Before Carl Froch burst into boxing's top tier of super middleweights, before he charged into the final of Showtime's Super Six tournament, before he plowed through Lucian Bute, there was a night in Denmark against Mikkel Kessler that Froch will never forget. It was May 2010. Froch was undefeated, a fast rising contender coming off a knockout win over former middleweight kingpin Jermain Taylor and a split decision win over Andre Dirrell.
He came to Denmark, Kessler's backyard, with momentum. He boxed well, landed some big shots... and lost. It was a close fight, perhaps the best of the Super Six. And it was one Froch has a hard time letting go.
"If that fight would have been on British soil, same punches landed, same fight," Froch said, "I would've got the decision."
Three years later, Froch will get that shot: On Saturday Froch (30-2) will defend his IBF title against Kessler (46-2), the WBA champion, at the O2 Arena in London (HBO, 6 p.m. ET). Much has changed since the last meeting. Froch rallied from the loss to make the finals of the tournament, losing a decision to Andre Ward. In his next fight, he reclaimed a piece of the 168-pound crown with a dramatic knockout win over Bute.
You can say what you want about Bute, you can say he was overrated, say he built his record against the scraps the Super Six left out, but it was a pick 'em fight, and Froch dominated.
"It's like Rocky Balboa said, it's not how many times you get knocked down, it's how you get yourself back up and come back and keep coming back," Froch said. "I've lost a couple of close fights, but I've never been outclassed."
Kessler's career? It's gone a different direction. An eye injury forced Kessler to bow out of the Super Six after the Froch fight. He rebounded to win three straight fights, the last, a knockout of Brian Magee, earned him the WBA belt. He has looked good, though he has done it against lesser competition.
Yet on Saturday, Froch says he is expecting the best of Kessler, expecting the war the two waged in 2010 to pick up right where it left off.
"I think give it two or three rounds [and] I'm going to be sending in big shots like against Bute early on," Froch said. "I know he likes to come out and take us into the ring and try to back his opponents up. And that's what he did to me in the first fight because I was flat-footed and I was tired, I was letting him throw the right hand to the body."
"But this [time] is going to be totally different. It's going to be none of that this time, he's going to be shocked. People are going to be shocked."
For both, much is at stake. A rematch with Ward is a possibility, though given how Ward dismantled both easily, there will be little interest. There is a unification fight with WBO titleholder Robert Stieglitz, a German who would generate interest in Europe. And there are high profile fights at light heavyweight, most notably against Bernard Hopkins, who says he will pack his passport and go anywhere for a big fight.
"It would be an honor to fight somebody like [Hopkins]," Froch said. "I feel I know how to beat him. But it's one step at a time. I'm not a light heavyweight, so he's going to have to come down to a catch weight. I don't expect him to do super middle, but don't expect me to do light heavyweight."
After years as a road warrior, after going to the U.S. to fight Taylor, Ward and Glen Johnson, to Denmark to fight Kessler, Froch has enjoyed the comforts of fighting at home. He has been strongly supported in Nottingham, England, where he fought his last two fights, and the rematch with Kessler sold out the 18,000-seat O2 in a few hours.
Free from the burden of traveling to hostile territory, Froch believes he has gained new strength.
"If you're away from home, it can affect you a little bit negatively," Froch said. "And being at home affects you in a positive way because you're rewarded for the work you do. I think the home crowd advantage in boxing is an advantage, and I'm going to relish in that because when I'm letting my shots go and landing and backing him up, the crowd will be erupting and going crazy as opposed to hearing a pin drop."
Three years ago Froch's rise was halted, his ascension stalled in a fight he believed he won. He can't let it go, won't let it go. But he will get a chance to even the score.