(Arthur Abraham, left, and Carl Froch, right, stare at each other; credit: Tom Casino, Showtime)
This was the one you circled on your calendar when you got a glimpse of the Super Six tournament schedule: Carl Froch vs. Arthur Abraham. With the re-schedulings and relocations — it’s now in Helsinki on Saturday — maybe you had to scratch it out a couple times, but no matter where and when it landed, you knew it would be something you had to see. These are two super middleweights who make for exciting fights, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t make another one, together. It’s one of two Fight of the Year candidates on the Saturday slate, with the other, the lightweight clash between Juan Manuel Marquez and Michael Katsidis, the subject for another day in this space.
The supporting bout, pitting super middleweight Andre Ward against Sakio Bika, is more of a puzzler. It’s a legitimate bout between two hard-nosed, top-10 super middleweights, one of whom — Ward — is on some pound-for-pound top 10 lists, so he represents the best of the Super Six in another fashion. But for some reason, even though Ward is the current Super Six points leader, this one isn’t part of the Super Six. Showtime has never explained why; I’ve asked, but not gotten a satisfactory answer, and if anyone else has asked and gotten one, they haven’t shared it. But as I said, it’s a legit bout. Given both men’s reputations for rough tactics, it offers a real chance to see a rare double-head butt knockout, so it’s worth watching for that alone.
ANDRE WARD-SAKIO BIKA
So let’s see if we can make any sense of this on our own. It was semi-alleged by Steve Kim that there might be an Al Haymon conspiracy afoot with Bika replacing Andre Dirrell, since both are Al Haymon clients; but since Haymon has more superpowers than the Martian Manhunter, it seems like he would’ve gotten Bika a chance at moving on in the tournament, right? So maybe it was Ward’s doing, since he’s managed to get his way in this tournament more than anyone else. But Ward was already guaranteed entry into the Super Six semifinals, and this fight won’t affect his seeding, given that he received two points as a result of Andre Dirrell’s “forfeit” and is guaranteed the top spot in the semis. If I had to guess, might it be that the other promoters raised a stink? A Bika win by knockout stood to eject Glen Johnson from the tournament, which would hurt Lou DiBella, or if Carl Froch loses this weekend, it stood to eject Froch, would hurt Mick Hennessy. Since Bika’s involvement brings in a new promoter, Golden Boy, maybe the original crew wanted to ensure their own got into the semi-finals.
As for the fight, Bika is a far better substitute than I feared when Dirrell pulled out and there was talk of a “showcase” fight for Ward or something similar. Bika is Ring’s #6 ranked super middleweight. He fought Markus Beyer to a four-round technical draw in 2006. He gave Joe Calzaghe a difficult fight later that year, but lost. He didn’t do quite as well against Lucian Bute in 2007, losing a wide decision, but it was yet another “class of the division” guy he’s been in there with. He won “The Contender” tournament in 2008, decisioning Donny McCrary and Sam Soliman before knocking out Jaidon Codrington in a Fight of the Year contender. He closed out the year with a knockout of Peter Manfredo, Jr. And while his last fight, in July, is a loss, it was because of a disqualification; he had badly hurt Jean Paul Mendy when he knocked him down, but he hit him while he was on his knees and deserved the DQ.
Bika is experienced, and dangerous — in more ways than one. For most of his career, he’s been a wild-swinging, dirty-dealing pain in the ass. And you can’t hurt him, because he has one of the best beards in boxing. He’s not slow, and at times, he’s showed excellent power, like when he got all ticked off against Manfredo and fought like the most ferocious caveman from Cameroon. I think his technique has also improved a touch as he’s gotten older, so he’s probably not as easy to out-technique as he used to be. But he’s also a danger to your health because of his filthiness. He has two technical draws that went to the cards because of “accidental” head butts. He hit Mendy when he was down, and it wasn’t the first time, because he did it to Codrington, too. There’s a reason some of this stuff is illegal — it’s more potentially harmful to your health than getting punched in the face.
Ward has a rep for getting dirty, but it’s not a rep I subscribe to much. Against Mikkel Kessler, yes, he might have thrown a head butt or two on purpose there. But against Allan Green, I watched the fight multiple times and never saw a head butt he initiated. Yeah, Ward USED his head, but not as a weapon; he planted it in the taller Green’s chest and used it to steer him against the ropes. Things like that make me a Ward fan. He and his trainer, Virgil Hunter, always come in smart, with a beautiful game plan, and Ward executes it. And Ward can maximize those smarts because he’s such a versatile talent — he’s fast and the only thing he really lacks is world-class power, but he can fight southpaw or orthodox, inside or outside, use his legs to defend or stand in the pocket and block. Ward uses his head in the ring in more ways than one, to re-quote myself.
