James Rose: On a bitter evening last Saturday in Helsinki, the Super Six World Boxing Classic resumed its rocky journey as Nottingham’s Carl Froch reclaimed his WBC World Super Middleweight title with a dominant unanimous points decision over Arthur Abraham.
In what many expected to be an evenly matched contest and even potential ‘fight of the year’ candidate, Froch stifled any hope of competitiveness with a classic display of pugilistic basics to make an elite-level Sauerland darling look rather ordinary.. Heeding his trainer Robert McCracken’s constant instructions not to turn the bout into a brawl, he kept the shorter German at distance throughout with head-popping low-handed jabs, before piercing the high-held guard with stinging combinations. It is the well known Arthur Abraham strategy to start slow, absorb punches, tire the opponent and then deliver a devastating knockout in the later rounds. By the time the bell was rung for round nine however, the Cobra was already up by the referee pleading for the contest to resume immediately, while Abraham slumped dejectedly in his corner gasping for air – his promoter Wilfried Sauerland adopting a similar pose.
Froch put on a display worthy of the title boxing master class, winning all twelve rounds according to two of the three judges, whilst Abraham disappointed as a passive and largely unwilling student. The man who went into the Super Six as the bookmaker’s favourite has now endured the only two losses of his career in his last two outings and faces the daunting prospect of a semi-final with unbeaten WBA world champion Andre Ward. Confidence must be a scarce commodity right now for Abraham; all night long Saturday his eyes told a story of desperation as he realised for the second time in four months that he’s lacking the necessary speed to slug it with the elites. The Cobra, meanwhile, moves on to a semi-final clash with American Glen Johnson and beyond that, all eyes will be fast-forwarding to a tasty title unification bout with Ward.
For Carl Froch, the reclamation of his second world title should signify his propulsion to a place in the heart of British fans as a warrior and near sporting-great; a torch-bearer for the post-Calazaghe era of British middleweight domination. And yet, Britain doesn’t seem to care all that much. The Nottingham man was commended for taking a courageous gamble in signing up to the Super Six Series over a year ago, but as absurd as it sounds: financially he didn’t have much of a choice. Just weeks after his heroic last gasp knockout of Jermain Taylor in his first title defence, the BBC, ITV and Sky all declined interest in contracts. Froch found himself in the curious position of negotiation with Portland TV – a large corporation which runs the Express and Daily Star newspapers as well as a whole range of “adult portals” and consumer and gaming cable stations – and their new channel, Primetime. Weeks of negotiation managed to ensure the venue was his home town, but Nottinghamshire folk would be forced get up at 2am to trot down to the Trent Arena to watch their man in action to accommodate American audiences; ‘prime time’ must have had stinging sarcasm for those hastily organising public transport home at 4 in the morning.
Even after dusting off Abraham to win back his belt, I found it hard pushed to find anyone even aware the fight was happening. Carl Froch, for whatever reason, is unable to gain the popularity and notoriety of past British boxing greats, and yet there are some we give attention to who don’t even go near the ‘great’ end of the spectrum. Froch earned a million pounds for three gruelling fights with three world-champions; Audley Harrison earned the same amount in just seven minutes of a fight with Haye in which he didn’t throw a punch.
British fight fans seem to have a strange set of criteria when it comes to assessing boxing talent, but it seems more often than not determined by the fighter’s own sense of self promotion. No-one had a greater sense of self promotion than Prince Naseem Hamed, and, in his pomp, no-one was as popular. His spectacular ring entrances have included being deposited in the middle of the ring by an elevator, driving to the ring in a low-rider Chevrolet, walking in with a Halloween mask, entering on a flying carpet, being carried in on a palanquin, walking down fashion runway and re-enacting the video of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. He ended them all with his customary back flip over the top rope.
British fans loved his unorthodox low-handed style, speed and elusiveness, but what is more amazing is that we weren’t at all soured by his brashness and unsportsmanlike conduct. He is now considered by a large chunk of fans as a legend of British boxing; Steve Bunce even went as far as to make the claim that he is Britain’s all-time great, but his record is no better than many of our other top fighters. Lennox Lewis has gained post-retirement prestige for the calibre of opponents conquered; Tyson, Holyfield, Klitschko. Hamed had the highly honourable distinction of undisputed best featherweight, but one of the first to face him from the pound-for-pound list was Marco Antonio Barrera, and the Prince was brutally exposed. As if being dropped three times by Stephen Kelly on his first trip to America wasn’t enough warning for Hamed that fleet-footedness is not always enough to avoid a sacking, the Prince continued to prance and smile and mock, until some thudding hooks told his precious face to smile no longer. Suddenly the non-defence looked more horrific than heroic, and we were all left to ponder what had become of our self-made symbol of new-age British confidence. Within one fight his career was over – he cited a commitment to family as the issue; those close to him cited a lack of commitment to training.
So, there we have it. One fighter – who is more hard-working, humble, fights more aggressively, fights anyone and in a more popular weight division – fails to secure a domestic TV contract. We pay the other one 12 million dollars to perform ‘Thriller’. Go figure. It was this sort of cult of promotion that prompted legendary boxing writer Budd Schulberg to name our fine nation ‘the Kingdom of Hyberbole’ – and that’s coming from an American.