ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- We in boxing bellyache all the time about fighters who duck dangerous opponents, refuse to take chances and turn prizefights into glorified wrestling matches. Carl Froch, the reigning WBC super middleweight champion, is none of those things -- yet he's not very popular.
Since 2008, Froch has fought a murderers' row of 168-pound opponents: Jean Pascal, Jermain Taylor, Andre Dirrell, Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham. On Saturday, Froch had an entertaining and action-packed fight with Glen Johnson in the second semifinal of Showtime's Super Six tournament. Froch stood toe-to-toe with Johnson, a surprisingly spry 42-year-old former champion who had earned the fight after knocking out Allan Green last November. Froch absorbed some heavy shots from Johnson but fired back far more of his own on his way to a comfortable majority decision.
Now, it doesn't surprise me that only 2,286 fans attended the fight Boardwalk Hall. Johnson, a Jamaican who fights out of Miami, has no fan base. And Froch, born and raised in Nottingham, England, has fought just three times in the United States. What did surprise me is that compared to British stars like Lennox Lewis, Joe Calzaghe and Ricky Hatton, Froch is an unknown. He has very few sponsorships and, outside of Nottingham, not much support in the U.K.
I took the question of why to Froch's promoter, Eddie Hearn, who signed Froch to a five-fight deal last month after Froch decided to part ways with promoter Mick Hennessy.
"It's all about profile and exposure on the U.K.'s biggest sports broadcasts," Hearn said. "And he hasn't had that."
Froch's previous four fights in the Super Six were broadcast back in the U.K. by Primetime, a fringe satellite network that has a fraction of the viewership of the Sky Network. If Sky is HBO, Primetime is Epix.
"The British fans should love watching Carl Froch but they haven't had the opportunity to do so," Hearn said. "They have to watch him on YouTube. The people that watched the Jermain Taylor fight on YouTube said, 'Wow, this guy is incredible.' But he hasn't had enough exposure on sports shows, sports magazines, national media. Because he hasn't been on Sky, he hasn't had that automatic platform."
Hearns has big plans for Froch. He says Sky executives -- who picked up the fight only three-and-a-half weeks ago -- were "over the moon" about Froch's performance. Hearns says he plans to do a media blitz with Froch when he gets back to the U.K., plugging him onto sports shows and talk shows all over Great Britain. When Froch fights Andre Ward in the Super Six finals in the fall, Hearns says, all of England will be watching.
Put a camera or a microphone in front of Froch and he sells himself. He's young, good-looking (at least his model girlfriend, Rachel Cordingly, thinks so) and a natural tough talker. At the postfight news conference on Saturday, Froch dismissed talk that Johnson was a difficult opponent, claimed Ward won't know what to do with his style and smacked around IBF champion (and non-Super Six participant) Lucian Bute for having the audacity to think he was the best 168-pounder in the world. If Froch isn't a marketable fighter, no one is.
One other thing on Froch-Ward, and this is aimed directly at Hearn, Showtime's Ken Hershman and Ward's promoter, Dan Goossen: Do not put the Super Six final in Las Vegas. The best way to crush the momentum this tournament has picked up over the last two months is to hold its marquee matchup in front of 3,500 fans at the cavernous MGM Grand or Mandalay Bay. It makes zero sense. Neither Froch nor Ward has ever fought in Vegas and there is no reason to believe any of their fans would travel there.
This is a New York fight. Froch (28-1) has now had two entertaining wins in the Northeast -- Saturday's win over Johnson and a 2009 knockout of Taylor. He is starting to win over fans in the region. And if Hearn does his job over the next few months, Froch will certainly have a few more fans willing to make the (relatively) short trip to New York to see Froch fight for the first time at the newly renovated Madison Square Garden, which may have a few extra open dates if the NBA is tied up in a lockout.
Ward? I'll admit, New York doesn't do much for him. He's a West Coast fighter who has built up a strong fan base in his hometown of Oakland, Calif.. But Froch, not surprisingly, has no intention of going to the Bay Area for the final. Ward has a good pedigree. He's a well-spoken former Olympic gold medalist -- the last U.S. Olympic gold medalist, actually -- who should be a bigger star nationally. Maybe a big fight in Manhattan is just what he needs.
There it is: Put this fight on the East Coast, do a big promotion in the media capital of the world and watch how well it does.
Two observations about Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.'s win over Sebastian Zbik on Saturday in Los Angeles:
First, good for Chavez. He has come a long way from the fledgling fighter who rode his father's name to modest box-office and pay-per-view success in Mexico. Chavez is nowhere near a complete fighter but he had a formidable challenge in Zbik, who peppered him with jabs and combinations throughout the fight. Zbik took the fight to Chavez and Chavez responded, wearing Zbik down with crisp power punches to the body and a steady diet of punches that came from all angles. According to CompuBox, Chavez landed 135 more punches than Zbik and 93 more power shots. It was, unquestionably, a solid performance.
Second, this title means absolutely nothing unless Chavez defends it against Sergio Martinez. The WBC -- which ranks as one of the most corrupt, money-grabbing organizations in sports -- inexplicably stripped Martinez of the title after Martinez elected to take a more lucrative HBO fight with Sergiy Dzinziruk before facing Zbik. In exchange, the WBC tagged Martinez with "champion emeritus" status, which, in theory, gives Martinez the option to be Chavez's next opponent.
Martinez's promoter, Lou DiBella, says Martinez will exercise that option immediately. And Chavez told HBO's Max Kellerman in the ring on Saturday that he was interested in the matchup. There is one problem: Bob Arum.
Arum has no desire to match Chavez against Martinez. Chavez is his golden ticket. If he's going to lose -- and against Martinez, whose talent is on a completely different level than Chavez's, he would be a huge underdog -- he's going to lose to someone in Arum's stable. Which is why Arum rambled on Saturday about how Martinez wasn't a pay-per-view draw while potential opponents -- junior middleweight opponents -- Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito were.
Rubbish. Cotto is a popular HBO fighter who draws well in New York. Margarito was a reasonably popular fighter but his string of bad behavior (an attempt to load his gloves with plaster before his fight with Shane Mosley) and bad losses to Mosley and Manny Pacquiao have diminished his appeal. Really, the only reason we are even talking about either as pay-per-view draws is because both have fought Pacquiao, who could sell 400,000 pay per views fighting his publicist, Fred Sternburg.
Arum knows the WBC won't make Chavez fight Martinez, either. The WBC is a Mexico-based organization that has a longstanding relationship with Chavez Sr., who held a version of the WBC belt for most of his decorated career. It will come up with an excuse for Chavez to keep his belt and sanction a fall fight between Chavez and Cotto. It's nauseating. But it's boxing.
Chavez Jr. is the only one who can do anything about it. His father was a proud champion who routinely accepted the most difficult challenges. If Chavez recognizes the belt he's wearing is worthless, he should go to Arum and instruct his promoter to make a deal with Martinez. It's a fight that would draw well in the Staples Center and, despite Arum's insistence to the contrary, would generate solid returns on pay per view.
Riding up the Boardwalk Hall escalator around 7:30 p.m. on Saturday I heard a surprising sound: noise. You don't usually hear much this early in a show, when preliminary bouts are fought in front of a handful of friends and family. Not so in the case of Zsolt Erdei, the Hungarian former light heavyweight and cruiserweight champion who relocated to New York last year to try to make a name for himself in the United States.
About 700 people made the two-hour commute from New York to Atlantic City to see Erdei demolish former super middleweight titlist Byron Mitchell in a sixth-round knockout. It was an impressive performance by Erdei, who connected with sharp, accurate punches that kept Mitchell off balance and reeling all night.
Erdei hinted he wanted a fight with Bernard Hopkins. That's not happening. A more realistic possibility is Jean Pascal, the former light heavyweight champion who is looking for his next fight. Pascal's and Erdei's styles are compatible and it's a good test for two fighters who are, in different ways, at a crossroads of their careers. Make it happen, HBO.
"DiBella has to get off his a-- and stop waiting for HBO to build Martinez up. The guy is 35 years old, you can't wait around."-- Top Rank's Bob Arum, who criticized Sergio Martinez's promoter, Lou DiBella, for Martinez's lack of mainstream popularity. Ironically, last month Arum praised DiBella as a promoter who understands the importance of a proper promotion.
"I'm sick of sitting there and being criticized by a man whose legacy will be the destruction he did to an industry."-- DiBella's response, to boxingscene.com, on Sunday.
"The reason Bute wanted Johnson to win was to get me out of the division. He's scared and worried about fighting me. Bute knows I'll absolutely smash him to bits."-- Carl Froch on Lucian Bute, who was ringside in Atlantic City to support longtime friend Glen Johnson.
