Historically, the 168-pound Super Middleweight division, although only 36 years old, has seen many of the greatest fighters of the last 30 years compete at a high level. It is the perfect division for boxers too big for Middleweight and too small for Light Heavyweight. That being said, four of the top five fighters who I will write about all eventually moved up in weight. The only one who didn’t is my fifth greatest 168-pound fighter of all time, Carl “The Cobra” Froch.
Froch fought his entire career at Super Middleweight. His pro debut occurred in 2002 at the unusual age of 24. It was unusual because most world class fighters turn pro between 18 and 21. Froch had an above average amateur career and the Nottingham, England native was not considered a can’t miss prospect. Despite not being on the British fans and media’s radar, Froch won his first 23 fights and defeated highly regarded British contenders Brian Magee and Robin Reid to earn the British Super Middleweight title. Froch had earned the number one WBC rating at 168 pounds. The reigning champ was fellow Brit Joe Calzhage. Instead of defending against Froch, Calzhage moved up to Light Heavyweight to engage in two lucrative fights against aging legends Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones, Jr. Froch’s consolation prize was a fight against Jean Pascal for the vacant WBC Super Middleweight crown on December 6, 2008.
Froch showed his greatest strength against Pascal; pinpoint accurate counterpunching. Pascal was an unorthodox, aggressive boxer who came at you from all different angles. Froch used Pascal’s aggression against the Haitian contender by landing several bone-jarring combinations while keeping distance with his jab. Froch went on to win the title vacated by Calzhage. His first defense would occur on April 25, 2009 against former undisputed Middleweight Champion Jermain Taylor in the first round of Showtime’s Super Six Super Middleweight Tournament. It would be the first time Froch would have to dig deep to win.
Taylor had a tremendous jab and that jab offset Froch’s counterpunching over the first 11 rounds. Knowing he was way behind on the scorecards, Froch engaged Taylor in an all out slugfest in the 12th and final round. With about 45 seconds left in the round, Froch dropped Taylor after landing several thudding right crosses. Taylor barely got up at the count of 9. Froch battered Taylor unmercifully until referee Michael Ortega stopped the fight with 14 seconds left in the fight. It would be the first dramatic win of Froch’s career. The next one would be on an even larger stage.
In my opinion, on October 17, 2009, Froch received a hometown gift against the undefeated Andre Dirrell. Dirrell’s speed and movement frustrated Froch throughout the entire 12 rounds. Froch’s counterpunching fell short against the fast and athletic Dirrell. Despite Froch looking slow and lethargic, he won a very controversial split decision. While the Nottingham fans roared joyous after the decision was announced, the disappointment on Froch’s face showed a different story. Froch would get a taste of his own medicine in his next fight on April 24, 2010 against Mikkel Kessler in Kessler’s Denmark homeland.
In an action packed fight, Froch, in my opinion, thoroughly out-landed and out-fought the Danish fan favorite. Froch lost his WBC crown via split decision to Kessler. Despite the loss, it was only the first defeat in both Froch’s career and the Super Six tourney, which was round robin. Froch was still very alive in the tournament. In his next fight, on November 27, 2010, Froch traveled to Finland to face the very tough and hard-hitting Armenian Arthur Abraham.
Froch totally dominated Abraham in what was the most dominating performance of his career. With precise counterpunching and subtle movement, Froch battered the Armenian slugger for the entirety of the 12 rounds, easily winning back the WBC 168-pound title that Kessler vacated due to an eye injury he suffered in his fight against Froch. With this win and a subsequent win against Glen Johnson, Froch would fight Andre Ward in the finals of the Super Six tournament.
On December 17, 2011, Froch and Ward faced off in the tournament final. Froch was thrown for a loss by Ward’s strategy. Ward was a slick boxer who was expected to resort to the same game plan that both Dirrell and Taylor utilized that stunted Froch’s counterpunching. Instead, Ward decided to fight inside and engage in a phone booth war with Froch. Froch was thoroughly outmuscled and beaten over the entire 12 rounds. Froch was unable to adjust to Ward’s change of style in losing both his title and the tourney final. It would be the last time Froch would lose.
In Froch’s very next fight, on May 27, 2012, he would face the undefeated IBF 168-pound champ Lucian Bute. Once again, the fight was held in Nottingham. Froch gave his hometown fans an amazing performance. He attacked the power-punching Bute from the opening stanza. For five pulsating rounds, Froch battered the Romanian from pillar to post before the fight was halted in the fifth round. Bute was never the same after this shellacking, as he lost four of his next six fights before retiring. Froch would successfully gain revenge against Kessler before engaging in his biggest rivalry.
Froch’s final two fights would be his most satisfying. On November 23, 2013, Froch faced his most bitter rival, fellow Brit George Groves in Manchester, England. Froch looked old and slow that night. He was knocked down in the first round and was being handed a beating before hurting Groves with a vicious right cross in the ninth round. Despite not being in serious trouble, referee Howard Foster stopped the fight, awarding Froch a TKO victory. Froch was not satisfied by the victory and immediately gave Groves another shot at his crown. It would be the final fight of Froch’s majestic career. It would also be his most dramatic.
On March 31, 2014 in front of a Wembley Stadium crowd of over 80,000 fans, Froch and Groves both fought a very careful and tactical fight. After seven rounds, the fight was up for grabs as neither fighter had a clear advantage. Then, in the eight round, Froch had Groves up against the ropes when he landed a spectacular right cross that splatted Groves body on the canvas. It was the most sensational knockout and win of Froch’s career. He would retire on top and has never looked back.
Carl Froch was never the most talented or exciting fighter of his era, but he definitely was one of the toughest and hardest working fighters ever to step inside the squared circle. He fought everyone at 168 willing to fight him and he never ducked anyone. For six years, he was as classy and tough of a fighter in the history of the 168-pound division. It is why he’s the fifth greatest Super Middleweight of all time.