Warrior Froch ready for war once more
Heard the one about the boxer who hit his own trainer over the head with a tripod and his rival who threatened to shoot him? Instead of a one-way ticket to Palooka-ville, they landed a fight outdoors in a ball-park.
God knows boxing needs a few good news stories right now. So thank God for Carl Froch, the boxer who almost always delivers. So much so, he should consider changing his nickname from 'The Cobra' to 'The Postman'.
It would be remiss of me at this point not to mention Scouse heavyweight hope David Price, the 6ft 8in Adonis with the manner of a jovial publican whose progress since striking bronze at the Beijing Olympics and surgical dismissal of Sam Sexton last weekend suggests he might be the real deal. But Price is the future, whereas Froch is the here and now. But for how long?
No boxer likes to hear the end might be nigh - as Muhammad Ali once said to broadcaster Howard Cosell, Cosell having suggested Ali was past it: "I asked your wife, and she told me you're not the same man you were two years ago." But Canada's Lucian Bute will ask more taxing questions of Froch in Nottingham on Saturday than the most sceptical journalist can muster.
A few years back and Froch, now 34, would have been a hot favourite to beat Bute on his own patch. But an epic sequence of seven elite-level fights - a couple of them minor skirmishes but a few of them wars - cannot have failed to diminish the former two-time super-middleweight world champion as a fighter.
"He's a clean liver, he doesn't drink or smoke," counters Froch's trainer Rob McCracken, also head coach of the GB Olympic team, "he's never had weight issues and doesn't have hard spars. He's fresh enough to win on Saturday."
Carl Froch takes on Lucian Bute in the IBF world super-middleweight championship. Photo: Getty
But McCracken's assertion that Froch's fights "have been harder than we'd have liked of late" - the former middleweight world title-challenger is a master of understatement - is actually a little disingenuous. For at times, both McCracken and Froch seem to revel in the Herculean nature of their labours.
When I suggest to McCracken that perhaps Froch needs protecting from himself, McCracken replies: "That's not the type of fighter he is. This is what boxing is all about, why it was so great in the '60s, '70s and '80s, the very best fighting each other, fight after fight; not fighting safe fights where nobody's bothered about the outcome because you already know what it's going to be."
Froch's situation highlights a great paradox of boxing: handle your fighter with care, steer him through a path of lesser resistance and the fans will complain of feeling short-changed; lead him down the most treacherous route and there will be those who accuse you of recklessness and negligence.
"I said to Carl, 'I really think we should look at a warm-up fight'," says Froch's promoter Eddie Hearn. "And he said, 'what's a warm-up fight?' I've got no right to protect him, it's his call. And when you get the chance to fight for a world title in your backyard, you have got to take it."
Hearn is head of boxing at Matchroom Sport, the company founded by his father Barry. Having fallen out of love with the fight game, Hearn Sr now concentrates his efforts on Leyton Orient, snooker and darts.
Dapper, personable and with a gift for the eye-catching quote, Hearn Jr is a chip off the old man's block. He describes the making of Froch-Bute thus: "It was like when there's a girl who's really interested in you and you keep saying 'no', they just keep coming back. They're more interested the more rejection they get." But what you might call Eddie's 'Hearnisms' cannot disguise a serious operator who shares his dad's seemingly boundless innovatory spirit.
"I'm new to promoting but I've been in boxing since I was 11 years old," says Hearn, whose dad promoted Frank Bruno, Chris Eubank and Naseem Hamed, among many others. "My dad told me right from the start: 'Listen, this sport is a huge pain in the backside,' and he's right. But he also said: 'If you can get 1% of the buzz your fighter gets you'll be happy.' I'm loving it, loving that buzz.
"I've got an understanding of what fans want, and it's not rocket science: they want great fights, great promotions, great publicity and value for money. Kell Brook against Matthew Hatton delivered the highest figures for Sky for many years and there were 10,000 in Sheffield's Motorpoint Arena. The right fight with the right promotion shows the audience is still there."
While Matchroom's approach to matchmaking might be a little bit gung-ho for rival promoter Frank Warren's taste - Northern Irish prospect Paul McCloskey losing to veteran American DeMarcus Corley earlier this month was not supposed to happen - Hearn would argue that protecting a fighter's '0' is an attitude that has to go if boxing is to thrive on the ultra-competitive modern sports landscape.
"The sport is doing OK, but it's not flying, and we think we can make it big again," says Hearn. "Froch v Bute is a pure fight, two great pugilists in the sport for the right reasons. Money matters in any walk of life, but this fight is about two tremendous fighters wanting to be the best in the division.
"Every sport needs a bit of controversy now and again, not everyone wants to read about what a great bloke Carl Froch is and how hard he works. But Carl is a warrior and should be regarded as a hero for the fights he's been through."
Bute, 32, is a heavy-handed southpaw with a wide variety of punches, his left uppercut and right hook signature shots. While not as slick as Andre Ward, who beat Froch in the final of the Super Six tournament last December, the suspicion is the Englishman struggles against fighters who don't sit in front of him.
The challenge for Froch will be to close the gap, apply pressure and test out Bute's chin - Librado Andrade had him in all sorts of trouble in their first fight in 2008 - while soaking up those vicious body punches of Bute. If Froch can land enough on the champion, a third world title could be his. But it's a big 'if'.
Lose and Froch will still have options. Fights against compatriots George Groves and James DeGale would be lucrative, while Wales' Nathan Cleverly and Denmark's Mikkel Kessler, who beat Froch in 2010, are viable opponents at 175lb. But in boxing, options are not necessarily a good thing. Howard Cosell knew that, whatever Muhammad Ali might have said about his wife.
"A loss isn't the end of the world, but it would be a disaster," says Hearn. "If Carl does lose, there are bundles of fights out there. But we want the big super-middleweight fights, the unifying fight - we want Andre Ward.
"But he's had some tough contests, earned a lot of money and victory over Bute would finally get him the respect he deserves." Indeed, in the perverse world of boxing, Froch might only be fully appreciated when he's hung them up and disappeared.