Froch/Ward
Tom Casino/Showtime

Which will mean more in the Super Six final: experience or skill?

SportsNation
EXPERIENCE
PURE SKILL

Froch proves competition counts

Mulvaney By Kieran Mulvaney
ESPN.com
Archive

Anyone who thinks being talented and undefeated should be enough to make Andre Ward the favorite to beat Carl Froch when they meet Oct. 29 would do well to consider the case of another Andre: Andre Berto.

Like Ward, Berto was once undefeated. Like Ward, Berto had a belt and plenty of good dates on a major cable network. But like Ward, Berto was largely untested. He had rarely been forced to dig deep to gut out victory, had rarely needed to confront the kind of incoming fire that forces a boxer to suck it up, look within himself and decide whether to take the path of least or most resistance. And so, when Victor Ortiz came at him with both fists blazing earlier this year, Berto did not know how to respond, and he wound up being overwhelmed and losing his unblemished record.

Of course, Ortiz was a man possessed that night -- a man who, ironically, needed to silence his own doubters after he had proved less than ready for the big time when losing to Marcos Maidana -- and it is entirely possible that he wouldn't have been denied no matter how much experience Berto had had against top contenders. But boxing history, old and new, is full of examples of skillful, unbeaten young fighters running afoul of those who were steeled for combat: Joe Louis being dominated by Max Schmeling, George Foreman being upended by Muhammad Ali, Naseem Hamed being publicly undressed by Marco Antonio Barrera. More recently, highly touted prospects David Lemieux and Fernando Guerrero were taken into deep waters and drowned by, respectively, Marco Antonio Rubio and Grady Brewer.

It doesn't follow that what happened to Fighter A need necessarily befall Fighter B, and Ward is both a more talented and more experienced fighter than either Lemieux or Guerrero. But by the same token, Froch is assuredly leagues better than both Rubio and Brewer, and his path to the Super Six finals has seen him run a gauntlet of opponents that stacks up in quality against that faced by any other professional prizefighter over the same time period.

During that time, he has suffered just one defeat -- a close one against Mikkel Kessler, on Kessler's home turf -- which might have gone the other way had the bout been held in Nottingham or London. Not only has Froch won the rest of his bouts, against top-shelf opposition, he has done so in an impressive variety of styles.

He brawled with Jean Pascal to win his title belt and gain entry to the tournament; he recovered from a knockdown to walk down and stop Jermain Taylor; he outfought the slick and tricky Andre Dirrell; he boxed and fought in his narrow defeat to Kessler; and he used slick boxing skills to dominate Arthur Abraham and Glen Johnson. Tellingly, as the tournament has progressed, Froch's performances have improved.

There are multiple factors involved in the outcome of a prize fight, of course: relative levels of talent and skill, the clash of styles, unpredictable events and intangibles. But at the highest level, experience -- and particularly a familiarity with adversity -- counts a great deal. Against top opposition, Froch has it and Ward doesn't.

It is one of the ironies of boxing that talented fighters who dominate their opposition are often lost the moment they have to dig really deep. That's why matchmaking -- developing a fighter so that he faces real challenges without being derailed -- is such a fine art. And that's why Carl Froch, and not Andre Ward, should be favored to win the Super Six.

Ward's road won't matter

Guryashkin By Igor Guryashkin
ESPN.com
Archive

The tale of the tape for the Oct. 29 Super Six Boxing Classic final between Andre Ward and Carl "The Cobra" Froch likely will be missing one measurement -- the size of the chip on both finalists' shoulders. But it's this most pertinent of attributes that will see Andre Ward prevail.

Ward's ever-brooding opponent believes that a career featuring victories over Jean Pascal, Glen Johnson, Arthur Abraham and Jermain Taylor deserves a little more credit, as opposed to an underdog tag. And he's right.

Froch has grumbled that Ward had an easier route to the finals, a barb that has angered Ward. But again, Froch is right.

And it's not merely because Ward fought all of his pre-final Super Six bouts in his backyard of Oakland, Calif., or L.A. Compare the résumés of opponents Froch and Ward didn't share in the lead-up to the Super Six final. For Froch: Andre Dirrell, a decorated amateur whose only pro loss remains the Froch defeat; and Johnson, a highly respected battler who has astoundingly improved into his 40s. For Ward: Allan Green, whose most notable conquest to date is a decision over then-38-year-old Tarvis Simms; and in a non-Super Six bout, Sakio Bika (does Peter Manfredo Jr. count as a big win?).

There is an old saying in boxing that says you can only fight the man who's put in front of you, and in Ward's case he has dispatched all comfortably. The 2004 Olympic gold medalist has regularly used his speed and guile to win. He used a stiff jab to diffuse the desperation of a marauding Arthur Abraham and, in a non-Super Six bout, showed he could fight dirty and up close against Sakio Bika. And let's not forget that Ward handily beat Mikkel Kessler, who handed Froch his first defeat in the tournament's Group Stage 2.

Ward's speed will be the biggest problem facing Froch, something that has evidently troubled him in the past. Froch and his supporters will say that he beat a much faster foe in Andre Dirrell, but others might suggest Froch was lucky to walk away with a split decision in his own hometown.

The fight between these two may turn out to be far from a classic, and might not even be conclusive in establishing the top super middleweight in the world (not with the specter of Lucian Bute lingering close by).

But one thing is for sure: Froch is hungry for a fight on the inside -- a brawl, a fight that Ward is too smart to serve up. Expect Ward's jab to stop Froch's jabbering at the end of the night.

Froch has been underrated for most of his career, and this fight is no different. His chances against Ward have been played down, in some ways unfairly. But although the gap in class is much smaller than Ward's fans like to think, on this occasion expect Ward to take the bite out of "The Cobra."

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