"There is a reason why he came into the ring 165 pounds. I know people close to him and his camp and I know exactly [what] he was taking. It wasn't Flintstone vitamins!! But it is what it is. I should [have] beat him anyways, but it wasn't me that night. Ortiz wasn't him either, lol."-- Former welterweight champion Andre Berto, who clearly suggested on Twitter last week that Victor Ortiz, who defeated Berto in April, used performance-enhancing drugs in their fight.
"Wow, why does everyone's mind go straight to PEDs. Calm down everyone, I was just talking about Ortiz eating his spinach like Popeye, lol."-- Berto, who a few hours later offered a feeble defense for his previous tweets.
As has been noted in this space before, boxing news conferences have become part celebration, part attempt by non-journalists to scream their opinions at people in positions of power. On Saturday in Room 320 at Boardwalk Hall, a member of Froch's team consistently interrupted the postfight press conference with loud, over-the-top cheers for the fighter. As the event was winding down, Froch's supporter interrupted a question with a request for Froch to send "a message to his fans back in England." Whatever that message was, no reporter wrote it down.
Five career crossroads fights that I would like to see. The winner moves on, the loser goes to the back of the pack.
Andre Berto vs. Shane Mosley: Some of the shine has come off Berto following his loss to Ortiz. Almost all of the shine is off of Mosley, whose career is on life support after an anemic effort against Pacquiao. These two were scheduled to tangle last year before the earthquake in Haiti scuttled those plans. As a small, HBO Boxing After Dark fight, it's passable.
Glen Johnson vs. Adrian Diaconu: This one could have some fireworks. Both are in the middle of a rough stretch of losses, both are come-forward fighters and both are on the back end of their careers. There is almost no way Johnson-Diaconu would not be entertaining as an undercard of a significant fight.
Kermit Cintron vs. Cornelius Bundrage: Bundrage will (finally) defend his IBF junior middleweight title when he takes on mandatory challenger Sechew Powell on June 25. If he wins, a fight with Cintron, who will end a 14-month absence against Carlos Molina next month, could be right in his wheelhouse. Bundrage has been very protective of his title and Cintron is dangerous enough to make the fight interesting but not dangerous enough that Bundrage knows he will be wiped out.
Alredo Angulo vs. Serhiy Dzinziruk: Angulo, who racked up four straight knockouts before a visa issue put him on the shelf last July, badly needs a fight. And Dzinziruk, who put up a surprisingly entertaining effort against Martinez in his last fight, needs to get back in the ring before the shine wears off. It's a classic boxer vs. puncher matchup that could go either way.
Erik Morales vs. Marco Antonio Barrera: Morales-Barrera IV? Makes some sense. Morales proved he had something left in his close, physical war with Marcos Maidana. And Barrera has won two low-level fights in a row since his 2009 loss to Amir Khan. These two Mexican warriors are still huge stars in their home country. A fourth installment would do well.
10. For all the talk about promoters getting in the way of good fights, HBO and Showtime counterprogramming each other like they did on Saturday isn't good for the sport, either.
9. I don't care what anyone says: A matchup between Martinez and Hopkins has been discussed by both sides and executives at a premium network. It may not happen this year, but it still has a strong chance of happening.
8. Go away, Edison Miranda. He won a lackluster decision over Rayco Sanders on the Froch-Johnson undercard. Worse, Miranda didn't want to be there to begin with. I was told Miranda had to be convinced by fight officials to follow through with the bout during fight week because he wasn't interested in making the contracted weight. There was a time when Miranda, 30, was an exciting fighter. Not anymore.
7. Juan Manuel Marquez should be very careful who he picks to fight in his July tune-up. Negotiations with David Diaz have hit an impasse over money. Marquez better make sure he chooses someone he can beat and look good against, or a $5 million fight with Pacquiao could disappear.
6. Chris Arreola vs. the winner of Wladimir Klitschko-David Haye is intriguing.
5. Mikey Garcia-Guillermo Rigondeaux is, too.
4. If I'm Lou DiBella, I'm getting on a plane and dragging Felix Sturm to the United States to fight on the undercard of Martinez's next show. Martinez-Sturm is a relevant middleweight unification fight. Problem is, it's an anonymous one.
3. Erislandy Lara is going to be a tougher opponent for Paul Williams next month than most people think.
2. At some point, Joe Calzaghe is going to look at what's happening in the super middleweight division and decide he wants a piece of the action. The division was never this good when he was in it.
1. Best wishes to decorated former super featherweight champion Genaro Hernandez, who is battling a serious illness. Get well soon, champ.