STRONGHOLD: The Super Middleweight Division

Carl FrochPhoto: Casino/Showtime - By Mark Wilson Smith: On the 17th of December, Britain’s Carl Froch will face Andre Ward in what will not only be the final of the Super Six World Boxing Classic, but also a unification bout for their respective WBC and WBA titles. Despite the Super Six having some problems with postponements and fighters withdrawing from the tournament, it has for the most part been a great success. Packed with high calibre boxers, it is certainly a real achievement for Froch to reach the eagerly anticipated final.

Froch is certainly not the only British fighter to be a star in the Super Middleweight division, from the early 1990’s to present day, there has been no less than seven world champions hailing from Britain and Ireland. Champions, and for the most part the divisions best boxers. From Froch himself to such fighters as Eubank and Benn, we look at the careers of those seven men that have dominated the Super Middleweight division.

Champion: 6/12/08 – 24/04/10; 27/11/10 - Present
Successful Defences: 3

The only boxer currently still active on this list. His toe-to-toe war with Jean Pascal, in which he first won the vacant WBC title, was truly thrilling. It was many people’s choice for THE fight of 2008. His first defence against Jermain Taylor was also packed with excitement from start to finish. However, in that particular fight Froch was outclassed for large parts of the bout. Trailing behind on points going into the last round, Froch never gave up and showed a true champion’s heart to stop Taylor with only seconds remaining.

Although always fighting with grit, Froch’s next two contests didn’t exactly go according to plan. His split decision win over Andre Dirrell was scrappy, and Dirrell, along with many American journalists, felt the result should have gone the other way.
The following contest with Mikkel Kessler was another epic, and once again a contender for fight of the year. However, in losing that bout, Froch did himself and boxing a disservice by claiming that he was robbed, and that the judges had favoured the home town fighter. This was not the case- Kessler was the worthy winner on the night. Against Arthur Abraham, Froch was able to make amends by regaining the WBC belt in dominating style, and then putting in an equally impressive performance against Glen Johnson.

Since signing with promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sports, a deal has been made to show Froch’s fight against Andre ward on the Sky television platform, giving him much deserved and overdue exposure. He certainly has the personality and fighting style to make him popular with the public and it is a real shame his recent bouts have largely gone unnoticed by the greater British public. The run of fights against high quality opponents such as Pascal, Taylor, Dirrell, Kessler, Abraham, and Johnson is exactly what we want from a world class boxer. It would be difficult to find any boxer in history with such a demanding succession of fights.

When looking at Froch critically, it has to be said that in the fights with Taylor, Pascal, and Kessler he was hit far too easily and far too often. He will have to tighten up his defence against Ward, even if that does mean sacrificing some of the excitement from the bout. His strong points are definitely his granite chin, his stamina, and his warrior’s heart- there is certainly enough there to give Ward a close fight. Should he win, Froch will no doubt look to secure a contest with Lucian Bute, the IBF title holder, to settle who the real king at 168lbs is

Champion: 11/10/97 – 21/10/2008
Successful Defences: 21

Calzaghe joined a very elite group of boxers in February of 2009 when he retired with an undefeated record. However, for a large section of his career, the Welshman had a chip on his shoulder about not getting the credit he felt he was due. It wasn’t really until his destruction of Jeff Lacy, which he describes as a ‘career defining’ fight that he started to get the plaudits and huge purses he craved. It is a shame that it came so late. Prior to that fight he had been dogged by injuries and had put in a few average performances- but against Lacy it all came together for perhaps the best display of his career.

Surprisingly for a man that held the title for 11 years, defeated 9 other champions, and retired with a record of 46-0, he does have some critics among the boxing public who believe he is overrated. They point to his slapping style of fighting and the fact that some of the biggest names on his CV (Eubank, Hopkins, and Jones) were well past their prime when he beat them. A further issue is that many of his title defences were against mediocre opposition.

In fairness to Calzaghe, he was just facing mandatory challengers- and there is no shame in defending your title rather than relinquishing it in search of gold. It meant a lot to Calzaghe to remain champion- and he maintains that he dodged no one but in fact actively sought bouts with his main rivals.

For every critic, he certainly has a lot more who rate him very highly. There have been a growing number of former champions and boxing writers who are calling Calzaghe Britain’s greatest ever boxer. Let us hope that he is never tempted out of retirement by a big money offer, for he has nothing left to prove.

Champion: 21/9/91 – 18/3/95
Successful Defences: 14

Eubank brought a lot of interest to the division, and to boxing in general, with his unique personality and charisma. Inside and outside of the ring he was a showman. But inside and outside of the ring he was also a true champion. He displayed immense heart in many wars and also devoted much of his free time to charity work.

Eubank never really got the respect he deserved from American pundits, partly due to the fact that the he was never paired with Roy Jones or James Toney, and partly because he held the WBO belt, which was lightly regarded at the time. However, Eubank counters this by saying that he helped to make the WBO belt what it is today (a title held by Manny Pacquiao and Wladimir Klitschko no less). Although he never faced Jones or Toney, his wins over Watson, Rocchigiani, Malinga, and a draw with Benn, clearly show his talent can never be questioned. To be given respect in America you must actually fight in America, and that is something Eubank only did at the very outset of his career.

