This Saturday comes the best potential fight in Showtime’s innovative Super Six tournament since the last best potential fight in the tourney, Carl Froch vs. Arthur Abraham in 2010 — only this time Froch’s partner in violence, Glen Johnson is even better at collaborating on action-packed bouts than Abraham, who didn’t carry his weight in that scrap. Whereas Froch-Abraham was the bout everyone circled as the one to see when the tournament was first made, it’s probably only because Johnson wasn’t in the tournament yet.
As gentle and classy a demeanor as the 42-year-old Johnson has outside the ring, he is completely the opposite inside it to defy the stereotype of the laid-back Jamaican; the only direction he understands is forward. Froch, meanwhile, showed off some subtlety against Abraham, but still was offensively dynamic; the Englishman is as brash while boxing as he is while talking. Both of them have been in Fight of the Year-style bouts, so the potential is there for another when the two of them step through the ropes.
The winner of this semi-final fight gets to square off for the Super Six tournament trophy, which puts Froch or Johnson one step away from being able to stake a claim as the best super middleweight in the world. Given how both men have at times been sold short, it’s awfully good motivation for them this weekend.
To hear either side tell it, this fight won’t be decided who slugs better, but by who boxes more technically. Johnson’s trainer, Orlando Cuellar, sees his man as having the overall better skills, be it defense, body punching or what have you. Froch is thinking he can take advantage of his superior length to outbox Johnson the same way he did the shorter Abraham. They’re both probably right to an extent. Both men have underestimated skills.
Johnson is a very good body puncher, one of the last remaining grind-’em-down, pressure ’em, pound-their-ribs kind of fighters. His defense is regularly overlooked — he catches a lot of punches on his forearms and gloves, and rarely gets hit all that cleanly because he’s good at rolling with shots. It’s thought that he has a good chin, and he does, but one of the ways to have a good chin is not to get hit flush.
Froch showed he could stick and move well against Abraham. He would throw a flurry, then when Abraham tried to return fire, Froch would be just out of distance. Froch had previously been almost a pure slugger with no defense whatsoever who thrived on his ability to take a punch and dish it back. Abraham has shown of late that if you can handle his power when he does connect that he can be outboxed easily, but Froch’s performance was nonetheless one of the surprises of the year. He has said he’ll stand and trade in spots with Johnson, but plans to replicate with Johnson what he did to Abraham.
Whereas Froch has been evolving from brawler to boxer after one of the most unheralded resumes in the sport in recent years — wins over Jermain Taylor (when he still mattered), Abraham, Jean Pascal and Andre Dirrell (however disputed) and a close loss to Mikkel Kessler — Johnson has been evolving into a smaller man.
Having spent the last decade as a light heavyweight, it doesn’t make sense that Johnson, at age 42, would successfully move down in weight. But he did just that for the chance to join the Super Six, and in his introductory fight knocked out Allan Green. Johnson looked good doing it, too. In recent times it would have been fair to wonder whether Johnson was finally beginning to tail off, having been wobbled for the first time in forever by Tavoris Cloud and getting beaten more easily than nearly any time in his career by Chad Dawson in their rematch. Johnson has a lot of losses on his record, but few of them were clear. But his team claims he’s revived at the new weight.
As underrated as Froch is, and as underrated as some aspects of Johnson’s game is, you do have to wonder if they both looked so good in their last fights because of what their opponents brought, or, actually, didn’t bring. Green is physically talented, but flaky — the kind of foe Johnson can eat up. Abraham got exposed by Dirrell before Froch got a hold of him, and Froch really mainly mimicked what Dirrell did.
For Johnson, as I wrote earlier this week, a Hall of Fame bid might be on the line if he continues “the year of the upset” and “the year of the old man.” For Froch, a win over someone as respected as Johnson might bring him the acclaim that has become long overdue; I appear to be virtually alone in viewing him as a pound-for-pound top-10 boxer, and a win over Johnson really ought to change that.
I ultimately think that the gulf between Johnson’s skills and Froch’s aren’t as pronounced as Cuellar does, and I also don’t think that Froch is going to be able to do to Johnson what he did to Abraham, because Johnson’s style isn’t as easily penetrated as Abraham’s. They are going to trade more than Froch wants to trade, but I also think Froch is going to be able to keep Johnson enough at bay to win the fight by a somewhat close decision.
Then it’s on to Andre Ward and the Super Six tournament final. I don’t like the chances of either Froch or Johnson to win that fight. But until then, it should be a good scrap, Froch-Johnson, if not a full on Fight of the Year candidate.