The Cobra Returns: Carl Froch speaks to East Side Boxing

25.11.05 - Interview by Cris Neill: Itís unusual to find a boxer immersed in study just weeks before a title bout Ė but then, Carl Froch (photo: Chris Royle) is no ordinary fighter. The Commonwealth super middleweight champion, deep in preparation for his fight with Ruben Gronewald on December 2, was learning Spanish when he took time out to speak to EastsideBoxing. It would be equally unusual to find a boxer willing to take on a competitive opponent following a hand injury Ė but again, Froch confounds preconceptions. The fight is his first following surgery for a ruptured extensor hood to his right hand this summer. His opponent, Ruben Gronewald, looks lively enough Ė so why hasnít Froch opted for a walkover? He admits that the Ramsgate-based South African isnít going to run away: ďHe will do what he usually does; stand in front of me and try to have a tear-up. I wonít have to go looking for him, thatís for sure.Ē Itís a testament to Frochís gameness that heís opted for a competitive fight, and an encouraging hint that the Nottingham-based fighter may be the man to breathe life back into the impoverished super middleweight division.

Speaking from his London training camp, Froch sounds relaxed and confident. His sledgehammer right hand, the clenched thunder that has steered him to 12 knockouts, has been restored to full working order: ďIt was giving me a bit of trouble when I first had the operation done because I was trying to rush it a little bit, because I was eager to start punching with it, but I gave it the full 12 weeks recovery. Iíve been punching with it for the last two or three weeks and it feels fine.Ē

Sustaining a hand injury would normally drive a boxer to despair, but typically, Froch has turned the situation to his advantage: ďIíve been doing a lot more running and cardiovascular work. My fitness is a lot better than it usually is, but what you gain at one end you lose on something else. Iím down to 12 stone already, Iíve been sat on the weight for about two weeks, and Iím lifting really heavy weights.

I donít do much weightlifting but I do a lot of power moves, a lot of clean and press and squatting and deadlifting. The weights Iím lifting are heavier than usual, and Iím a bit lighter than I usually am, so itís not as if Iíve lost weight and lost strength. Iím really happy with the shape Iím in.Ē

While Froch has worked hard to maximise his athletic potential, he also points out that a lot of the credit must go to Mother Nature: ďIím very lucky genetically, I donít put weight on. My father is like an athlete, he walks around at 13.5 stone and heís 6í2Ē but he drinks Guinness like itís going out of fashion and he eats what he wants when he wants and he has a six-pack.

I think itís Polish genes, my grandparents on my dadís side are Polish . Ricky Hatton blows up, but thereís nothing he can do about that, itís just the way he is, itís all to do with your metabolism and genes. Iím fortunate, Iím in a weight-governed sport, but I donít really have to make the weight, I can eat right up to the day of a fight.Ē

Talking to Froch, you get the impression youíre in the presence of that rarest of phenomena Ė a fighter who is able to give a sense of what itís actually like be in the ring, fighting for your livelihood and reputation: ďYou just try and keep your focus and read off your opponent; every action from them causes a reaction. If my opponent looks tired and drawn and looks like heís trying to hang on then Iíll step it up through the gears and unload the shots.

I donít really worry about my conditioning because I do all that before I get in the ring. I donít cut corners Ė I run hard, I train hard, to make the fight easy. If I just think heís there to run and survive like Matthew Barney was then I wonít go too mad because you just end up walking into silly shots. I mean, he wasnít there to fight, so he was holding and grabbing at every opportunity.Ē

Which brings us to Gronewald. He has been in with high-level opposition, has been an all-African champion, and contested five 12-rounders. He wonít spend the night running Ė and Froch is clearly relishing the opportunity to put on a show: ďFans love a knockout, fans love excitement, and I do aim to entertain the crowd. Iím in the entertainment business and the way to make money in this game is to get people to come along and watch you.

The most important thing is winning, because itís that which keeps you going. Iíll be looking at taking Ruben out, without a doubt. Iíll be standing in front of him at some stage, and playing him at his own game.Ē

At 16-0, Frochís record is impressive, not so much as an account of what heís done, but of what he might do. Boxing history is littered with fighters who appeared to have the smarts and skills to go all the way, but through bad luck or bad-management, never fulfilled their potential. Nevertheless, you canít help forming the impression that Froch actually has the necessary qualities to validate his ambitions, not least of which is the ability to assess his own strengths and weaknesses as a fighter:

ďIím very tall, Iíve got good range Iím a hard puncher Iím very fast Iíve got good reflexes Iím an all-round fighter. I donít just stand and trade and rely on a concussive knockout, Iím not really a box-mover who canít punch very hard and keeps out of trouble I can stand and fight, I can move around and box when I have to. I do have a big punch; a lot of the fighters that I box, when theyíre coming forward, they may think theyíre putting me on the back foot Iíve only got to hit them with a decent uppercut or a straight right hand and they soon slow down and back off. Itís good to be accurate, my timing is very good, Iíve got good power and Iím a good judge of distance.

