Carl Froch: The Greatest Hits
It was a championship career with everything.
When Carl Froch burst on to the world scene, he was unbeaten and a former British and Commonwealth super middleweight champion. However, despite his domestic success, “The Cobra” was moving up a level to face the undefeated Haitian Canadian – and former Olympian – Jean Pascal on December 8, 2008. The bout was all-out war and Froch prevailed via 12-round unanimous decision to capture the vacant WBC 168-pound title before a feverish home support at the Nottingham Arena in Nottingham, England. That venue would become a fortress, but Froch also took his show on the road.
Over the next six years, Froch earned the reputation of a seasoned, blood-and-guts warrior. There was always drama: a last-second, come-from-behind victory, scoring controversy, a boxing masterclass, brutal blow outs and triumphs against the odds. The Englishman only suffered two defeats, to Andre Ward and Mikkel Kessler, and avenged the latter with room to spare. While his boxing skills were criminally underrated, Froch simply loved a firefight – combat was in his DNA.
“Unless you’re good enough, quick enough – like (Floyd) Mayweather or Andre Ward – you can’t get away with jabbing, moving, and staying out the way,” Froch told The Ring. “In the professional game you’ve got to be able to stand and fight, and you’ve got to be able to take a fuckin’ punch. You’ve got to be able to tough it out or you won’t do anything as a professional.
“I wasn’t super-skillful, despite winning a bronze at the World Championships and two ABA titles. I wasn’t super-fast. I was a good all-rounder, very tough, incredibly determined and really fit because I always trained hard. Those were my attributes and that’s probably one of the reasons I retired in the end, because it was getting harder and harder. I couldn’t keep up the fitness because I was getting old.”
In May 2015, I bumped into Froch at the MGM Grand Signature Suites in Las Vegas. Both of us were in town for Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao. The Nottingham man was 11 months removed from his explosive knockout triumph over fierce rival George Groves and didn’t look too far over his fighting weight of 168 pounds. “What do you think I should do, retire or fight again?” Froch asked me. “I just don’t see the point of coming back, Carl, ” I responded. “What if you get beat, lose on a cut, or you’re on the wrong end of a controversial decision? You could be trying to replicate the glory of that finish forever.”
I gave that answer despite believing that Froch had two or three good fights left in him. However, the man himself thinks otherwise now and backs it up with evidence.
“I don’t know if I had two or three good ones left,” admitted Froch. “I was 37, I had a few injuries in my career; four major operations on my knees and hands. I had a lot of cortisone [injections] into my elbows, my Achilles tendon was fucked, my back was always popping out. I was falling apart, held together by duct tape, and I had numerous physio sessions.
“I had considered fighting Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., but he lost to [Andrzej] Fonfara. After that I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to hang around too long, end up in there with GGG, or I’ll lose to someone like James DeGale.’ I just said, ‘No, that’s not going to happen to me.’ Anyone I spoke to with any sense told me to retire. My mum wanted me to retire, and when (trainer) Rob McCracken realized I didn’t want it anymore, he said, ‘If you don’t want it, if you don’t feel it, if you don’t want to train, you can’t fight!’
“I retired at the right time – mission accomplished!”
Yes, the Groves knockout at Wembley Stadium was the ultimate mic drop of the era. On the biggest stage, in his biggest fight, in what was his biggest payday, Froch signed off with the biggest punch he ever landed in a 12-year professional career. It doesn’t come any better than that and an encore would have spoiled the aesthetic of a perfect finish.
The former three-time super middleweight champion now looks back on six defining fights from what is almost sure to be a Hall-of-Fame career.
Date/ Venue: December 8, 2008/ Nottingham Arena
Titles: Vacant WBC super middleweight
“It was a great fight. When I look back on it now, I realize just how good a fight it was, what a war it was. It was a proper battle from Round 1 through to Round 12. Pascal was a tough nut, unbeaten, top amateur; I can remember when he beat Paul Smith in the Commonwealth championships to win the gold medal. And when you’ve been a top amateur and you’re an unbeaten pro, you go into a world title fight believing that you’re gonna win. This was for a belt that Joe Calzaghe had vacated and I knew it was going to be tough because I needed to beat the next best fighter. I didn’t think he would be tougher than Calzaghe but, in hindsight, I was probably wrong. I’m not saying that Pascal is a better fighter than Calzaghe, but he went on to win a light heavyweight title and he’s still going strong now.
“I remember Rob McCracken lost his mother in the lead up to this fight, which nobody really knew about, and it was a really tough time.
“The fight was a real battle and I lost a bit of memory from Round 8 on. I took a couple of big shots and must have had a concussion. I lost all the memories from Round 9, 10, 11 and 12, and they never came back, which is a bit of a shame. Pascal was a warrior, I’d hit him with three or four shots, he’d spring right back at me and there was so much ebb and flow. It may have been tough to score, but I don’t think I won because I had home advantage. I think I was a clear winner in a close fight, and I felt I won at the final bell. When I woke up the next morning with that WBC belt I felt that I’d really achieved something.”
