Close your eyes and it’s impossible to miss the contrast.
When one of the world’s two best 168-pound fighters steps into the ring, the assembled crowd applauds politely as a gesture to his accomplishments—then settles in for 12 rounds of intermittent violence amid a majority of minutes more reminiscent of a bookish professor instructing a novice student.
Meanwhile, when the other top-shelfer arrives at his four-cornered office, he’s buoyed by the full-throated cheers of partisan hometown supporters—whose din only gains intensity as their man’s hell-bent-for-leather style generates the action-packed bursts that have yielded 22 KOs in 30 wins.
Given consensus acclaim as the best pro super middleweight in the business and his pedigree as a former Olympic gold medalist (Athens, 2004), it’d stand to sight-unseen reason that Andre Ward would be the guy whose gloved-hand acumen would arouse such a visceral in-person response.
But the eye-opening fact is that Englishman Carl Froch, especially when performing for a rabid band of supporters in Nottingham, is the one who inspires by far the most passion in the weight class.
And that reality is why the three-time divisional belt-holder—even at age 35, and in spite of a decisive scorecard loss to Ward when they met at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall only 17 months ago—has got far more upside momentum than is these days possessed by his most recent conqueror.
Andre’s the champ.
But, for the short term at least, Carl is the king.
Provided he emerges victorious from a Saturday rematch with Mikkel Kessler—a result deemed likely by a cross-section of online betting establishments—Froch will keep the IBF title belt he won last year and capture the dubious WBA bauble Kessler holds in spite of Ward’s more legit “super champion” status.
Most importantly, though, a win will keep him relevant in pursuit of the most lucrative bout available to any 168-pounder: a match with calendar-defying Philadelphia wizard Bernard Hopkins.
Logic, of course, would dictate that a fight with Hopkins—who skipped over 168 pounds while pursuing titles at middleweight and light heavyweight—would be a prize more wholly deserved by the eminently likable Ward, who’s beaten Kessler, Froch and three other ex-champs in his last six outings since 2009.
In any other sport, after all, such linear progress is rewarded with the largest prize.
But in boxing, where winning with flair is nearly always more vital than simply winning, Ward’s payback has been limited to critical cognoscenti acclaim—while the other fighters to whom he’s proven superior go on to land the coveted blockbuster bonanzas.
In this case that’s bound to be Froch, who punches harder, bleeds more and is far more likely to create a fight of the year candidate inside the ring, not to mention a memorable media tour as a prelude.
He flexed those verbal muscles to reporters in a Wednesday media session, promising to go to any extremes necessary to topple Kessler—the only other man who’s beaten him in a 32-fight pro career that’s now spanned more than 11 full years.
“On Saturday night, if I have to, I will kill (him). It sounds brutal, it sounds horrible, but this is what it means to me,” Froch said to BBC Sport. “I'm going to leave it in the ring. And when I'm smashing his face in, I am going to go for the kill. I am going to go for the finish.”
The words drew the politically correct ire of the British Boxing Board of Control, which promised an investigation, but they’re precisely the kind of material that’ll play well for cable giant HBO—which will handle the U.S. broadcast of the bout from London’s O2 Arena.
Ward’s a nice guy and has the makings of a great analyst.
But guys like Froch move the fan needle.
And against Hopkins, perhaps the dullest big-time fighter of the generation, that’s what matters.
While no one has called for a Ward-Bernard match with any traceable volume, Hopkins himself has mentioned Carl by name, said he’d travel to Europe to secure the fight and added further fuel by claiming the two would join together for an entertaining show.
“Froch is top of my wish list,” he said to boxingnews24.com. “I have great respect for him as a fighter. He is very exciting and our styles would make for a great fight. I will happily go over to the U.K. to make it happen, but, of course, Carl will have to beat Kessler first.”
As for Ward, his desires were equally pointed, if not quite as complimentary.
“Andre Ward is a protégé of myself,” he said. “I would never fight Andre Ward.”
He may be old, but it’s good to know Hopkins hasn’t lost his sense.
And when it comes to dollars, he knows Carl Froch is the ticket to ride.