Carl Froch (31-2, 22 KOs) last night gained a revenge, that was three years in waiting, after he out- pointed Mikkel Kessler (46-3, 35 KOs) in a fight which lived up to all the hype that had surrounded it over the past few months. ‘The Cobra’ evened the score against the man, who three years ago broke his unbeaten record and took his title away, after a classic scrap in Denmark. This time it was ‘The Viking’ who was shorn of his crown as Froch added Kessler’s WBA title belt to his own IBF belt, but the titles were almost superfluous in a rematch which reached all expectations and had the best part of a 18,000 crowd on its feet for much of the night. Some fighters seem to belong together in the ring and such is the case with these two, as it is hard to imagine them ever making a dull fight together after this rematch. One of the reasons for this, is that both men have seldom been in a bad fight between them, throughout their careers. So when they get together in the same ring, the result is the pugilistic equivalent of cheese and wine, and it can’t fail to go down well (as long as you know your wine!)
Any fears that this rematch might be a bit of a friendly dance, due to the two fighters good relationship out of the ring, seemed to be nullified by a souring of the pre-fight hype in the final days before this clash. When Froch declared that he was willing to kill Kessler in order to gain victory in their rematch, far from being offended by such uncharacteristic trash talk from ’the Cobra’, Kessler had seized upon it as evidence that the Englishman was buckling under the pressure in the final days before their fight. However, from the start of their rematch, ‘the Cobra’ seemed in total control of himself and channelled his aggression into a piston-like jab, which kept Kessler at arms length and at times, off balance. ‘The Cobra’ dominated the first three rounds with his jab, as Kessler struggled to get close enough to fire off his combinations or work his own jab. In the fourth though, Kessler began to reach Froch for the first time with some significant shots of his own and put to bed any fears that this fight might be a one-horse race.
The fifth and sixth rounds saw Froch’s jab become less effective, as Kessler began dragging him into a toe-to-toe war. ’The Viking’ started using his superior hand speed to break through ‘the Cobras’ guard, and Froch replied with his own rights and lefts, as the contest began to develop into the war everyone had envisioned. The seventh round was one of the best rounds of the fight as the action flowed one way and then the other, with Froch coming forward and trying to regain control of the action, but having to walk through a number of blistering punches from ’The Viking’ along the way. Froch stepped up his work-rate in the eighth, coming forward at Kessler and unleashing some huge shots that found Mikkel’s head and had the Dane staggering, but ultimately not buckling. If this fight proved anything, it underlined that both of these boxers have iron in their heads, such were the punches that both were able to take and stand up under at various points of the contest.
If there had been any doubts about whether Kessler still had the hunger to lay it all on the line and fight his way through the pain of another war, he answered them fully, by coming back from his shellacking in the eighth, to once more carry the fight to Froch in the ninth and tenth rounds, as ‘the Cobra’ sought to control things with his jab again.
As the fight went into the championship rounds, both men threw caution to the wind, as they summoned up their deepest reserves in an effort to close out the match strongly. Froch dominated the early part of the eleventh with his jabs and some good rights, but Kessler came back with combinations, which shook Froch badly for the first time in the fight. ‘The Cobra’ wobbled, but like Kessler in the eighth, did not fall, and by the end of the round Froch was coming back with punches of his own again.
Both boxers were tired in the final round, but it was Froch who forced his way forward, walking through Kessler’s punches of lingering defiance, and unleashing lefts and rights of his own, that had the Dane bending and wobbling, as he tried to keep his feet within the midst of the storm of leather coming down on him. As the fight reached it’s final seconds, the referee looked to be about to step in to save a ropes-bound Kessler from the punishment he was receiving, but ’the Viking’ showed his defiance yet again, to blindly fight his way off the ropes in the dying moments of the thrilling match. The fight ended with both men throwing the last vestiges of their strength at each other, having fought one another to a standstill.
The scores for the fight were 118-110, 116-112, 115-113, all in favour of ’The Cobra’. This was, if anything, an even more brutal fight than their first bout, with Froch’s extra work-rate and use of the jab, giving him a crucial edge overall.
In victory, Froch made amends for his earlier trash talk with some glowing compliments for his beaten opponent, and an offer of a third fight if the Dane wants one. Whether Kessler will wish to put himself through the mill against Froch again or else take up the retirement he has talked about previously, even he probably doesn’t know yet. However, it is likely that a man so disposed to fighting as Kessler is, will find it very hard to turn down another chance at glory, once his body has healed over the next few weeks and months. With this victory, Carl Froch has secured himself clearly as the second best 168 pounder in the world, with only the supremely gifted Andre Ward above him, due to his victory over Froch in the super six final.