Result: Froch UD 12
Date/ Venue: April 25, 2009 / Foxwoods Resort, Mashantucket
Titles: WBC super middleweight
“There was no U.K. TV coverage and, looking back, it wasn’t great money either. But Rob said it was a really big fight and Taylor was mandatory for the WBC title.
“Being honest, I don’t think I got Taylor in his prime. I remember him fighting on the undercard of Bernard Hopkins-Howard Eastman (Taylor KO’d Daniel Edouard in three rounds) because I’d been sparring with Eastman. I remember watching Taylor and thinking, ‘Fuckin hell, fast hands, quick reflexes, he can punch.’ I knew it as gonna be tough, but I trusted Rob McCracken and he told me I could beat him.
“I was nervous during the ring walk in this small venue in Connecticut. I realized I was in a fight when I could see Taylor doing that trademark thing, scraping his feet on the canvas. I looked up at the screen and could see him doing that and thought, ‘Fuckin’ hell, I’m fighting Jermain Taylor!’
“Early on he was too quick for me, too fast on the jab, too fast on the counter. I was trying to use the jab, but I was reaching with the right hand, and he was counterpunching really well. I remember him dropping me for the first time in my career with a right to the side of the head, around the ear region, but I wasn’t hurt. The bell rang quickly after the knockdown, which was lucky for me, and Rob said, ‘Stop forcing the fight because he’ll counterpunch you all night, he’s too quick for you. Meet him as he comes, box and move, keep your feet moving.’ I took his advice and won a couple of rounds, but I lost most of them. I caught him in Round 10, caught him again in Round 11, and it was do or die in Round 12. I knew my career was on the line, and I knew I needed a stoppage. But, if I do say so myself, I went about it very professionally. I didn’t rush anything, I didn’t smother my work, maybe it was because I was knackered, but he was more tired than I was. I was in seek and destroy mode, but what a tough motherfucker he was; he took some serious shots. It was pure determination, refusal to quit and self-belief. He could have grabbed on to me and tried to survive but, fair play to him, he tried to fight back and got done. This fight opened me up for the rest of my career because it got me into the Super Six tournament.”
Result: Froch TKO 12
Date/ Venue: November 27, 2010/ Hartwall Arena, Helsinki
Titles: Vacant WBC super middleweight
“I was confident, but I knew Abraham could punch after what he did to Jermain Taylor (KO 12) and many of his previous opponents. I wasn’t scared, but I was concerned about catching a big shot. I’d picked up a lot of experience by this point; winning a close one against Andre Dirrell – who came to steal the fight, and if he’d won a world title on that performance it would have been a fuckin’ travesty – then I’d lost in a great fight to Mikkel Kessler. Now Kessler is a gentleman, a true warrior, I still keep in touch with him now and spoke to him last week. But when (Kessler’s promoter) Kalle Sauerland celebrated in the ring after I lost, it was really fuckin’ annoying. Kalle Sauerland was my motivation in the Abraham fight because he promoted him too. I’m like, ‘You’re not fuckin’ beating me twice!’
“I could not have been any fitter for Abraham. I was doing 15 rounds on the bag – sharp, with little gloves on. Now people think I’m just a warmonger who goes in, face-first, taking three shots to land three shots, but people forget I won two ABA titles and I won bronze in the world championships. I have got boxing ability. All I did with Abraham was sharp jab, double-jab, treble-jab, left hook-right hand. I just outboxed him and it was almost a flawless victory. I’ve got David Haye shouting instructions from ringside, and I was listening to him because he’s so fuckin’ loud – but he was good. ‘You’ve got him here! Keep him in the corner, don’t left him out… NOW WORK!’ I’d let my hands go, then Haye would shout, ‘Now move, back on your bike, you’ve won the round, don’t let him back into the fight.’ All the way through the fight, step by step. And my missus, Rachael, was shouting, ‘Fuckin’ kill him Carl!’ (laughs). She never drinks at a fight, but her Dad was there and they had a drink. Oh, she was terrible, there’s a video of it on YouTube and if I ever play it she cringes, runs away and hides.
“It was almost a career-best performance against Abraham, in terms of boxing ability.”
Result: Froch UD 12
Date/ Venue: May 26, 2012/ Nottingham Arena
Titles: IBF super middleweight
“It was easy to pick against me that night because I was getting on a bit and I’d just lost to Andre Ward. You’d have to have your money on Bute but, at the end of the day, it was Andre Ward that I’d lost to. Now I don’t want to give Ward too much credit – he gets enough already for that shit-boring style – but he’s very good, very clever and he knows how to win. Losing to Ward is no disgrace, and people forgot what a tough, determined character I was. The fight was at home, I’m in Nottingham, with all my mates from school, all my family, everyone who knows me is in that arena. It’s my fuckin’ castle, mate. As Robert McCracken said, ‘Listen, this kid’s coming to your backyard thinking he’s gonna beat you. Fuckin’ run him out of town!’ I thought, you’re right, cheeky bastard, I’m gonna fuckin smash him to bits. I’m gonna punch his head off. I know it sounds horrible and nasty, but that’s the old me – I’ve got three kids now and I’m civilized.
