Carl Froch is now a unified champion.
An elite boxer’s quest to erase a blemish on his record is one of the sport’s hallowed traditions. The impetus to seek redemption is what leads to classic rematches, unforgettable trilogies and the ability to forever link two fighters in the sport’s collective unconscious. For Carl Froch, let’s call his quest halfway done.
Last Saturday, in front of a raucous crowd at the O2 Arena in London, Froch (31-2, 22 KO) defended his IBF super middleweight title against Mikkel Kessler, wresting the Dane’s WBA strap to unify titles in the process. More significantly, Froch got revenge against Kessler (46-3, 35 KO), who had beaten him in the best action fight of the Super Six World Boxing Classic.
At 35, no one would fault Froch for slowing down, but, amazingly, the opposite seems to be happening. Against Kessler, Froch was the clear winner by virtue of his aggression, astonishing punch output and granite chin. Froch-Kessler II was on par with their epic first encounter, and the victory has ensured that Froch’s will enjoy a lucrative and marquee late career run.
While Froch is indeed aging like the finest of wines, the reality is that his career is entering its twilight phase. Froch has speculated that he has four major fights left in him, according to SkySports.com, which leads to one logical question: Who should Froch fight to punctuate his career?
Froch, historically, will go down as one of Britain’s most successful world-level fighters. With an 8-2 record in title fights, according to BoxRec, Froch has defeated many of his most accomplished contemporaries, and he has never shied away from fighting the best.
Despite unifying belts for the first time in his career, Froch is still in the position of chasing Andre Ward, the lineal super middleweight champion and clearly the division’s best fighter. The proof is in Ward’s body of work and the fact that he soundly defeated both Froch and Kessler. For some, that makes the prospect of Ward-Froch II somewhat unappealing.
Froch, however, made a strong case for a rematch with Ward (26-0, 14 KO) by how he defeated Kessler. Working in Froch’s favor, ultimately, is that he has markedly improved since losing the Super Six final.
In terms of capping his career, Froch should absolutely strive to avenge his loss to Ward.
Since losing to Ward in December 2011, Froch bludgeoned former undefeated champion Lucian Bute, annihilated a respectable, but overmatched, Yusaf Mack and turned the tides on Kessler, who, in defeat, still proved he is a top super middleweight. During that same stretch, Ward scored a signature victory over Chad Dawson in a virtuoso performance, but he has since been idle due to injuries.
With Froch peaking and Ward coming off a lengthy layoff, now is clearly Froch’s best and only window to avenge his other defeat.
If Froch-Kessler II was partly an audition for a rematch against Ward, Froch scored high marks. Froch threw 1,034 punches, which essentially doubled Kessler’s output of 497, and his 668 power-shot attempts quadrupled Kessler’s 165, according to CompuBox (h/t SaturdayNightBoxing.com). Punch stats, of course, only provide limited insight into a fight’s narrative, but Froch’s stamina was certainly impressive.
In absorbing thudding shots from Kessler, particularly during the dramatic final two stanzas, Froch only reinforced his warrior reputation, as he was able to rally and return fire on every occasion. After defeating Chad Dawson so handily, Ward might be forced to view Froch as his most compelling immediate option.
Froch would naturally be a significant underdog against Ward—and rightfully so. There’s always the issue of where a rematch would take place, and Froch’s camp hasn’t been shy about wanting the fight to take place in the UK, according to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com. Ward could ultimately opt to pursue other options, and, as the division’s kingpin, isn’t in the position where he has to make concessions.
Given Ward’s position of relative power, it makes sense to return to Kessler.
A trilogy fight between Froch and Kessler would undoubtedly be compelling. Whether this bout happens immediately is almost irrelevant, and a third clash with Kessler should be part of Froch’s four-fight plan.
Froch-Kessler III would generate massive revenue and be a huge promotion throughout Europe. Naturally, the bout would secure prime American coverage, and the first two encounters almost guarantee that a rubber match would produce similar fireworks. Because Kessler showed that he is still an elite-level fighter, Froch can again look to him as a viable option whether he fights Ward or not.
Assuming Froch fought Ward and won, a subsequent defense (and victory) against Kessler would enhance his legacy by giving him the upper hand in a classic trilogy, while also propelling him to yet another major bout. Even if Froch lost to Ward, a return bout against Kessler could immediately propel him back into a string of important fights.
And then there’s the Canadian variable.
Froch is infamous with fans north of the border for defeating their two best and most important fighters: Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute. When Froch shockingly massacred Bute in May 2012, a rematch seemed unnecessary.
Bute briefly seemed keen on a return bout, but instead, opted for a comeback fight followed by a clash against former lineal light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal, whom Froch defeated for his first world title in 2008.
Even though Pascal-Bute has been delayed, the winner of that fight is poised to make another run at boxing’s elite level. Assuming Pascal defeats Bute, the interest for Froch-Pascal II will be legitimate. Their 2008 bout was a closet classic, and fighting Pascal would be the ideal way for Froch to make his foray into the 175-pound division, should such a jump suit him.
Froch-Pascal II will be massive in both Canada and the UK, and it is a fight that will be picked up by an American network. Much depends on whether Pascal looks sharp against Bute, but this fight will be an easy sell regardless of whether a title is at stake.
Someone like Robert Stieglitz, who holds the WBO super middleweight title, would be an attractive option for the European market (especially), but there seem to be more lucrative options in Froch’s future. Bernard Hopkins, in that sense, springs to mind as “marquee” name for Froch to add to his ledger, but such a victory wouldn’t make or break Froch’s legacy.
That said, defeating Hopkins was part of Joe Calzaghe’s important late-career run in 2008. Froch, of course, tried desperately and in vain to lure Calzaghe into a fight around that time. Symbolically, Froch could choose to steer clear of Hopkins, whose style is Froch’s antithesis.
By avoiding the “Hopkins trap,” Froch could also one-up Calzaghe. Froch now finds himself in the position Calzaghe did around 2008, and it would be classy and fitting if part of his four-fight finale involved giving the next generation of young British super middleweights—namely George Groves and James DeGale—a genuine shot.
Groves might be a hair closer to fighting Froch than DeGale at this juncture, but either bout would be absolutely massive in the UK. By showing that he is willing to give others the shot Calzaghe never afforded him, Froch’s legacy would only be enhanced—win or lose.
Regardless of who Froch fights, expect the opponents to be elite. Froch hasn’t fought a soft touch in ages, and his final four bouts (potentially) won’t be any different. It almost seems like Froch has fought twice the 10 world title bouts he’s actually contested—and there’s a darn good reason for that.