Can Froch Beat Ward Without a Knockout?

Carl Froch(Photo credit: Tom Casino/Showtime - By John G. Thompson: Prior to the Showtime Super Six Tournament, I knew very little about two-time WBC Super Middleweight Champion Carl “The Cobra” Froch (28-1, 20 KO’s). I’d heard him calling out the all-time great super middleweight Joe Calzaghe at the end of Calzaghe’s career and even after he retired, though at the time it seemed more like a publicity stunt than an intriguing matchup. The first Froch fight I had seen was in December 2008 against Jean Pascal for the vacant WBC title.

This was one of the most exciting bouts of the year, with great two way action and Froch earned the unanimous decision in his hometown of Nottingham in the UK. Against Pascal Froch showed a great chin and a willingness to trade punches. The next fight I saw with Froch had him knocking out the former middleweight champion Jermaine Taylor. So we all know Froch can bang, but if he fails to land that big fight changing blow against his opponent in the Super Six finale, Andre “S.O.G.” Ward (24-0, 13 KO’s), does Froch have any chance of out-boxing him or beating him on points?

During the Super Six Tournament boxing fans around the world have learned a little more about Froch. In his two razor thin decisions with Mikkel Kessler (a loss) and Andre Dirrell (a win) we saw Froch display the same solid chin he had shown against Pascal as well as a willingness to trade punches. However, in his more recent bouts against Arthur Abraham and Glen Johnson, Froch has shown a different side – one that can box. He boxed beautifully against both utilizing his jab and moving away from his opponents for the most part. I had only seen Froch as a come forward fighter, so this nuance to his game was impressive.

Unfortunately for Froch, Ward is leagues above Abraham and Johnson in terms of boxing technique. The WBA Super Middleweight Champion was a 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist and has dominated virtually everyone he faced. Mikkel Kessler was the initial favorite to win the Super Six Tournament and Ward out-boxed him handily. One of the reasons Ward was so successful against Kessler was Ward’s game plan. Using his natural athletic gifts, Ward moved faster than Kessler and would beat him to the punch, then tie up or move out of the way before Kessler could respond. Against Allan Green, an excellent puncher when given room to punch, Ward smothered him, making it a rough inside fight. So perhaps even more important for Ward than his quickness was the fight plan he devised with trainer Virgil Hunter. Each fight has shown a slightly different side of Ward, though each making use of Ward’s gifts (speed and precision over brute strength), and Ward has remained undefeated.

Of course just because Ward beat Kessler by a wide margin, and Kessler narrowly beat Froch, does not automatically mean Ward beats Froch (just ask Mosley, Margarito and Cotto about that dynamic). What this fight comes down to is two things – game plan and resolution. Whoever comes into the fight with the better game plan will have the advantage early on; however, this fight could go to whoever wants it more down the stretch.

The consensus view is that Ward will not stop Froch (who has only been down once in his career, against Jermaine Taylor), however, it is possible for Froch to stop Ward with a solid punch. Both fighters have shown they can be hurt (Ward against Darnell Boone and Froch against Kessler), but Ward’s style is to avoid those punches whereas Froch has shown not only a willingness to take them, but the fortitude to survive them. That being said, Ward will almost certainly look to out-box Froch. But will Froch look for the knockout from the start or attempt to box with Ward?

Froch’s twelfth round knockout of Jermaine Taylor and his performance against Andre Dirrell may be the two fights worth studying for a prediction against Ward. Taylor out-boxed Ward throughout most of the fight, keeping Froch at bay with his jab and ring movement, even knocking Froch down with an overhand right in the third round. Froch showed a warrior mentality in surviving the knockdown, never getting discouraged throughout the one-sided affair, and stayed focused enough to score the knockout he needed to win in the final seconds of the twelfth. This fight will certainly be on the back of everyone’s minds this weekend if Ward is able to out-box Froch into the late rounds. That being said, Ward and Taylor are two very different fighters. Whereas Taylor also has the Olympic pedigree, he is (or was) more of a puncher than pure boxer. Taylor may hit harder but he does not have the speed of Ward.

Dirrell is clearly the most similar fighter to Ward in the tournament. Both are extremely fast, athletically gifted performers with excellent defensive skills. However, though Dirrell’s fight with Froch was extremely close, he did not seem to have much of a game plan against Froch, or if he did have one he wound up improvising for most of the evening. He looked nervous at first (as any fighter would be in their first overseas world championship bout), but found success later on not just by moving away, but by countering with haymakers. Andre Ward will not go into the Froch fight without a Plan A, B, C and all the way to Z, nor will he be nervous early on.

Of course if Froch was watching the Lamont Peterson vs. Amir Khan fight this past weekend, he must be thinking about his chances of earning a decision in the United States. The tournament has already seen a number of outcomes perhaps influenced by where the fights took place. It’s no coincidence that Kessler won a close decision against Froch in Kessler’s native Denmark or that Froch won a close decision over Dirrell in Froch’s home of Nottingham. Had those fights been in the opposite fighters’ hometowns, both decisions might have gone the other way (I’m not claiming a fix, just that they were close and sometimes close decisions go to the hometown fighter). This fight will take place in Atlantic City, though it is not the same as Oakland, the American may still have an advantage if the fight is close.

Ward will go into the fight most likely with a game plan which is a combination of how he fought Kessler and Abraham. He will look to beat Froch to the punch and then either tie up or move out of the way. If Froch comes after him, look for Ward to dance away, moving side to side, and throwing elusive shots from different angles. Froch, believing he is the stronger puncher, will most likely come after his opponent as he came after Kessler, Dirrell and Taylor, looking to land a big punch. Froch will fight smartly though, throwing economically, cutting off the ring and looking for the big punch while conserving his energy for the later rounds.

In other words, unless Froch is a fool, he will not swing wildly at the elusive Ward all night. If Froch fights an extremely disciplined fight and Ward does not frustrate him with clenching, headbutts (he has been known to land a few), and if Ward does not wind up man-handling Froch the way he did with Edison Miranda and Allen Green, look for the fight to change in the later rounds. By that point Ward will most likely be ahead on the scorecards and Froch may need a knockout just to win as he did against Taylor. To reiterate, if Froch can make it through the first half of the fight without taking a beating or being completely outclassed, he may come on strong in the latter part of the fight and remain dangerous until the final bell.

I’m not sure who I will be routing for in this one. Froch is the more exciting fighter and the one I’d rather watch for pure entertainment value on any given night. That being said, my betting money is on Ward by decision.

Article posted on 16.12.2011

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