ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — The good thing about Friday’s weigh-in for Carl Froch vs. Glen Johnson Saturday night on Showtime is that it was open to the public. It was a fun scene to watch, and for the fans, it was a great chance to interact with the fighters. The bad thing about the weigh-in for Carl Froch vs. Glen Johnson, if you were trying to be a reporterly type, is that it was open to the public.
Amid chants of “Nottingham” from Froch’s supporters to the tune of “Stars and Stripes Forever,” ironically… amid another set of chants from that same set of British fans to the Super Six finalist who will face the winner of Froch vs. Johnson, “Are you watching, Andre Ward?”… amid fans clamoring for pictures with and autographs from people like Antonio Tarver and Jean Pascal, who happened to be on the scene… amid Showtime cameras following fighters around and drawing a crowd… David P. Greisman and myself managed to get a few interviews in at the event.
So read on for speculation on whether Johnson’s weight of 166.5 will be a problem; on what promoter Lou DiBella wants to do with a stable of fighters ranging from newly signed prospects to middleweight champion Sergio Martinez; on what Showtime’s Al Bernstein thinks about how the Super Six tournament has gone; on what Ward has to say about Victor Conte and what he needs to do still in his career; and more.
There’s an extra shot of Johnson, just so you can get as good a look at him at 166.5 as you like. There was some speculation in the audience that he looked a bit dry and ashy. With Johnson fighting at super middleweight for only the second time in the past decade, his weight was naturally going to be a focus. DiBella didn’t see a problem. “He looked cut,” DiBella said. “He looked good to me.” Asked about Froch’s claim that Johnson could be struggling because Froch saw Johnson running on the beach yesterday, DiBella said of Johnson that “He’s been eating.”
Bernstein wasn’t sure what to think. “I don’t want to read too much into it. Did he lose too much weight? I don’t know,” he said. “I know he’s been at the weight for a little while. Did he get to weight too soon? I don’t know.” But he did think it could be a factor in the fight, if the answers to those questions were “yes.” My inclination: It isn’t always a bad sign when a bigger fighter moves down in weight and is well under the limit, but it’s never a good sign.
DiBella said the way Johnson beats Froch is “by getting in his face. By showing him effective aggression.” Arthur Abraham, DiBella said, was “ineffectual” against Froch. If Froch thinks he’s not going to get hit by Johnson, he’s wrong, he said. “He’s gonna get hit,” DiBella said, and I tend to agree. More on this later. But DiBella said the key is what happens when Johnson hits Froch: As a naturally bigger man for the past decade who’s been at light heavyweight, Johnson might hit harder than Froch is prepared to take.
That’s Zsolt Erdei on the left weighing in at 174 lbs. against Byron Mitchell’s 178 lbs. DiBella has been claiming that Erdei is the lineal champ, something HBO’s Max Kellerman said about Erdei a couple weekends back, too. I’m sorry, but if you retire for a year after dropping your 175-pound belt and moving up to cruiserweight, you have effectively ended the lineage. Ring Magazine wisely created a new one for Jean Pascal-Chad Dawson, and un-retiring and moving back down to your weight after you literally drop any signifier of your interest in remaining in the division, you don’t get to be lineal champion anymore. DiBella argued that he’s still the man that beat the man that beat the man, which is true, but again, he switched divisions and retired — the division’s lineage has to be restarted at that time.
Anyway, DiBella wants Erdei to get a shot at Pascal, who might be looking at Tavoris Cloud instead. DiBella also wants Erdei in against some of the other top fighters at 175: Bernard Hopkins (the current lineal champ), Chad Dawson, Cloud. Beibut Shumenov also recently called out Erdei, so DiBella said that could be an option, too. Honestly, Erdei’s a good enough fighter that I’d like to see him get in the mix with any of those men. Mitchell shouldn’t be much of an obstacle.
The rest of the undercard is a bit lackluster. Actually, so is Erdei-Mitchell. I guess it’s a good thing the main event is Froch-Johnson, since I do believe that will be a really good scrap.
