Dan Rafael: Super Six
In his most recent fight, he battled elbow problems in a lopsided loss to then-super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute in November. But in the fight before that, Johnson gave Carl Froch everything he could handle in a majority decision loss in the Super Six semis, and then Froch went on to knock out Bute in May.
Known as the "Road Warrior," Johnson (51-16-2, 35 KOs) hopes to live up to his nickname on the Chicago home turf of Andrzej Fonfara (21-2, 12 KOs), a native of Poland who will be the crowd favorite in a scheduled 10-round light heavyweight bout that headlines "Friday Night Fights" (10 ET, ESPN2, ESPN3.com) at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago.
"Training went well," said Johnson, who is returning to light heavyweight for the fight. "I feel good. I'm going to come out and look good. I feel sharp right now. I'm feeling real relaxed and energetic. I'm excited about going out there and showing the things I can do and re-establishing myself.
"[Fonfara is] a big, aggressive kid, who uses his jab and comes forward with the right hand and the hook. He's just an aggressive guy, basically. I love aggressive guys. They create good fights for the people."
Johnson, of Miami, said he didn't want to go out with such a poor performance against Bute. He wanted to give boxing at least one more shot to see if he can still perform.
"I like the challenge," he said. "I'm excited about going out there and doing the things I do. I'm still able to do it at a high level. People are still excited about seeing me perform, so that's another plus. Mostly, I keep doing it because I'm still enjoying it, [but] if I lose to a guy like this, then that would tell me exactly the opposite of all I just said -- that I'm sharp and ready to go and can still do it on a high level. If I lose, I probably won't want to do it anymore."
But Johnson said he is confident that he'll fight well and win Friday.
"The way I'm feeling right now, I think I will stop this guy, but it's always easier said from the outside looking in," he said. "I just want to get in there and see exactly what's happening and then I'll put my shots in the right spots. I really think I'll stop him."
Montreal star and super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute has business to attend to when he defends his belt against former two-time titleholder Carl Froch in Froch's hometown of Nottingham, England on Saturday night (Epix and EpixHD.com, 6 ET), but that doesn't mean Bute doesn't pay attention to what else is going on in boxing -- especially when he has more than a passing interest in the outcome.
Bute had hoped to face Super Six World Boxing Classic winner Andre Ward on Saturday, but he wound up making a deal with tournament runner-up Froch when, for various reasons, the fight with Ward never emerged as a serious possibility.
Ward, who was dealing with a hand injury and now is awaiting the June birth of his child, won't be back until Sept. 8 and is in the process of finalizing a fight against light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson. The fight likely will be for Ward's super middleweight championship.
Bute will be paying attention because the winner could loom for him. Whomever wins, Bute against Ward or Dawson would be a pretty big fight.
So how does Bute think Ward-Dawson will go?
"I think that it just creates more popularity for the two guys, especially for Andre Ward, if it's a close fight," Bute said. "It's going to be a technical fight, [a strategic] fight, and I think that it doesn't interfere right now with what I am doing. And I think, at the end of the day, when you keep winning, everybody wants to see the winner at the end of the day, and the best fight the best."
But who does Bute think will win the fight?
"I think it's very, very close -- about 50-50,” Bute said. "But I would give a little edge to Dawson right now."
Who will win the final of Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic? The 26-month tournament will come to a close when super middleweight titleholders Andre Ward and Carl Froch square off on Saturday night (Showtime, 9 ET/PT) at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.
Ward is the favorite, but how are some of the fighters who have been eliminated from the tournament picking it? And what about another super middleweight with a vested interest in the outcome? Of the five who offered their opinions, four are going with Ward to win. Here are their predictions:
• Andre Dirrell (lost split decision to Froch in Group Stage 1 on Oct. 17, 2009): "My sense is going toward Ward. I believe Ward will win it -- not just because he is a smart fighter, but because when it's time to battle, he knows how to battle. But, ultimately, his smarts come into play. He knows how to handle these fighters. It's almost like he dissects them. He's pretty in tune to this sport. In every fight he's had in the Super Six, he's switched up his game plan and they worked to perfection. He has a game plan for Froch, as well. It won't be easy. I honestly believe there will be a cut in the fight. Andre Ward has his tactics and Froch has his tactics, so it's going to be a rough fight, maybe a few bumps and bruises. But overall, I see Andre Ward winning it."
• Arthur Abraham (lost lopsided decisions to Froch in Group Stage 3 on Nov. 27, 2010, and to Ward in the semifinals on May 14, 2011): "I think Andre Ward is going to win on points. He is tactically better and his style is hard to fight against. I don't think many fans like his style, though."