Perhaps I’m overestimating Ward, but his flexibility is such that I have a terrible time imagining anyone beating him at 168, let alone Bika. Even worse for Bika, today at a news conference Hunter said that Ward beat Kessler, Green and Edison Miranda on “one leg,” and that he’s now finally recovered from that old basketball injury to his knee. Basically, for Bika to win, he has to find a way reignite those old worries about whether Ward can take a punch, and I doubt Bika can connect that much on Ward to find out. Ward’s team said they’ll be gunning for the knockout, but I doubt he has enough power to do it. The call here is Ward by rough unanimous decision, maybe with a point or two deducted from Bika along the way. And it’s a tribute to Ward, incidentally, that he took an opponent of this caliber and potential-fluky-injury-producing when a spot in the semi-finals was already sealed.
CARL FROCH-ARTHUR ABRAHAM
If Ward’s already in the pound-for-pound top 10, you have to figure that the winner of Froch-Abraham deserves a little top-10 consideration. Abraham has that dominant middleweight reign and the savage knockout of Jermain Taylor. Froch has a nice super middleweight run that features wins over a better version of Taylor than the one Abraham beat and Jean Pascal. Both are coming off losses, actually, but I don’t fault them much for it — it’s the price of facing top competition, which is what is happening in this Super Six tournament more regularly than in any other division.
Froch has always been a determined man, something he showed most prominently in his comeback win over Taylor. But in his last fight, he ran into a version of Kessler who out-determined him. Kessler was coming off an embarrassing loss to Ward, and he fought like he was obsessed with not letting it happen again. Froch has maintained that he got robbed by the hometown judges in Denmark, but it was no robbery. It was a close fight that almost everyone thought Kessler won with just that little extra “oomph.”
Abraham lost his last fight in part because he got outboxed by a far quicker fighter, Dirrell. Abraham hadn’t fought anyone that slick before, and Dirrell’s style was perfect for exploiting Abraham’s stationary, wait-to-punch style. Away from his home turf of Germany, Abraham also appeared not to enjoy advantages he had in the past. Dirrell went to Abraham’s body, and usually when Abraham would complain to his home country’s judges about that, they’d dutifully warn his opponent, but not in Detroit. Maybe that explained his frustration, which led him to punch Dirrell after he slipped to the ground, leading finally to his disqualification.
Could Abraham be out-determined again by a proud fighter coming off a loss? Could Froch mimic Dirrell’s game plan? The answer to both is probably “no.” Froch has his own pride to fight for, coming off his own first loss. And Froch doesn’t the same kind of speed or legs that Dirrell does. So this goes, somewhat, to each fighter’s strengths and weaknesses that we already knew about but that the two losses reinforced.
Froch is probably underrated on the world stage, same as he is in his backyard of the United Kingdom. I used to think of him as a bit crude, a bit slow, but strong and determined. He’s better in those first two areas than I first gave him credit for, but he’s still probably the crudest and slowest guy in the tournament. He has no defense, but he makes up for it with a good chin, even if Taylor dropped him and Kessler and Dirrell wobbled him. Except for against Kessler, where he admitted his mental focus was off, he has responded to every attack of his career by attacking back harder than his opponent. He does have some speed, and some movement, that he can offer to Abraham. He just might not have enough.
Abraham is strong and determined, too, but he’s 5’9″ to Froch’s 6’1″, so he’s not going to be stronger and I don’t think he’s quite up in Froch’s league determination-wise. He’s been pretty tough since the day when he fought through a jaw broken in a few places against Edison Miranda and he reportedly fought with a broken rib against Raul Marquez, but he did originally try to quit in the fight against Miranda and he showed a strange amount of mental weakness against Dirrell. But in power, speed and technique, Abraham has the edge over Froch. He eventually wears down and hurts everyone he faces, which he did to Dirrell even in a loss.
Froch is going to try to pull a Dirrell on Abraham, but he’s not going to have the tools to do it, and he knows it. At times, he’s acknowledged, he’s going to have to trade. Froch hits pretty hard, but I don’t think he can hurt Abraham. The idea will be to outwork him in those exchanges, and not take too much damage along the way. This will be different than the usual Abraham cat-and-mouse game, where Abraham takes a few rounds to measure up his man before inevitably knocking him out. Froch won’t be easy to knock out, but the more he has to trade, the more likely it is for Abraham to do it.
There are any variety of ways this one could go. Froch could move enough, and outwork Abraham enough when he has to exchange, to get a decision, especially since Abraham gives away the early rounds. Abraham could connect solidly enough to win enough rounds even when being outworked and if not get the decision, get the knockout. I’m going with Abraham by close majority decision.
The safest bet: Contact. And lots of it. These guys aren’t going to hide from each other.
[TQBR Prediction Game 5.0 is in effect. Remember the rules.]