More From DiBella
DiBella gave us a long interview, and for the sake of brevity throughout this blog entry, I’m not going to get into which questions David asked and which I did every single time — just know that all the interviews were conducted jointly.
On Martinez: DiBella on Saturday plans to keep “running in the back to watch the HBO show,” because he has an interest in Martinez facing the winner of Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.-Sebastian Zbik. If Zbik wins, then DiBella expects Zbik to want to face Martinez. Chavez is a different question. “We’ll see if Chavez is man enough to take the fight,” he said. I pointed out that the problem might not be with Chavez’ manhood, but with what Top Rank boss Bob Arum wants, since Chavez has said he’d like to face Martinez. Boxers speak their mind about whom they want to face, but then “big, bad Bob changes it for them,” DiBella said. He added that he understands why, since Top Rank has a good sense of which fights are winnable for their boxers; “I’m not hating on them.” Another possibility, DiBella said, is Felix Sturm, or, Paul Williams if he wants a third fight and the money’s right. Then, in a quip about Williams and his team still saying 2010’s Knockout of the Year was a “lucky” punch, DiBella said that in a rubber match, Williams & Co. would find out once and for all if that was true.
The issue for Martinez right now, according to DiBella, is that he’s the best at 154-160 and not only is he outboxing people, but he’s showing big power, too. “Who the hell wants to fight him?” he asked. But DiBella still isn’t wild about Martinez moving up in weight, not even for a bout that got a little buzz on the Internet lately — a Martinez-Hopkins fight at 170. Maybe later, down the line, with the right money, Martinez moves up. As a fan, I can’t help but be interested in Martinez-Lucian Bute at 168 more than I’m interested in anyone Martinez could face at 154 or 160, but I get where DiBella’s coming from on all this.
On welterweight Andre Berto: David asked what the plan was for Berto, other than telling him to stay off Twitter (since Berto made a bit of an ass of himself recently by hinting that he thought Victor Ortiz was on steroids for their recent welterweight fight). In the case of those remarks, DiBella said, “Just because you think something doesn’t mean you should say it.” But he thinks Ortiz had a good night and Berto a bad one, and that if Berto had even an average night he would have beaten Ortiz. He wants to make a title fight for Berto against Jan Zaveck, then see about a unification bout with Ortiz in a rematch. DiBella doesn’t think he needs to rebuild Berto, per se. “He’s still one of the best ’47 pounders out there,” he said. But at 147 pounds these days, there are “slim pickings,” although he said that maybe another welter under DiBella’s banner, Randall Bailey, could also get in the mix. Here, I disagree with DiBella a bit more; Berto appears to be struggling mentally with his first loss and might need to have his confidence restored, and while he remains one of the best welters, he clearly has some flaws he needs to address, from his ugly-ass jab to his muddled corner. And I’m not sure Berto beats Ortiz in a rematch unless he does those things first, if he can at all.
On a signing blitz of late: DiBella said he’s trying to diversify his business a bit. He’s been looking to get into more foreign markets, signing African fighters and Russian fighters and such; the idea is that, like Erdei is popular in Hungary, those fighters generate revenue overseas when they fight here. Some of the fighters he has signed that he mentioned being high on were two on the undercard Saturday, middleweight J’Leon Love and light heavyweight Badou Jack. I’ll be paying attention to them Saturday. At the same time, he’s also looking at signing mid-level fighters who could pull a surprise or two, especially in the super middleweight/light heavyweight zone, thinking that those fighters could be in line for nice fights as good, solid opponents for some of the folk coming out of the Super Six, for example. “Not every guy worth promoting has to be on a pound-for-pound list,” DiBella said. So a boxer like Aaron Pryor, Jr. is in that mix, for example. DiBella explained that he released junior middleweight Ishe Smith because neither side was making any money off Smith fights, and that if a promoter is willing to sign Smith and own 100 percent of whatever revenue they generate, Smith would have a better chance at it. That and a couple other developments freed him up to sign other fighters.