“I was prepared to walk through walls, and on the ring walk I was so determined and fueled by the crowd. There was six or seven thousand there but it felt like 20,000. I had ‘No Easy Way Out’ from Rocky IV playing and I was so in the zone. Before the first round, I thought to myself, ‘This kid look like Mr. Bean, he looks like a bit of a geek. I don’t care who he’s beat or what he’s done, he’s in Nottingham and he’s getting smashed to bits.’ I took a few left crosses and one of those body shots that he was knocking people over with, but I just walked through them. I had momentum on my side, I was like a man possessed, and I was a man on a mission.”
Result: Froch TKO 5
Mikkel Kessler 2
Date/ Venue: May 25, 2013/ O2 Arena, London
Titles: IBF and WBA super middleweight
“This was the breakthrough into pay-per-view, but I was getting a bit old and I was starting to feel the pace a bit in training. I was 35 years old, had my missus, two kids at the time, and I had to start looking for an exit route. It was big money, but I’d already made good money in the Super Six and I was well-invested in terms of property. Some things are more important than getting your head caved in.
“It’s Mikkel Kessler, I’ve got to beat him, but I know he’s a hard bastard, tough as fuck. He’s got the WBA title, I’ve got the IBF, and I’m nervous. I trained hard, believed in myself, great buildup; all the promo stuff, and there’s 20,000 people at the O2. This was big time and what a fuckin’ fight it was. Kessler was slightly past his best, but I was past my best too. I knew that I couldn’t knock him out, but I also knew that he couldn’t knock me out. Everything was on the line, Eddie Hearn’s loving life, flying the flag for Matchroom, but we’re all loving life back then.
“Early on I boxed well, then he came back into it in the middle rounds by closing the distance, and I stood and fought with him. I caught him with a big shot in Round 8 and I don’t think he recovered from that until Round 11 when he caught me with a big right and my legs dipped. It was tough, I was fucked, but I was doing enough to win and I felt in control. I went for the grandstand finish in the final round and we both embraced at the end.
“What an occasion it was. I won the WBA belt, it was pay-per-view and my baby daughter had just been born. I hadn’t really got to know her and we all went out to Dubai after the fight. That’s when I suddenly realized I had a baby daughter, when I took her for a walk in the pram. She was crying and I went around the front of the pram, made her comfortable, looked into her eyes and said, ‘Hi baby girl, I’m your daddy!’”
Result: Froch UD 12
George Groves 2
Date/ Venue: May 31, 2014/ Wembley Arena, London
Titles: IBF and WBA super middleweight
“In the first fight he caught me in Round 1, I attacked with my chin in the air and he nailed me with a textbook counter right hand, flush on the chin. ‘Get down you fuckin’ twat!’ That must have been what he thought (laughs). I was all over the place, and he hammered me with three or four more big shots at the bell. I got through it because of my fitness and my toughness. He was landing all the big, clean, eye-catching punches that win rounds. I lost the first round 10-8. I lost Rounds 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, but he fucked himself in the sixth and went to his corner absolutely knackered. I can’t remember the seventh, but I did better in the eighth. I’ll be the first to admit that the fight was stopped a little bit early (Froch won TKO 9), but it was only going one fuckin’ way. And if it hadn’t been stopped early, and I won without controversy, then we’d never have got Wembley. It’s amazing to think about it like that. On the way out of the ring that night, I got coins thrown at me, I was spat at and had beer thrown at me. But they’d all paid to watch me fight, they all paid for the rematch, and I got a bunch of money out of it. They’re all sitting at home, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes with a fat belly.
“In the rematch, I took center ring and made him do all the legwork. I didn’t like him, I wanted to hurt him and I wanted to knock him out. Now I don’t normally knock people out, I usually wear opponents down and force a stoppage, but I was determined to get him. I knew the only way to catch him sweet was if he had his back to the ropes or if he was moving away. He always moved to his left, into my right hand, and he’d told everyone he was going to knock me out with a left hook. He was actually trying to throw the hook when that right hand landed on his chin. That was his undoing, and I couldn’t have hit him any harder. I could have said, ‘George, stand there, don’t move’ and hit him with a full-force right hand and it wouldn’t have been any harder than the punch he took. It was perfect in that I threw the feint left, the check hook, got my body coiled like a spring and let everything go on it. He was moving left and dropped his left glove to throw the hook and the right landed absolutely flush. He was gone!
“We get on good now and we’ve done some work for Sky. I had a long chat with him, he’s got kids now and he had a great career after losing to me. I’m glad that he won a world title, not because it makes me look better, but because he stuck with it. He was unlucky against Badou Jack, then he got the win over Fedor Chudinov [to win the WBA 168-pound title]. He made his own money and his own legacy. George Groves is not defined by Wembley, that was my defining fight. He went on, stuck with it, won a world title and I admire that.”
Result: Froch TKO 8
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing