There could be no complaints this time. It was one of those were the ref didn’t even bother taking up the count. Charlie Fitch was jumping in before Groves’ body has come to a complete rest on the canvas floor. We could all see the left leg folded under his body and the right arm hanging listlessly on the bottom rope, but Fitch could see more. He could see into his eyes. The challenger was gone, the fight was over, and Froch had retained his WBA and IBF Super Middleweight belts by way of vicious eighth round knockout.
Little did we know that that savagiferous overhand right would be Carl Froch’s final punch. After thirteen years as a professional in the toughest sport in the world, the four-time World Super Middleweight champion has today announced his retirement from boxing. With a final hurrah in Las Vegas failing to materialise, the fire in the belly is all but extinguished. Put simply, the Cobra’s venom has finally dried up.
The plaudits will come thick and fast today, as they inevitably do on such occasions. But the truth is that Froch was sorely underrated and underappreciated throughout the vast majority of his stellar career: a lack of recognition that stung the Englishman more than any blows he received in the ring.
Born in Nottingham in 1977, Froch grew up in the Brian Clough era and his early dreams were of wearing the red of Forest at the City Ground. A visit to the Phoenix Amateur Boxing Club altered those boyhood aspirations, however, and two ABA middleweight titles confirmed his new career path was the correct one.
Upon turning pro he cut a belligerent swathe through the domestic scene, capturing the English Super Middleweight title in his tenth bout and the Commonwealth strap two fights later. In 2008 he finally got his shot at world honours when he faced Jean Pascal on home turf. Despite entering the ring with a perforated eardrum and cracked rib, Froch won a unanimous decision after 12 brutal rounds to claim the WBC belt and the warrior legend began.
The victory sparked a run of contests against the very best the world had to offer. Against former undisputed middleweight king, Jermain Taylor, Froch was dropped for the first time in his career and behind on two scorecards going into the final stanza. Cue a Rocky-esque three minutes in which a forlorn Taylor was battered around the ring before the ref stepped in with barely 15 seconds to go.
These elite-level wars were the type of performances that normally beget mainstream adulation, but outside boxing circles the achievements went largely unnoticed. How different it could have been had Eddie Hearn, Matchroom and a Sky Sports bandwagon been part of Team Froch back then.
He called out the unbeaten great, Joe Calzaghe, but the Welshman had all but retired and the fight never happened. So Froch entered Showtime’s well-intentioned, but fatally flawed, Super Six tournament to ostensibly determine the greatest Super Middleweight on the planet.
He battled past Andre Dirrell in Nottingham, lost to Mikel Kessler in Denmark, dominated Arthur Abraham in Finland, and despatched Glen Johnson in Atlantic City to earn a place in the final where he was out-boxed by a very special Andre Ward. Along the way he had lost, then recaptured, then lost again his WBC belt.
The challenges kept appearing and Froch kept accepting them without hesitation. He stopped the unbeaten and highly-rated Lucian Bute inside five rounds to claim the IBF title before he was for once afforded a slightly easier day at the office against Yusuf Mack. Next up was a revenge mission against the Viking Warrior, Kessler. Froch was excellent that night in the O2 Arena as he added the WBA title to his collection.
By now a new generation of British Super Middleweights, led by George Groves and James DeGale, were charging through the ranks and Groves’ victory over DeGale demanded that he be given the shot at the champ. Though arriving at the tail end of his career, a domestic rivalry was exactly what Froch needed and, despite all his previous achievements, it is the fights with Groves that define Carl Froch in the British consciousness.
The Cobra won both contests, the first somewhat controversially, the second decisively. But it was during the pre-fight build-ups that the reason for Froch’s relative lack of universal acclaim became apparent: the guy simply struggled when tasked with connecting with the general public.
He was never going to be lovable like a Hatton or a Bruno, but neither did he have it in him to play the incorrigible bad guy like a Eubank. Accusations of arrogance abound but the naturally reserved Froch is guiltier of ill-conceived attempts to sell himself and belatedly garner the praise he craved than any genuine deep-seated pretention. The product was fine but the marketing always left a lot to be desired.
For discipline and dedication to his profession, it is impossible to fault him. And in taking on all-comers in a six year stretch of the toughest fights available, Froch displayed a warrior spirit and an ability to absorb pain that is second to none. Brawn tended to take precedence over brain when he was between the ropes but his boxing skills were often over looked, particularly an unorthodox jab he spat out from a low starting position to keep opponents at bay and in position for a right hand that was more cudgel than fist. Ward was a different class but he beat everyone else he faced and never gave us a boring night in the process.
Ranking across different eras and weights is a whimsically subjective task, but Froch’s name is not out of place just below post-war greats such as Lewis, Calzaghe and Buchanan and alongside the likes of Eubank, Benn and Honeyghan. And had he been blessed with Hatton’s charm, Naseem’s showmanship, or Benn and Eubank’s enduringly spiteful rivalry, he may even be higher still.
In announcing the end of his fighting journey, Froch declared that he has “nothing left to prove.” That statement is as true today as it would have been had he delivered it at any point in the last four or five years. Enjoy your retirement Carl, you’ve certainly earned it.