The Right Time to Leave
Martin Theobald
14
July
2015

It was announced on Tuesday 14th July the retirement from the sport of boxing by a certain Carl Froch.  Four time world super middleweight champion, runner up in the Super Six, the man who coined the verb 'Cobra'd' and who leaves behind a legacy in the sport that most could only dream of.  Not without controversy through the years and with two defeats in his 35 fight career, we take a look back at what has made Carl's career so special, and the highlights to go with it.


Amateur Days

Froch spent his formative years living with his mum in the pub environment in Nottingham.  He started to learn how to box at the age of nine, taking part in his first match at the age of eleven.  Says his mum Carol:


“It was after watching the Rocky films – he loved them and wanted to start boxing. He was only nine and  too young because you have to be 11 to join a club, so he would go and watch the other lads train.  When he was 11 he took to it like a duck to water, and that year became the schoolboy champion of the year. He was a natural.”


A two time Amateur Boxing Association middleweight champion and the first ever senior British fighter to win a medal at the World Championships, Froch had a glittering career with the head guards and heavy gloves which ended with a record of 88 wins and just 8 losses.  In 2002 he took the decision to leave the amateur sport and embark on what would be a fruitful step into professional boxing.


Early Years (2002 -2008)
It may seem a large time period to define as the 'early years', but in professional terms for Froch these six years were almost spent in the wilderness looking for large fights.  


His first nine fights were the standard mix of journeymen and fighters designed to test young prospects.  Seven of the fights ended in stoppage, with two fighters taking a formative Froch the distance - the longest of which being over eight rounds.  Those fights took place over 18 months, and lead to his first title fight in November of 2003.  His opponent was Alan Page, who at the time held a similar record to Froch of eight wins, no defeats.  It is the type of fight that promoters are criticised for not making today - two prospects at the start of their career not afraid to put their '0' on the line.  Froch stopped Page in round seven of ten, in the process capturing the English super middleweight title.  Page only went on to fight once more - perhaps the first example of someone being 'Cobra'd'.


Two fights later in March 2003 Froch took on another stern test in Charles Adamu for the Commonwealth super middleweight title.  Adamu brought a record to the ring of eleven victories and just the one loss, and pushed Froch hard in the fight.  Froch did drop Adamu in the eighth round, and claimed a points victory of 116-113 to take his second professional title.  At this time the momentum was starting to build, and Froch had started to be recognised as a fighter that was controlling the domestic scene at the weight.  Of course at the time there was another British super middleweight who was making world, not domestic headlines - Joe Calzaghe.  Their careers would continue to intertwine despite not meeting in the ring.


Froch defended the Commonwealth title once, before putting it on the line to challenge for the vacant British super middleweight title against Damon Hague in September 2004.  Damon was a more experienced fighter at the time, having stepped in the ring 27 times, picking up 23 wins.  That experience paid little dividends as he was blown out by Froch in the first round, completing the hattrick of English, Commonwealth and British titles.  Froch went on to defend these titles a variety of times - in total nine more by October 2008.  This included one win over Brian Magee - a future Mikkel Kessler opponent, as well as British ring legend Robin Reid.  Froch also experienced his first fight on foreign shores during this time, stopping the Costa Rican Henry Porras in 2005 in Califaornia.


Throughout these years Froch was still out of the boxing spotlight.  He struggled for the recognition of his peers - Joe Calzaghe by 2005 was eight years in to his reign as WBO super middleweight champion and was only a year away from his own real breakout fight against American Jeff Lacy.  Froch used the media time that he received to call out the Welshman, determined to try and secure his own British super-fight and the opportunity to capture world glory.  The calls fell on deaf ears, with Calzaghe instead opting to stay at the international level and defend his world titles while looking to unify the division, which he did in 2007 when he defeated Mikkel Kessler on points to secure the WBA, WBO and WBC titles (he had previously captured the IBF title from Sakio Bika in 2006).


