It has taken two years to get to Saturday night, when we find out on Showtime who is the best super middleweight in the world. It’s been a convoluted journey, to say the least, but with a day to go waiting for Andre Ward and Carl Froch to bring the Super Six tournament to a big finish, it sure feels worth it to me, a journey enhanced — oddly enough — by how difficult it was to arrive at this moment. Over the course of those two years, Ward and Froch have gradually become arguably two of the 10 best fighters in any weight class; they definitely have become the two best in the division after weaving their way through a phalanx of murderous opposition, and thus are about to crown a new lineal 168-pound champion; and they both have shown themselves to be hard-nosed, ultra-confident, multi-dimensional boxers.
Watching Ward and Froch Stare each other Down or Face each other Off or whatever Showtime calls it, you get the impression from that clip that you’re seeing as good a preview as you’d get of how the actual fight between the two best super middleweights in the world will go Saturday night. Ward’s idea in the ring is to keep the temperature low, to be poised — that’s when he’s in control. Froch’s idea in the ring is to make things wild, to get his opponent to mix things up — that’s when he’s in his element. Verbally, in the clip, Froch tried to agitate Ward, to make him lash out. Ward responded by trying to put Froch into a box, to limit and confine him.
That’s not the sum total of each man’s game; Froch is capable of fighting a disciplined fight, while Ward is more than capable of getting rough around the edges. But it’s a basic blueprint.
Ward is certainly the boxer in the fight, and Froch certainly the brawler. Ward is the one with the straighter punches, with the ability to do basically anything he wants in the ring offensively, the one who relies on footwork and instincts to dodge more punches than not. He has exhibited remarkable versatility during this Super Six, boxing almost as well as a southpaw as an orthodox fighter, boxing as well on the inside as the outside, boxing comfortably from the lead or countering. From one round to the next, you never know what look he’ll throw at you. And yes, he’ll be rough from time to time, as when he’s used his head to steer his opponent around the ring.
He’s really only had the tiniest sliver of trouble in this Super Six, against Arthur Abraham, who wasn’t his usual early-rounds conservative self and stayed in Ward’s grill and thus tagged him here and there. But Ward — whose chin has been questioned due to the likes of a knockdown earlier in his career by Darnell Boone — stood up to it, made the adjustments, and evidently had enough power to convince Abraham to back off. Ward’s power isn’t all that impressive — he hasn’t knocked anyone out since before the tournament and didn’t stop many people back then, either — but he has had Mikkel Kessler, Allan Green and Abraham looking late in their fights like they were just about fed up getting hit by the guy.
Froch hits harder, but how much harder? He also hasn’t stopped anyone since before the tournament, although he’s fought some of the sturdiest men in the contest, like Glen Johnson. He definitely wants to scuffle; defensively, his biggest asset is a chin that has only ever been dented once, by Jermain Taylor. But as the knockouts have come fewer and fewer, and as Froch has gone through arguably the toughest three-year schedule in boxing, he has evolved. His jab is better than it once was, his athleticism has seemingly improved, he’s become a touch more slippery on defense, and he’s displayed his own ability to counter or lead. With Ward, though, he’d surely rather force the man to trade. Froch is good in those areas I just mentioned, but not as good as Ward in any of them. He’s convinced Ward’s not a big enough puncher to hurt him, and if he isn’t, that could spell trouble for the gifted American.
One of the chief areas where Froch is lacking in comparison to Ward is that he’s not as comfortable with infighting. Johnson connected a fair amount from close up, and Froch appeared mostly to want to figure out how to keep him at range. It makes sense. He’s got long arms and a 75″ reach, and he’ll have the reach advantage against Ward here, too. It’s at least possible that Froch has learned a great deal from the Johnson fight and will suddenly be a good infighter, because he’s evolved leaps and bounds from the beginning of the tournament. But looking at their track records, this is a fight where Froch is better off on the outside and Ward — who is capable of boxing from the outside against taller, longer-armed boxers — is better off on the inside.
I think we’re going to see a war for territory, one that mutates at least once over the course of the battle. Froch will start trying to box from the outside, and Ward will start trying to get inside. Ward will get hit more than he’s used to getting hit trying to establish that turf — I bet he gets hit in this fight more than any fight he’s ever been in, actually. But eventually he’ll get there and mostly stay there, and Froch won’t find evading the young, fleet-footed Ward as easy as evading old man Johnson, which wasn’t exactly easy to begin with, either. Ward will also probably start beating him to the punch; the Froch that fought Andre Dirrell and Kessler isn’t the Froch of now, but Froch still had difficulty with those two faster fighters.
When that happens, I suspect Froch will start swinging for the fences. He’ll start loading up on punches and trying to make Ward back up. He won’t be above fouling Ward to take him out of his comfort zone. If he can do that, I think Ward will probably have to do something to establish that Froch WILL get hurt if he sticks to that tact. Last weekend, Amir Khan couldn’t get Lamont Peterson off of him because Peterson didn’t respect Khan’s power. Ward is a much smarter, more technically sound fighter than Khan, and he’ll be more capable of evading Froch than Khan was Peterson. And for all the criticism of his lack of power or offensive fireworks, Ward definitely sits down on his punches at times. It’s just that Froch hasn’t appeared hurtable by bigger punchers than Ward.
Those dynamics make this a potentially more compelling fight than we’re used to seeing from Ward. I could watch Ward practice his craft all day, but his sustained dominance since the tournament began have sucked some drama out of his fights. Froch has firmly established himself as the other top super middle in the world, a boxer who apparently is made entirely of shoe leather, and he’s added some intelligence to the package. He’ll be competitive, at minimum, against Ward. And Froch doesn’t tend to be in boring fights.
Froch could win a round or two early, but I see Ward fully establishing himself by the 6th. Then I see Froch surging back with a switch of tactics to take another round or two after the midway point. But Ward will either do just enough damage to dissuade Froch, or, more likely, do just enough quality evading to win most of the remaining rounds. I do believe Ward will hold up to what punches Froch lands, unless he lands a lot more even than I can imagine. Ward withstood shots from the bigger-punching Abraham and Edison Miranda, but he endured few of them. Froch could wear Ward down if he gets in some volume work, but I don’t see the volume coming in the necessary amounts.
Ward, then, should emerge with the unanimous decision. It won’t come easily. But then, what in the Super Six has?