The Super Six has been a dizzying ride that has many boxing fans and media sea sick. Three of the original participants – Jermain Taylor, Andre Dirrell, and Mikkel Kessler – ended up falling off the ship at various points of the voyage. Along with half of the fighters dropping out of the tournament, there were postponements in the majority of the bouts to go along with your typical clashes between promoters. Cries bellowed from the hull for the ship to be anchored to call it a day.
Still, the knowledge gained from contenders – or perceived contenders – battling each other makes the journey worth traveling. At the beginning of the tourney in October 2009, Arthur Abraham and Mikkel Kessler were considered favorites to take home the trophy. Abraham had been feasting on middling middleweights during a three-year title reign before entering the Super Six. Finally forced to face bigger fighters with quick hands, he has suffered three losses during the tourney, two of them lopsided. Kessler was handled by Andre Ward in perhaps the most surprising bout of the tournament, before narrowly beating Carl Froch during the best fight of the Super Six and then bowing out due to an eye injury. Indeed, at one time, the most ambitious description of the two last men standing, Ward and Froch, would have been “dark horse.”
And yet here we are. In a saga so long that it’s easy to not only forget who were the underdogs and favorites, but who were even in the damn thing to begin with, Ward and Froch look to create a memorable conclusion Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Ward, 24-0 with 13 knockouts, was a four-year reclamation project after getting rattled near the beginning of his career by the likes of Kenny Kost and Darnell Boone. Since being unleashed, he has handled four perceived punchers in Edison Miranda, Mikkel Kessler, Allan Green and Sakio Bika without much of an issue, showcasing a slippery defense along with an improved chin. Notably, he’s developed an inside-game that’s an eye sore for boxing fans, but an enigma for opponents to deal with. He presses his head against his adversary’s chest and chin to agitate and create space. Ward, Oakland, California, grapples with one hand while shooting short uppercuts with the other. And he’ll bull an opponent into the ropes to do just enough damage to impress the judges. While his shoulder-to-shoulder combat lacks clean punching and makes for frustrating viewing, it’s clearly an effective weapon.
Unlike Ward, Froch, 28-1 with 20 KOs, had the reputation for more will than skill going into the tournament, but has demonstrated an unorthodox, tricky outside game. The 6’1 Nottinghamshire, UK, native flashes a busy up-jab that serves to handcuff his opponents, accompanied with an astute sense of timing. He shut out Abraham by stuffing a left hand in the German’s mouth every time he parted his guard to throw a punch, so if anticipation is a talent, Froch remains skilled enough to be a handful for anyone.
Froch’s defensive deficiencies are obvious, however. Leaving his hands hanging down by his waist is a default strategy that isn’t ideal for quick-handed fighters. He struggled against Andre Dirrell – a harder punching but far more skittish version of Ward – getting flagellated by left hands fired from a southpaw stance throughout the second half of the bout. While attacking, Froch leaves himself square with his chin hanging in space, dangling a inspiring target for a counter-puncher like Ward.
As it stands, Ward, a nearly 4-to-1 favorite in Vegas, appears to have most of the advantages. He has quicker feet and quicker hands, with the aforementioned ugly but effective inside game. But questions remain how he’ll handle the steady jab of Froch. The gritty Brit has displayed a granular toughness to go along with a pronounced sense of timing and enough boxing acumen to upset the apple cart. That Ward beat Kessler and Kessler beat Froch may be irrelevant, representing the type of transitive property that can’t be applied to the hurt game. And while memories of Darnell Boone’s staggering uppercut still linger six years after it landed because Carl Froch won’t let us forget, the 34-year-old, with a punch output to match his imperious attitude, provides a different challenge than Kessler, Green, Bika, or Abraham, and should be viewed as more than an inconvenient obstacle.
Any extended boxing project will have its warts, and the super middleweight tournament is no exception. What remains, however, are two pugilists originally considered to be longshots who have proven themselves otherwise, facing each other in search of a definitive ending. More fortitude than forecasted vs. more expertise than assumed, Ward’s talent and seasoning should win the way, but it’s far from a foregone conclusion. And the Super Six was far from a worthless exercise.