ambition and problems with concentration. Inkin keeps a tight guard and punches straight. He has good balance and brings constant pressure. He times his accurate punches well. If these failings are due to the lack of suitable competition and if a focussed Inkin is indeed much better, Froch should be in trouble. Unless Froch forces a stoppage, he shouldn't be able to get close enough to winning against Inkin, unless Inkin's chin is indeed less than very good. Even if Inkin does have a less than very good chin, however, if he does fight a perfect fight, he should be able to win by 4-5 rounds...but will his powers of concentration allow for that? Will he prove hungry enough for that? Like Froch, Inkin's level of performance has seen him through against good journeymen. Like Froch, he will have to improve to challenge the very best.

Inkin's best strategy against Froch, I think, involves him taking the initiative from the first bell in order to impose his own tactics and rhythm on the fight and to frustrate Froch, by boxing. Thus, the first thing Inkin needs to do is to defend well, not letting Froch plant his feet or take the initiative. To do this, he must move constantly and purposefully. Inkin's footwork is essential in this fight and he still needs to improve on it. He is best off moving in circles, particularly to the left, as Froch tends to move up and down. He also needs to train for speed, to counterpunch Froch and to assault him from time to time, making Froch respect him and making it easier for him to impose his own game plan on Froch. This would force Froch to fight off the back-foot, which he is incapable of doing well. Also, Inkin needs to beat Froch to the left hook, through some rights over the top, followed by a left cross or hook, whilst at the same time ensuring good head movement to avoid Froch's own hooks. When Froch does decide to move forward to let his arms fly, Inkin needs to cut in to negate Froch's reach advantage and fight him on the inside, whilst moving to the right or left to avoid Froch's uppercut, and to counterpunch Froch as he does so. Froch is not a counterpuncher and he dislikes pressure because his defence and footwork are poor, so Inkin should try to jump him with some quick flurries on the back of a quick jab and an attacking hook. Inkin needs to fight with a lot of confidence against Froch, if he is to win; he must push Froch backwards from time to time; if Froch is allowed some room to breathe to get on his front foot, he is dangerous, despite the fact that he keeps his chin in the air while coming forward. Inkin needs to time that jab and hit Froch in the face, as he just stands there in front of him. After Inkin attacks, he must expect Froch to come back at him, so he must cut inside and to the left or right and counterpunch Froch, as I described above, whilst, again, avoiding Froch's very good uppercut.

If Inkin fights with confidence and focus, moving well at all times, pushing Froch backwards, if he uses his jab to tag Froch constantly and cuts in on Froch's attack, counterpunching and not letting himself be bullied, he might just win despite his less than very good chin, if Froch's KO-punch misses. Of course, if Inkin performs as well as this, Froch will be forced to rely on his great chin and power to look for the stoppage win. Anything could happen, then. Whether he manages to stop Inkin or not and whatever the result, Froch needs to show a much improved performance and so does his opponent, for this fight to be as significant as we all hope it will be. Both must perform better and show improvement if the winner is to be looked upon on par with Bute and Mundine, as a serious challenger to Mikkel Kessler. We'll see...

My prediction: Froch will win by KO in the 10th round.

Article posted on 01.03.2008

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