All fighters can always improve, all fighters have weaknesses Ė for every strength thereís a weakness. If youíre a big puncher you might have a ropey chin if youíve got fast hands you might not be a big puncher. If you stand there and fight, youíre not very good at moving, so youíre easily out-boxed. Of course, I have weaknesses, but who hasnít? This is why I have a trainer, Bob McCracken, and a great trainer he is. I work on stuff in the gym all the time. People give my defence stick, but my defence is impeccable. I get hit with the odd shot, but you canít go out in the rain and not get wet. Iím still studying, Iím still champion, Iím undefeated, so I havenít got a problem. Iím working on my defence all the time blocking shots, rolling off, getting my range in sparring.Ē

Inevitably, talk turns to Joe Calzaghe. There has been a well-documented war or words between Froch and the Newbridge boxer, but when can we expect them to transfer their debate to the one place where it really matters, the ring?

ďIím probably going to need to become the European champion, and then become mandatory, because Calzaghe has already proved he doesnít want to fight me unless he has to. Hopefully, itís a fight that the general public and boxing fans want but unfortunately him or his father Enzo are just dishing out stick and rubbish me off as if Iím not an eligible opponent - and then they go and jump in with the likes of Ashira, which was ridiculous. He [Calzaghe] should never have been fighting someone of that calibre. He was defending his world title, what was he doing fighting someone whoís ranked below me?Ē

Itís a problem that dogs every rising contender, the Catch-22 that frustrates so many boxers. To progress, you must face a rising calibre of opponent. But the problem is this: as your stock and ability rises, so you become a fighter to be avoided. Paradoxically, the better you are, the harder it gets to demonstrate your abilities, and itís a barrier that Froch is familiar with: ďObviously, people want to take fights that theyíre 100 per cent convinced they can win these days, and that is the problem. People donít really want to take a gamble or take a risk, and because Iím on the way up Ė youíve got to remember, Iíve only had 16 fights Ė no-one wants to lose to someone whoís rising, and who hasnít really crossed over to mainstream and become massive which I havenít at the moment.

A lot of people in boxing circles know me and Iím very well-known in Nottingham but Iím still yet to have a defining fight where people say ĎYeah, this kidís good, weíre going to get behind him nowí. Hopefully that kind of fight will happen next year with the likes of Brian Magee or Vitaly Tsypko for the European title.Ē

Apart from Calzaghe, the other boxer who must inevitably appear on Frochís radar is Jeff Lacy. It would be an intriguing match Ė the close-coupled muscular Lacy against the leaner, rangier Froch, and the Nottingham fighter admits he canít wait for it to happen:

ďJeff Lacy is my ultimate fight, thatís the fight Iím looking to get and hopefully I can get that late next year. Heís very strong and tough, heís short and stocky and a big puncher, but I know exactly what to do to beat a fighter like that. It wonít be easy, it will be a tough fight but if I apply what I can apply and get it all right on the night, Iíd get him out of there. ď

Styles make fights, and the way to beat Jeff Lacy is not to stand in front of him and trade with him. Heís a lot shorter than me, heís got shorter levers so heís going to get his punches off first, and heís a big puncher, you can tell my the shape of his body, he works on power and trying to take people out, so youíve got to Sugar Ray Leonard him. Thatís what Iíd be looking at doing: out-boxing him, out-skilling him, and moving around the ring. Obviously now and then Iíd have to take him on, itís quite a small place the ring, and 45 minutes, 12 three minute rounds, and itís a long time to keep out of the way of someone whoís attacking. Every now and again play him at his own game; Iíve got a granite chin and I punch hard myself, so these people who heís walking through at the minute Ė whoís he boxed of any real credibility who isnít past their best? Heís still very much untested, and he has almost come unstuck a couple of times.Ē

Brendan Ingle had a way of describing what a boxer needs to make it to the top Ė and stay there. Clean living, he described it. The ability to live for tomorrow. To be disciplined. To want this more than that. Froch shares a hometown with an equally talented fighter Ė Kirkland Laing. Laingís moment of glory and spectacular downfall are a stark reminder of the pitfalls that await the unwary and unfocused fighter. Itís a lesson Froch has absorbed well:

ďItís a short-term career, boxing. A lot of people say, 'how can you do this, your friends go out and have a drinkí and so on. If I canít apply myself for the next seven or eight years and try to fulfil a dream and be able to financially look after my family and friends, then Iíd have to be stupid. A lot of people canít do it, they canít apply themselves but I can see the chance that Iíve been given to do something with my life and Iím going to take it with both hands and give it everything. Iím not going to smoke and drink and cut corners when Iím running. That gives me the dedication and the focus. I look at all-time greats, see what theyíve got, see how comfortable their lives are, the cars they drive around in and the houses they live in and the comfort and security theyíve got and that keeps me driving forward.Ē

Somehow, you get the feeling that Carl Froch will be driving forward for quite some time.

Article posted on 25.11.2005

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