The First World Title

2008 saw Froch given his first opportunity to capture world level honours.  His opponent that night was the durable Jean Pascal, who carried with him to the ring a record of 21 victories and no losses.  At the time, Froch held 23 victories from 23 fights.  The fight was a war of attrition, happening in front of Froch's home fans at the Nottingham Trent Arena.  Froch picked up the gold via unanimous decision, putting him in a position to enter the biggest boxing tournament of its day.


Super Six

2009 was the year that the 'Super Six' was launched.  By this point Calzaghe had relinquished the titles at super middleweight and moved up to light heavyweight - taking on two legends of the sport in Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr.  Although Froch still called for the fight to happen, he instead turned his attention to the newly formed concept of pitting the best against the best in the super middleweight division.


The tournament was conceived as six fighters (Carl Froch, Andre Ward, Arthur Abraham, Mikkel Kessler, Andre Dirrell and Jermain Taylor) in a single group stage - each fighting three times.  3 points for a KO/TKO win, 2 for a points/DQ win and 1 for a draw - no points were handed out here for a loss.  The top four from the group stage would progress to the semi finals, and then the winners face off for the right to call themselves the best in the division.  


The tournament however was fraught with difficulties.  Jermain Talylor withdrew after the first round of fights and was replaced by  Allan Green.  Glen Johnson stepped in to replace Mikkel Kessler after the second round of fights.  Andre Dirrell withdrew himself after the second round of fights, not to be replaced.


Despite the turmoil of fighters withdrawing, the competition continued.  Froch picked up his first loss in the process - after beating Andre Dirrell in the second round of fights in a contentious points decision in Nottingham, he travelled to Denmark to fight Mikkel Kessler in April 2010.  The logistics of the fight were fraught with difficulties - at the time, there was a volcanic ash cloud over Iceland, meaning that travel around Europe was disrupted.  Many assumed for this reason the fight to be cancelled - including Froch, who was indulging during the week of the fight in a barbecue at home.  He was eventually flown over on the Tuesday afternoon of fight week via private jet.  In what was a war between two come forwards fighters, Kessler won the fight via a 12 round unanimous decision, handing Froch his first loss and relieving the Nottingham man of his WBC title.


Special mention must also be made of Froch's fight with Jermain Taylor in his first round of fights.  Taylor dropped Froch in round 3 in their fight in Conneticut.  Although he made his way back in to the fight, it is highly unlikely that he was going to get the decision if the fight was allowed to go to points.  Going in to the 12th and final round Froch knew that only a KO would give him victory.  He went looking, took the alpha male stance, bit on his gumshield and preyed on Taylor.  Relentless are the punches - head, body, head, body.  This is after already laying gloves on Taylor for the first two and a half minutes.  Taylor slipped, rolled and threw back when he could.

f Hollywood wrote the ending you wouldn't believe it.  50 seconds to go, Froch downs Taylor in the corner.  The ref allows him to take his feet, back to the centre of the ring.  The Cobra approaches - knowing that he needs to finish the fight and only 30 seconds on the clock.  23 seconds of the final round remain when Froch pins Taylor in the corner.  An assault takes place on Taylor - a barrage of fierce punches.  Taylor's gloves find a new residency by his ears.  Froch's gloves find their home on Taylor's chin, nose - anywhere that can continue to inflict damage.  Sixteen seconds left, the referee steps in.  Taylor couldn't see out the final bell that would have likely given him the victory.  Froch picks up the most unlikely of victories.


Kessler withdrew from the tournament following his win over Froch, and at the same time vacated his newly won title.  Froch got the opportunity to regain it in his very next fight, taking on rugged German Arthur Abraham in his final group stage fight.  Abraham was fearsome - 31 wins and only a single loss (to Andre Dirrell via disqualification), many fancied the German to be victorious.  The fight took place on neutral ground in Helsinki, and saw Froch dominate the German renowned for his high defence and plod forward style.  Froch took him apart and won every round on all three judges scorecards aside from one, who gave Abraham a single round.  


Two wins from three fights saw Froch come second in the table and face Glen Johnson in the semi finals.  The fight took place in Atlantic City, America, and was a huge test for Froch against the wily American veteran.  At the time, Johnson had 67 fights under his belt, winning 51 of them.  He had only had a single fight in the Super Six, beating Allan Green.  Froch won via split decision, to set up a fight with Andre Ward in the final.  Ward had come through with victories over Kessler, Green and Abraham and approached the fight with a record of 24 wins with no losses.


What Ward wasn't renowned for was an aesthetically pleasing style.  They clashed in December 2011, again in Atlantic City.  In a fight that saw Froch try to be the aggressor, Ward controlled the Brit, tying him up when needed and using a defensive masterclass.  Froch was clearly frustrated throughout the fight by the lack of engagement from the American.  Ward won the fight and relieved Froch of his WBC title via a unanimous decision.  This left Froch with no titles, and a few problems.


Lucian Bute

Despite the fact that Froch had continued to take on the best fighters available to him, he wasn't getting the exposure of some of his luminaries.  By this point Calzaghe had been 3 years retired, and there were issues over TV deals for Froch.  He had been fighting on a mixture of ITV (where they were replaying his fights in non prime-time slots) and the doomed Setanta.  It was prior to the Ward fight that Froch lined up with Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn.  Eddie gave the option to Froch of a come home, easy fight - or straight in to the world title mix again.  Being the warrior that he is renowned for, Froch picked the hardest option possible.  Now with Hearn's links to Sky Sports, Froch was able to start his transition to superstar.  Matchroom dug deep in to their financial pockets and pulled off a coup - they enticed over to Nottingham the IBF super middleweight title holder Lucian Bute.


Bute came over with 30 wins, no losses.  He is of Romanian descent, but fought out of Canada.  He didn't take up the offer to participate in the Super Six tournament, instead choosing his own direction.  A renowned puncher, he had stopped 6 of last 7 opponents (the only non-stoppage was Froch adversary Glen Johnson who he beat on points).  Bute entered the fight as bookies favourite - he looked calm as he rose through the Nottingham Arena floor, accompanied by his ring walk music from Nickelback.  He may not have travelled much to fight, but he seemed to take in his stride the hostile atmosphere that greeted him that night.  


The fight started well for Froch, who could seemingly land at will on Bute without having to take too much in return.  As was usual for Froch, his style of 'take some to give some' was on show.  


In the fifth round, the fight (and arguably Froch's career) went to a whole different level.  Froch pounded Bute.  He laid lefts and right to his head and body.  On two occassions Bute's head went snapping back, akin to a car crash victim.  The referee looked on throughout the round, ready to relieve Bute of the battering he was taking.  He did step in momentarily in the round, giving Bute a count and the opportunity to reset his senses.  But Froch is called the 'Cobra' for a reason.  Bute was wounded, regressing back to the ropes at each opportunity clearly now aware of the heavy hitting power of the Nottingham fighter.  It was over shorty after, Froch not relenting in his attack and leaving Bute slumped on the middle rope, a fighter who had his heart and his face broken in equal measures.  Nobody had expected the manner in which the fight took place.  


Froch had taken the opportunity of fighting on Sky Sports with both hands.  With a world title back around his waist, he focussed his attention on one of his losses.


Mikkel Kessler

Kessler is a stalwart of the super middleweight division over the last 15 years.  His name has been mentioned multiple times thus far in this article and his career intertwines with that of Froch.  He had the fight with Calzaghe that Froch so craved (he was unable to beat the Welshman).  After the Bute win, Froch took a routine victory over Yusuf Mack in November 2012.  He then set up a clash with Kessler for May 2013 at the O2 arena in London.  Kessler was a man of his word, offering to fight Froch in his own country after his previous victory in Denmark.  The fight lived up to expectations - at times Kessler was wobbled, taking the best that Froch could deliver.  Towards the end of the 12 rounds the referee became an interested party, with Kessler not always able to throw back as Froch displayed the engine that he is renowned for, and carrying on his own attacks through to the final bell.  He picked up the WBA title to add to his own IBF title while claiming the unanimous decision.  Many wondered if this was the time to hang the gloves up - but just as Froch had been vociferous in calling out Calzaghe all those years ago, there was a voice on the domestic scene that was growing louder by the day.  This was an itch the Froch had to scratch.


Froch Groves 1

For George Groves, read a young Carl Froch.  Undefeated at the time, he had cleaned up the domestic super middleweight division having beaten his amateur and now professional rival James DeGale, as well as future world title challenger Paul Smith.  He had taken on old Froch victim Glen Johnson, although he was well past his prime.  But he was struggling now for exposure, not fighting on the major platforms (although finding a home on BoxNation), Groves was taking the familiar route of calling out the experienced veteran for a world title shot.


Froch bit, and the fight was set for November 2013 in Manchester.  The build up was intense.  The memories will live long of Froch and Groves sitting on the Ringside seats on Sky Sports, Groves taunting Froch ("are you going to cry Carl?") and clearly getting to him in a way that other fighters had failed to do.  Eddie Hearn sat between the two as barbs were fired in each direction.  Groves continued his verbal assault all the way to fight night.  There was turbulance outside of the ring for Groves - a change of trainer from Adam Booth to Paddy Fitzpatrick at the start of the training camp was seen as high risk for the Londoner.  


Come fight night, Groves was the underdog.  Having never fought at the level of Froch it was seen as unlikely that he would be able to trouble the veteran.  Groves carried a record of 19-0 at the time, in comparison to Froch having 31 wins and two losses.  The fight exploded.


First round, Groves comes out the sharper fighter and dictated the pace.  He used his crouched style and feinted the jab multiple times to no effect.  Froch stood his ground and preserved his energy, watching his younger foe throw the jab.  Froch gave up the middle of the ring, happy to circle the ropes and go on the back foot.  The times that Froch let his hands go in the opening round, Groves covered adeptly - and in return was able to land his jab more successfully than Froch.  With 20 seconds of the round left Groves hunted Froch on the ropes.  Lefts and rights were thrown, before he took a step back to the centre.  Froch followed, showing his usual instinct of 'take some to land some' - he had taken his own and was now happy to throw back.  As he looked to push out his own right hand Groves threw a blisteringly quick right hand of his own, dropping the Cobra to the canvas.  15 seconds remained on the clock, during which time Froch got back to his feet - Groves tried to capitalise for the last five seconds but not long enough remained.


Froch came out groggy for the next round, clearly not having cleared his head.  After the final bell of the fight he famously stated he didn't remember being put down by Groves - this explains the drowsiness he displayed through rounds two and three as Groves continued to pressure Froch.  As the fight progressed, Froch started to display his famed engine.  Into the 'Championship Rounds' and the previously  untested Groves was seemingly flagging.  Undoubtedly he had dominated the first half of the fight, but he had not been tested in the later rounds by a fighter like Froch.  Froch put his foot down - rounds 7 & 8 were more what we were used to from Froch, taking centre ring and looking to assert himself.  Groves was still fighting back, in fact landing significant bursts of his own.  Froch though was able to control the tempo, seemingly making Groves rush his attacks.  The fight became a brawl, forearms into faces lead to a warning for Froch in the eighth.  You suspect that this was just Carl looking to rough up his opponent, sap some of  the last fight from him.  A warning was a small price to pay.  No quarter was given by either man in the 8th round - they continued to trade.  Groves took his turn to take the centre of the ring, Froch adopted his usual stance, now head clear and able to drop his left hand to waste height.  He applied the pressure again, took Groves to the ropes and and each fighter used unorthodox techniques resulting in referee Howard Foster giving both fighters a public warning.  It wasn't the last we would see his name involved.


The ninth round saw the end of this chapter.  It started as the 8th had ended - part boxing, part rough house brawl.  Howard Foster again intervened, issuing a timeout and talking to both fighters before bringing them together to box on.  Froch showed no signs of tiring, again having a huge punch output despite the distance of the fight so far and the war that had ensued.  Groves for his part displayed bravery - he didn't back down from the Cobra and in fact applied his own pressure.  His bravery was undoubtedly his undoing - with a minute and a half of the round left referee Howard Foster pulled Groves away in a headlock, stating the fighter was not defending himself in the manner of a boxer in control.  At the time Froch had him against the ropes - undoubtedly in trouble, but unable to defend himself?  It was only 30 seconds previously that Groves was throwing his own combinations.  


Boos rang out around the arena as Froch conducted his obligatory post fight interview.  The seeds were sewn for what would be the final chapter in Carl Froch's career.


Froch Groves 2

#RematchorRetire.  The Twitter campaign started by George Groves, who was determined to get Froch back in the ring and right what he saw as a wrong.  Groves had gone from villain before the first fight to getting a standing ovation post fight.  He had the public backing for the fight, but as far as Froch was concerned he was a part of the past, not the future.  What changed his mind is unknown - the famous Groves mind games?  The allure of a huge stadium fight? The fact he wanted to shut up this pretender completely?  Whatever it was, the rematch was signed off for 31st May 2014 at Wembley stadium.  Of course this instigated the obligatory mind games of Groves - this time utilising his skills with a Rubiks Cube in the press conferences.  Froch seemed less bothered this time around - perhaps being shook in the first round of their first fight showed him that he couldn't let emotions get in the way of this dangerous competitor.  Undoubtedly Groves had got to him mentally and physically - this time around he seemed more detached.


On that May night, Groves shone in the limelight.  He made his way in front of over 70,000 fans to the ring on a red double decker bus.  He embraced the showbiz element that had been driven by the public interest.  Froch for his part seemed to take it in his stride - 70,000 at Wembley or 18,000 in his home town of Nottingham, it seemed to make little difference.


The fight panned out similar to the first.  Although Groves didn't get the same explosive success he had in the first fight he was still able to test Froch, make him react and feel his punches.  Froch was clearly a more wary fighter from the start, not taking the risks that nearly cost him in the first fight.  Again the two were happy to trade, exchanging multiple punches in the middle of the ring, covering from each other on the ropes.  It was the eighth round though that signalled the end of the fight - and ultimately Froch's career inside of the ring.  


30 seconds left.  Froch stalks Groves against the ropes - not throwing a huge amount, but enough to keep him wary.  He goes to throw the left hook - not with power but precision.  Up goes Groves right glove to protect the cheek, his left hand goes wayward as his defensive walls crumble.  Froch spots the gap down the middle created by the feint hook and BANG........the fight is over.  A sweeter shot may never have been seen in a British ring.  Groves' legs went from under him as he resembled a fold-away box on the canvas.  The ref immediately covered over him and waved the fight off - Groves showed his fighting spirit by attempting to get to his feet, his natural inclination to continue the battle.  His legs however hadn't recovered, and he resembled more one of the revellers in the stadium who had over indulged in over-priced lager than a world champion boxer.  The ticker tape fell and Froch proposed to his then girlfriend in what felt a chapter closing moment.


Retirement


It has taken Froch over a year since his grand moment at Wembley to formally announce his retirement.  Initially his focus was on having a final fight where he would headline Vegas, the fight capital of the world.  The mooted opponent was Mexican Julio Cesar Chavez Jr - the man carried the name to attract an American audience and was not deemed a major threat to Froch.  However Chavez came unstuck against unfancied Andrzej Fonfarain April 2015, blowing out the water any hopes of the fight taking place.  There were two more options in the ring - James DeGale or Gennady Golovkin.  DeGale had been calling for the fight, hoping to emulate the success Groves had in opening his mouth.  Froch never bit this time, instead opting to vacate the IBF title that he still held and allowing DeGale to fight another former foe, Andre Dirrell, for the strap.  DeGale won this match in May, at which point Froch showed an interest in fighting the younger Brit.  Whether this was jealousy of another Brit holding a world title in his division, or just wanting to prove he was still the best in the country, he declared DeGale was an option and one he believed he would easily defeat.  


Gennady Golvkin was the other option.  The Kazakh middleweight carries a terrifying record of 33 wins and no losses, with 30 KO victories.  He fights in the division below Froch, but stated he would happily step up for the bigger fights.  Seen as the best middleweight at present (although Miguel Cotto holds the lineal belt, Cotto has shown no appetite for the fight), Golovkin is seen as 'too good for his own good' - people don't want to take the risk for the relatively low financial reward they would receive.  Froch has toyed with the idea, Golovkin's name being put to him on multiple occasions as well as his promoter Eddie Hearn.


The one name that seemed to be ruled out is the only one to hold a defeat over Froch that hasn't been avenged - Andre Ward.  When Froch discussed the American it was with a sense of doubt over whether he would actually be able to beat him.  This isn't necessarily through lack of confidence in Froch's own ability, but because he recognises that Ward plays the professional game so well.  You suspect that if Froch wanted one last fight, it would be to go out with a bang and a good old fashioned tear up, not to get in the ring with someone happy to win by making his opponent look bad.


It seems right then that he has hung them up with a bang - one in front of tens of thousands of people at Wembley.  Froch has gone on to divide opinion in the 12 months between the Wembley fight and the formal announcement.  He famously interviewed Floyd Mayweather prior to his own super fight with Manny Pacquaio, managing to drop in both his achievement of fighting in front of "80,000 people at Wembley" (we will let him off the odd thousands) and discussing his training methods of wood chopping.  As Froch states though, that is part of him mucking about, showing his lighter side that got misinterpreted through a social media storm:


"No, I wasn’t nervous because it was all pre-scripted as a part of my dry sense of humour. I had already planned it. [Head of Sky Sports Boxing] Adam Smith told me I was going to get a chance to interview Floyd Mayweather and I thought, ‘I’m only going to get one question, what shall I ask him?’ I told Eddie Hearn before I did it, ‘Listen to what I’m going to ask Floyd Mayweather.’ When I asked him, he must have thought, ‘What the f*** have you asked me there?’ He wasn’t listening to me anyway, he knows who I am but he’s not bothered, he was about to fight in the biggest fight in the history of world boxing, he’s not interested in what I ask him, so I thought I might as well have a little tongue-in-cheek dig here."


We can expect to see more of his personality in the future, as he has already revealed he will be part of the Sky Sports punditry team for big fight nights.


Personal Life

The good news here is that we are unlikely to ever see a reversal of the retirement decision.  So many fighters leave the sport on a down note and are tempted to come back to end it better - or even worse, have frittered away the money they once made and are forced back for the pound notes.  Froch has gone out on a high - even if there has been a delay.  And his money, we are lead to believe, is tucked away in a number of property investments.  


He has a beautiful wife in Rachel Cordingley, the model who has been with him since the early days.  They have two children, son Rocco and daughter Natalia - it has also been revealed that they have a third child on the way this year.  


There is an old saying in boxing - "It is hard to get out of bed in the morning and go for a run when you're wearing silk pyjamas".  Froch has earned the silk pyjamas.  He has earned the respect and accolades that are due to him.  Just this year he was awarded an MBE by the Queen for his services to sport.  There will always be those out there that will say he is no Joe Calzaghe - there will always be those that want to knock his achievements or say that he avoided a fighter like James DeGale.  But the simple fact is there is nothing left for Froch to prove or achieve.  For a man who would pride himself on his ability to take a hard punch he still has his faculties in tact - with a family about to grow, money in place and a legacy behind him it would be a foolhardy fan who would begrudge him his retirement.

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