Having secured his revenge over Kessler, the biggest challenge for Froch now would be to try and reverse his super six final defeat to Ward. This would be a different fight from Kessler, however, as Ward is a far more slippery and speedy opponent than the Dane, and was able to give Froch a boxing lesson for much of their fight in late 2011. In Froch’s favour, is the fact that he has definitely improved since the Ward fight, showing himself to be both more intense and more cagey, as and when events within the ropes demand.
There are other options for Froch to choose, as there seems to be a crowd of fighters clamouring for a shot at him. Domestically, George’The Saint’ Groves and Nathan Cleverly, are both looking for a match with Froch, and ironically perhaps, both angered ’The Cobra’ by sparring with Kessler in the run up to Saturday’s showdown. Groves is the Commonwealth Super-Middleweight champion and generally regarded as the premier domestic 168 pounder, after ’The Cobra’ himself. Unbeaten in 19 fights with 15 koes, Groves is a rangy box-puncher with a good jab and decent speed, but despite the needle existing between the two, Froch seems disinclined to get into the ring with ‘the Saint’. Quite simply, Groves brings too little to the table at the moment for a champion who has his eyes fixed upon big fights, rather than the sort of match that Groves would pose right now, which would be one of high risk and low reward.
Nathan Cleverly is the WBO Light-heavyweight Champion, but has had problems finding himself meaningful fights, and has called out Froch on a number of occasions. Again, like Groves, Cleverly doesn’t really have anything that Froch wants, and so a match against the naturally bigger Welshman does not appeal to ‘the Cobra’.
There is also Lucian Bute, whom Froch devastated in five rounds for the IBF title last year, although there was a rematch clause between them, such was the one-sidedness of their fight, that a rematch would at this point be hard to sell and would offer little to gain for Froch.
Perhaps the most tantalizing opponent out there at the moment for Froch, aside from Andre Ward, is Philadelphia legend Bernard Hopkins, who recently became the oldest ever world champion when he won the IBF World Light-Heavyweight title from Tavoris Cloud earlier this year, at the age of 48. Hopkins has stated his intentions to come to England and face Froch, and his willingness to fight at either catch-weight or with his 175 pound title on the line. But, facing a living legend such as Hopkins would be a tricky situation for Froch. Despite his age the Philadelphia veteran is still a very slippery and wily customer, who has made a habit in recent years of dismantling aggressive boxers with similar style’s to Froch. With his counterpunching genius, Bernard Hopkins could be a stylistic nightmare for Froch, that is perhaps best left alone.
At the moment, ’The Cobra’s’ best options for his next opponent seems to be either a rematch with Andre Ward or a third match with Mikkel Kessler. An Andre Ward rematch promises to be at least more competitive than their first bout and it would be fascinating to see how the tweaked version of ’The Cobra’ would match up a second time with Wards elusive boxing skills. On the other hand, no one who saw Saturday’s rematch between Froch and Kessler would have any complaints with the pair completing a trilogy with another fight.
Carl Froch is in many ways a throwback fighter. He has come up the old fashioned traditional way, winning the British and Commonwealth titles on his way up, and facing the best fighters available to him both before and after winning his world titles. Within a strong 168 pound division, he has met all the top fighters currently active, and lost only twice, one of which is now avenged. In an era where too many fighters fight barely once a year and often avoid their top challengers, ’The Cobra’ has marked himself out as one of the genuine old school warriors of the ring, who is ready to put it all on the line, and genuinely enjoys going to war in the ring.
Although Andre Ward is still entitled to call himself the best 168 pounder on the planet, despite now holding no official title belts (following some disgraceful maneuverings by the WBC,) ‘The Cobra’ is equally entitled to call himself the most exciting 168 pounder in the world and in fact one of the most exciting fighters in boxing, pound for pound, too. There are very few fighters at any weight who can match Froch’s string of dramatic and often thrilling, world title fights, that go back to 2008 ,and his classic fight with Jean Pascal. One of the things which makes Froch a special fighter, is that all the hard fights and wars that he has had have made him a stronger and better fighter, rather than depleting him.
It remains to be seen how long it is before either the WBA or IBF start trying to manipulate their belts away from ‘The Cobra.’ None of boxing’s ‘World’ bodies favour fighters holding multiple belts. Froch however, has fought himself into such a position as a fighter, that he could even copy Ward, and dispense with the boxing bodies and their shenanigans, and the big fights would still be out there for him just the same.
Its been a long road for ‘the Cobra,’ but the success and recognition which he has sought for so long has arrived, and whatever he does in the remainder of his career, he has already assured himself a place amongst Britain’s boxing greats of the past. There were some that were faster or more skilful, or cleverer, but few who were harder or had bigger hearts in the ring. It is a difficult thing to compare the present with the past, and often unfair to both eras, but Froch deserves his place and deserves his recognition. ’The Cobra’ is a warrior.