If you ever wondered why Carl Froch was always trying to convince you how great he was — and chances are you rolled your eyes or gritted your teeth at least once during one of his arrogant rants — you need look no further than his whole career. No matter what he did, nobody really took him him seriously until the very end.
Froch, who retired this week, had a boxing career that paralleled, in some respects, the 2001 film “The Man Who Wasn’t There.” In that movie, Billy Bob Thornton’s character narrowly escapes with his life, taking out his rival instead, and that moment never belongs to him. People didn’t see. Much, much later, he finally gets all the attention, but the credit is misplaced.
Because Froch was a fairly basic fighter, because he sometimes won just barely, he too often escaped notice for what he accomplished. Even to the very end, he resided at the bottom of most pound-for-pound top 10 lists, if he did at all. Gennady Golovkin’s best win is probably over Martin Murray, and he gets to sit at the lofty #3 spot on ESPN’s countdown. Froch beat Jean Pascal, Jermain Taylor, Mikkel Kessler, Andre Dirrell, Arthur Abraham, Lucian Bute, Glen Johnson and George Groves, all at least arguably more accomplished men than Murray. But Golovkin is a gaudy talent; he makes eyes pop out.
Froch was more like a construction worker — he put on his hard hat, and while each brick might have been grittily unglamorous, he built a towering body of work. Yet even when he took out the thoroughbreds, he still never really got his due. Bute was considered pound-for-pound elite. When Froch knocked him out, did he receive consideration as elite himself? Barely, at best.
Some of Froch’s problem is that he was a British super middleweight whose career came of age just as another British super middleweight — perhaps the top 168-pounder of all time — was exiting. Joe Calzaghe cast a long shadow. Froch spent a lot of time thinking about Calzaghe, about wanting to fight him, about wanting to finally prove his own place outside that shadow. Calzaghe never gave him the time of day, and by the time he was big enough to make fighting Froch worthwhile, Calzaghe had retired. That Froch spent a long stretch in the division as the #1 man behind the only man to hand him an unavenged loss, Andre Ward, meant he resided for some time in that shadow, too. Hell, even Froch’s own model girlfriend (at right) overshadowed him for a long spell.
Which is not to say that Froch was all that big for the bulk of his career. There are the aforementioned reasons by way of explanation; watching Froch for even a few minutes, he didn’t give off that “special” vibe, beyond his tremendous punch resistance and self-belief, but tremendous punch resistance and self-belief rarely warrant the “oooos” and “ahhhs” that flashy speed or superhuman power do.
If Froch did get any persistent love, it was for his frequently excellent bouts. Both Kessler fights were top notch. The Johnson bout. The Pascal bout. The Taylor fight, which Froch only won in the final seconds of the 12th round. Both meetings with Groves were dramatic, with Froch overcoming a bad knockdown early in the inaugural donnybrook before the controversial stoppage, and Froch putting an exclamation point on the second fight with his best knockout. But getting love for being in good fights is not the same as getting love for being a good fighter.
It is fitting that it took the Groves bouts for Froch to at long last get his due. Froch would need another British super middleweight — one who, by the way, didn’t stack up to some of Froch’s other best opponents — to make people start talking about Froch as someone worthy of the Hall of Fame. An estimated 80,000 people attended the Groves rematch live. It was a pretty big deal, as Froch couldn’t help reminding everyone; he spent some of his final months as a pro getting mocked relentlessly for not shutting up about it, already. But let’s forgive him for that now, yes? The victory lap was a long time coming. It’s hard to blame him for savoring it for too long in return.
(Photo: Froch gets his revenge on Groves, Scott Heavey/Getty Images)