• Mikkel Kessler (lost 11th-round technical decision to Ward in Group Stage 1 on Nov. 21, 2009, and won a unanimous decision against Froch in Group Stage 2 on April 24, 2010): "If he does his homework, I think Carl Froch is going to win. He is very strong and he wants to fight. Ward is good and fast, too, but I think Froch will win. He will have learned from the mistakes I did against Ward. So many things went wrong for me that night. Another advantage for Froch is the tournament history -- he had some very tough fights that made him even stronger. So my pick is Froch."
• Glen Johnson (lost a majority decision to Froch in the semifinals on June 4, 2011): "I have to go with Ward in the final. He's the only guy who's undefeated in the tournament and he's found a way to win. You've got to give him the biggest chance because, of all the guys that fought the top fighters, he's the only one who stayed undefeated at that level. Froch has a puncher's chance -- that's the only chance I can give him. I don't think he can win on points; he's not a fast guy and he doesn't throw a lot of combinations. Ward has a tough style, and Froch is going to have to land some big punches to change the opinion of the crowd. And even though they are both champions, he's going to have to beat the champ to win. You'll have to beat Ward to get that credit, and I just don't see that happening."
• Lucian Bute (super middleweight titleholder who will be ringside and hopes to fight Ward-Froch winner): "In my opinion, I think Andre Ward will be the winner of the Super Six. He is a smart fighter with good skills and he will avoid the power punch of Carl Froch."
Without the backing of Showtime, whose former boxing chief Ken Hershman created the tournament -- but who won't be around to see the final, as he left the network in mid-October to join rival HBO next month -- the Super Six would not have happened. Showtime's broadcasters have had a chance to watch the tournament bouts up close from ringside. Here are their thoughts on the final:
Al Bernstein (analyst): "Andre Ward is the consummate boxer-puncher. We thought Mikkel Kessler was the most skilled fighter in the tournament, and Andre dominated him. In this match, Ward must bring the kind of ring generalship that allowed Andre Dirrell to do well against Froch -- even in losing. The Ward jab needs to be established early and he must punch in combination, while mixing in just enough lateral movement.
"Carl Froch is a much more nuanced fighter than we expected to see in this tournament. He is a better pure boxer than he's given credit for being. He showed that in wins over Arthur Abraham and Glen Johnson. He also has an iron chin. Ward will not attack him like Johnson and Abraham, so Froch will need to push the pace more. He, too, must establish the jab early and then land his right hand behind it. He has not used his excellent uppercut as much in the Super Six; this would be a good time to bring it out of mothballs."
Antonio Tarver (analyst and former light heavyweight champion): "The key for Andre Ward is to stay within himself, keep boxing and keep winning the rounds. I think there is a lot of pressure on him to do something exciting, to do something great, but he can't play into that hype. He must stay disciplined. I think that's the key word when I look at what he needs for this battle: discipline. For Froch, he's going to have to cut the ring off. He's going to have to limit Andre Ward's movement. Carl is going to have to press him, and I think he's going to have to be the aggressor. He needs to make it a fight instead of a boxing match. Froch will have to corner Ward and make him fight with his back against the ropes. And if he can do that and sustain that kind of attack, press him mentally and physically, Froch will give Ward the hardest fight he's ever had. If anybody gets knocked out in this fight, I see Froch catching Ward.
"I really feel like the winner of this fight will write his own ticket as to what he'd like to do in the near future, so there is a lot at stake. I'm looking forward to it. We could be looking at the fighter of the year. When you look at what they've gone through, you've got to put Ward or Froch in the category for fighter of the year if one man can win convincingly."
Gus Johnson (blow-by-blow announcer): "We're witnessing two fighters who haven't reached their peak yet. This fight is going to go a long way in determining what path they take. The winner has the opportunity to launch into superstardom at 168. The winner will have the chance to potentially become a household name moving forward.
"These two men are meeting each other at the right time. They're young. They're strong. They're hungry, humble and -- maybe most importantly -- they really want to test themselves. It's tailor made. Ward-Froch will be cataclysmic."
Jim Gray (ringside reporter): "The key for Ward will be to be patient. He needs to fight at his pace and not be lured in by Froch to brawl. He must also know that Froch has a great chin, and not be frustrated that Froch may not budge with his best shots. The key for Froch would be to somehow be able to get Ward to brawl, to get him into wild exchanges and catch him. Froch is tough and he has the ability to take fighters out of their plan and create opportunities."
And here are predictions from a couple of familiar faces: Johnson, who was eliminated by Froch in the semifinals, and titleholder Lucian Bute, who wasn't invited to participate in the tournament but now is under contract with Showtime and who ideally will face the tournament winner:
Johnson: "It's a close fight, I guess. I will have to go with the American kid [Ward] because the fight is in America and I would assume that he would get the benefit of the doubt."
Bute: "I think it's going to be a nice, spectacular fight. I think it's going to be a close fight. The question is how Andre Ward will cope with the strength and the power of Carl Froch. If he's able to handle it, I think he's got the ability and the boxing movement and I'd go with him. But let's see first how he will react when he gets hit by Carl Froch."