Carl Froch was on top of his game in a long-awaited rematch with Mikkel Kessler at the O2 Arena in London, beating his Danish opponent to the punch over and over again. It was a fitting rematch to one of 2010's best fights. Aided by thousands of screaming and chanting fans, this had the atmosphere of a mega fight—and delivered.
A loser the first time around, Froch won clearly on all cards that night. But it never quite felt like Kessler was out of the contest. The Danish star hung around throughout, even landing a monstrous right hand in the 11th round that seemed close to putting Froch on the deck.
The Brit rallied in the final frame, a bit of business that makes Froch, well, Froch. Instead of coasting in for the finish, he went in for the kill. Throwing caution to the wind, Froch went for the knockout—and almost got it. With the official hovering to stop the fight, he battered Kessler until the final bell.
It was as thrilling a fight as I've seen this year, and Froch is a heck of a fighter. Amazingly enough, however, he's not even the best man in his own weight class. Lurking ringside, calling the fight for HBO, was the true class of the super middleweights, Andre Ward.
Ward hasn't lost a fight in 17 years, last tasting defeat as a 12-year-old amateur in 1996. He won Olympic gold in 2004, and that success carried over to the professional ranks, where he's dispatched all comers—including both Froch and Kessler in one-sided fights during the much-loved Super Six tournament on Showtime.
And it's Ward's excellence, in the end, that is his albatross. He hasn't caught on as a box-office sensation, in part because of his own transcendent ability. He has no peers, no opponents who appear to be able to push him. No one doubts Froch and Kessler are the second and third best fighters in the weight class, respectively, and he made them both look like rank amateurs.
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Froch, especially, was frustrated by the American, who landed a hard left hook and a stinging jab early and often in their 2011 bout to crown the Super Six champion. Froch could barely lay a hand on Ward and left the Boardwalk Hall in New Jersey a frustrated man. It's a feeling he clearly remembered when asked about Ward after the fight.
"(Ward's) the other target. I've had a 33-fight career, only lost twice," Froch told HBO's Max Kellerman. "...I don't know. I've always said I wouldn't like to fight Andre Ward again. He's a boxing purist, he's very good at what he does, but he's not an entertaining fighter. He's out to win. It's not a fighter's fight. He doesn't seem to get the television companies excited. I could beat Ward, if I get it right. Let's get him over to the United Kingdom and get the fight on next, if he wants it."
Ward was more to the point when asked about the prospect of coming to England for a rematch with Froch. "They have to prove they want it," he said of Froch's Matchroom Boxing promoters. In other words, "show me the money."
In the end, it's a fight that has to happen. Even though Ward dominated the first fight, and the 35-year-old Froch has only gotten older and slower while Ward still seems ascendant, the question hangs in the air for both men.
"If not Froch, who?"
"If not Ward, who?"
Ward, Ring Magazine's second best pound-for-pound fighter, has beaten the other top stars at 168 pounds. He had to journey up to 175 pounds to find fresh competition. He's worn it thin at 168.
A possible dream match looms with the legendary Bernard Hopkins, but the former middleweight champion is too smart to make that fight a reality. Gennady Golovkin seems like he's being groomed for the spot, but would anyone really believe the middleweight has a chance?
Froch, likewise, could fight an up-jumped 160-pounder. A rematch with Kessler, a rubber match to settle the score once and for all, is an intriguing possibility. But time is ticking on his fine career. If he wants to tell his grandkids, and himself, that he was once the best in the world, the time to strike is now. In two years it may be too late.
Carl Froch may not want to fight Andre Ward. And Ward, who spent much of the HBO broadcast taking shots at the Brit and rooting for Kessler, may not want to fight Froch. But it's a fight that has to happen for both men—and for boxing.