More From Bernstein
Bernstein called Froch-Johnson a “pick ’em fight,” not that he would make a prediction — as an analyst on Saturday, it’s something he frowns upon. He does agree that Froch won’t be able to do the exact same thing to Johnson that he did with Abraham. “Johnson is so different with his offensive output,” Bernstein said, noting that Abraham tends to keep his punch count low, “and Glen Johnson can attack from angles.” Ultimately, Bernstein said he could think of five or six different outcomes to the fight that wouldn’t surprise him.
On the tournament overall, “everything is so different” than when Showtime started it, Bernstein said. (He quipped that the tournament kicked off during the Truman administration, an allusion to how the event has taken longer than originally hoped.) Berstein said that during fighter meetings recently, they were reminiscing about how Ward started out as a 15:1 underdog, even though some insiders — including a rival promoter in the Super Six whom Bernstein said would go nameless — thought Ward was the one everyone else had to worry about from the start. Abraham, by contrast, has gone from co-favorite to a boxer who “fizzled out” after his first win, over Jermain Taylor. Even Johnson’s entry into the tournament couldn’t have been expected, since he had been at light heavyweight before he became a replacement in the Super Six.
(Ward has a laugh when the British crowd chants at him.)
Greisman will have a pretty full transcript of our chat with Ward up on BoxingScene, so I’ll just hit some highlights. It’s basically an interview in two parts. For the first part, he came off as intelligent and grounded and confident without being arrogant, the way he almost always does. He’s one of those guys who comes off like a natural-born leader. You know the type. Then there was the second part of the interview. Toward the end, when we discussed his affiliation with Conte — which he said wasn’t happening anymore — he was a touch more evasive. I got the impression it’s a sore spot for him.
He still couldn’t make a pick in the Froch-Johnson fight. He said he sees it as a difficult fight to pick a winner, but I did find it interesting that he could explain how he thought Johnson could win but couldn’t do the same for Froch.
“That’s what it is. I don’t know,” he said. “As a fighter, I don’t jump on the bandwagon with what the media is saying or what most people are saying is going to happen. I look at it for what it is: This is not an easy fight for either guy. But would I be surprised if either guy dominated? No.” Johnson, Ward said, could win just by being himself, “a tough, nasty guy.” As for Froch: “Some say he needs to box, but how good of a boxer is Carl Froch? We saw what he did against Arthur Abraham, but that’s Arthur Abraham. I have no advice for Carl Froch at this time.”
That said, Ward’s of the mind that the fans are going to be more interested in Ward-Froch for the Super Six tournament trophy, so he wants to give the fans what they want. I also appreciated his defense of whether his style was “boring” or not, something that I’ve argued isn’t the case, at least not for me anyhow. He had some great quotable lines in there, too, about being a “chameleon” and so forth.
“I feel I am entertaining. I feel like people have to define what they’re looking for. And I think that is kind of a recurring theme that’s taking place. But what do you mean by that? What is the definition of that? Is it a knockout?” he asked. “But who was the last guy that Froch knocked out? Jermain Taylor, who’d been knocked out before. Who is the last guy that Arthur Abraham knocked out? You don’t get a lot of knockouts at this level of competition. It’s rare and it’s tough to get.”
Ward often talks about how he doesn’t see himself as a complete fighter, that he sees room for improvement. But he’s not often specified how. He explained: “I’m learning how to identify when it’s time to step it up in the later parts of the rounds and go for the stoppage or the knockout. That’s probably the last part of becoming a great finisher. It comes over time. But you don’t know who’s a knockout artist until they knock out the best. Tommy Hearns knocked out the best. We all got knockouts and stoppages on the way up. That doesn’t count.”
Ward said the relationship with Conte got “blown out of proportion,” and that it was always a “casual” thing. But he said he’s not currently working with Conte in any way.
Ward’s doing a media roundtable in the morning, so there will be more from him at TQBR tomorrow, if all goes according to plan.