Another criticism levelled against Eubank was his mediocre performances and low work rate against lesser opponents, but it has to be remembered that Eubank was fighting almost every six weeks. This would take its toll on any boxer and in part led to Eubank losing his title to Collins, along with the Irishman’s mind games.

Eubank’s last fight at Super Middle was against Joe Calzaghe for his old WBO title, which Steve Collins had vacated. It is great credit to Eubank that Calzaghe describes their bout as the hardest contest of his career. All the more so when you consider Chris took the fight at just over a weeks notice, had to lose a stone in weight in that time, and was in his ‘second’ boxing career after a period of retirement. The fight still lasted the full 12 rounds.

Eubank’s “boxing is a mug’s game” comment is well know, and he definitely seemed more interested in making money than securing a great boxing legacy. This writer believes that if Eubank had fought less often and against the leading contenders in America, in which he would have been very capable of distinguishing himself, he would be held in even greater esteem by the boxing community. Despite this, Chris Eubank must always be remembered as one of Britain’s best.

Champion: 3/10/92 – 2/3/96
Successful Defences: 9

“The Dark Destroyer”, the former Royal Fusilier, was always the people’s champion. They not only loved his ferocious attacking style and courage, but also that outside of the ring he was ‘one of the people’. This was probably most evident in his epic rematch with Chris Eubank in front of 42,000 spectators. British boxing fans really wanted to see Benn put the cocksure Eubank in his place. In fact quiet a few people gave him the verdict in that bout. The genuine animosity Benn felt towards Eubank in the build up to their fights, as well as the intense action in the ring, led to arguably the most enthralling rivalry in British boxing history.

There was always the feeling that Benn’s famed power at middleweight, which dispatched with so many opponents, wasn’t quite carried up to 12 stone. However, this didn’t prevent him from stopping a string of opponents inside the distance at 168lbs. His hitting power was always given a lot of respect by his rivals.

He will probably be best remembered for his explosiveness- you were guaranteed excitement every time he stepped into the ring. Who could ever forget his encounters with McClellan or Barkley? Fights like those led to promoter Bob Arum once describing Benn as his “British Marvin Hagler”.

Champion: 18/3/95 – 5/7/97
Successful Defences: 7

Although from Cabra, Ireland rather than Britain, Collins has been included in this list, and did actually fight on British soil ten times during his career. The ‘Celtic Warrior’ was famed for his tough, brawling style of fighting. With Freddie Roach as his trainer, this style was harnessed to give him two victories a piece over Benn and Eubank. But despite his aforementioned toughness, timing was probably the biggest factor in his wins over his two high profile opponents- both of these fighters were past their best and approaching the end of their careers. In their prime, they certainly displayed much greater technical ability than Collins.

After his wins over Eubank and Benn, Collins sought to further enhance his reputation, and bank balance, with a big money unification bout with Roy Jones. Despite his best efforts, this bout would never happen. Collins had to settle for a string of low calibre opponents when defending his title.

When Joe Calzaghe became his mandatory challenger, Collins opted to retire rather than defend against the Welshman. He claims he struggled to find the motivation to face a fighter who, in his words, “wouldn't fill a parish church". At that stage in his career it wasn’t really worth the risk to face a young challenger with an unbeaten record.

Champion: 12/10/96 – 19/12/97
Successful Defences: 3

One of the finest nights of Reid’s career was when he put in a fantastic performance to stop Vicenzo Nardiello in the seventh, to claim the Italian’s WBC belt. With the fight taking place in Italy, it would have been risky to let it go to the judges’ scorecards. That was the crowning glory in a career that also included winning bronze at the 1992 Olympics.

In the build up to his 1999 clash with Joe Calzaghe, there had been a lot of bad blood between the pair- something that continued long after the actual bout itself. The reason being that Reid, and a large section of people who saw the contest, felt he had done enough to win their title fight. Reid has been very vocal in his claims that he should have been given the verdict- much to the annoyance of Calzaghe.

It wouldn’t be the last time that Reid would be on the receiving end of a controversial decision. In his 2003 bout with IBF/WBA champion Sven Ottke in Nuremberg, it was the German that was given the nod after 12 close rounds. Many pundits felt it was a case of favouritism towards the home fighter, and that Reid should have been the one going home with the belts.

He called time on his career when he failed in a challenge for Carl Froch’s British title in November 2007. However, Reid made a return to the ring this year with victory over Jamie Ambler, followed by an unsuccessful appearance in the Prizefighter tournament. His last contest was a fourth round TKO over Wayne Reed in June. It is unclear if we shall see Robin Reid in action again.

Champion: 27/3/98 – 23/10/99
Successful Defences: 2

Similar to Robin Reid, Woodhall won Olympic Bronze campaigning at Light Middleweight. His triumph came a few years earlier at the 1988 games in Seoul, where Roy Jones eventually beat him in the semi-final.

The highlight of his career was the night in which he defeated Sugar Boy Malinga to claim the WBC crown. Despite that victory, he never quite managed to grab the headlines or became a big box office draw in the way that some of his contemporaries did. Perhaps because his reign as champion was relatively short. He only successfully defended the title twice before losing to Markus Bayer. The last fight of his career ended in defeat at the hands of Joe Calzaghe- making him the third person in this feature to be defeated by the Welshman. He now occupies his time as a boxing commentator and as a coach for the British ABA in their preparations for the 2012 Olympics.

Article posted on 06.12.2011

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