By Ben Carey
Carl Froch’s persistent endeavour impressed two of the three judges to enable him to retain his WBC super-middleweight crown on a split decision against the fleet-footed Andre Dirrell in the Super Six tournament in Nottingham on Saturday night. Two ringside officials crucially preferred Froch’s dogged determination by scores of 115-112, whilst the other favoured Dirrell’s flashy combinations and quick reflexes, scoring it for the American 114-113.
In truth, this disappointing spectacle wasn’t easy to score predominantly due to Dirrell’s unwillingness to stand and trade combined with Froch’s inability to cut the ring off and land often and accurately against the nimble challenger who was impossible to pin down. Watching at home live on the Primetime pay-per-view network I scored the fight even.
Whilst Froch’s work was often untidy and littered with awkward lunges which frequently connected with fresh air, he was the fighter who was prepared to force the action and hit Dirrell anywhere he could (arms, legs, hey even the face, on occasions). In contrast, Dirrell was content for the most part to pick-pocket his way to victory fighting off the back foot from the southpaw stance. You don’t get points for making people miss.
The unexpected chess match took until midway through the third round to produce the fight’s first meaningful exchange. Dirrell landed a solid left hand delivered with speed and accuracy which prompted Froch to respond with a huge right hand which whistled past Dirrell’s whiskers prompting the American to stick his tongue out at the bemused Froch.
The packed Nottingham crowd, who had waited patiently until 2am to witness this Super Six Classic encounter due to the demands of American network Showtime between two unbeaten fighters, watched in virtual silence as Froch stalked Dirrell around the perimeter of the ring as the American danced out of harms way, occasionally firing off rapid one-twos which Froch mostly blocked on his gloves.
Becoming increasingly exasperated by his inability to get anything going, Froch wrestled Dirrell to the canvas in round five and was warned in the same stanza for hitting the American on the back of the head by referee Hector Afu. Unlike Jean Pascal and Jermain Taylor, who eventually relented and obliged the heavy-handed Froch in the type of trench warfare that plays to his strengths, Dirrell was never going to oblige. But whilst the challenger stuck resolutely to his gameplan of making Froch miss, he seldom made the champion pay, and what could be perceived as defensive brilliance could also be interpreted as negativity which ultimately cost Dirrell on the scorecards.
Froch enjoyed his best success in round six, nailing Dirrell with a right hand which had the American back pedalling furiously and looking uncomfortable. For the first time in the contest Dirrell was starting to lose his composure and remonstrate with referee Afu as Froch looked to employ some roughhouse tactics in close. Three times the whining Dirrell slipped to the canvas but thoughts that he was beginning to unravel were premature as Dirrell’s lightening hand speed and reflexes were again in evidence in the seventh, just nearly not often enough for the judges (and everyone else who had paid good money to watch this fight against two of the best super-middleweights in the world, frankly).
Whatever Froch lacks in speed, he makes up for in sheer persistence. Maybe he should have loosened up earlier and thrown caution to the wind and unleashed bursts of punches in threes-and-fours as instructed to do so by trainer Robert McCracken. Despite this, the WBC champion stuck resolutely to his task and a left hook and a follow-up right hand which again caught Dirrell going backwards was the highlight of round eight. At no time though was Froch ever able to place the quicksilver Dirrell under sustained pressure.
Gradually growing in confidence, Dirrell started to plant his feet and trade with Froch from the ninth round. Had Andre been slightly more positive earlier his speed of foot and punch would surely have seen him bank more rounds that were predominantly tight to score with the judges leaning towards the fighter who was coming forward – Froch.
With the fight in the balance, referee Afu (who looked very young) shocked everyone by taking a point away from Dirrell for holding in round ten. Thankfully, this decision didn’t affect the overall outcome on the judges’ scorecards. It did however light a fuse inside Dirrell which finally saw him take the fight to Froch with almost dramatic consequences. Two left lightening left hands buckled Froch’s legs which forced Carl to retreat onto the ropes as Dirrell looked capable of registering an unlikely knockdown. Fortunately for the stunned Nottingham man the bell sounded before Dirrell could mount a sustained offensive.
The cat-and-mouse action returned to its familiar pattern in the eleventh as Froch momentarily pinned Dirrell to the ropes but aside from landing a couple of blows to the body the American was once again too quick to be trapped for long. There was to be no grandstand finish from Froch that he was able to produce against Jermain Taylor last time out. Dirrell still looked relatively fresh as the fighters entered the final round and it was the American who clearly took the session by peppering Froch with ones-and-twos as the champion looked to load up and land a big punch.
It wasn’t pretty, and it certainly wasn’t effective either, but ultimately Froch got the job done against an opponent who seemed to have his measure but wasn’t prepared to commit himself often enough to prove it beyond reasonable doubt.
“It was close but I had no doubt in my mind that I had won the fight. He’s a slick, fast, counter puncher and when you combine that with the negativity he showed in there it made it a very difficult night,” said Froch afterwards.
“I don’t know how he expected to come to the champion’s hometown and take the WBC belt fighting like that. Nobody likes to see someone running and being negative and I think people recognised that I was trying to make a fight of it but it takes two to tango. I like to stand there and have a fight and give the fans and the TV viewers a real show but Dirrell wasn’t interested in that kind of fight. I’m sure he’ll improve from that performance and it will have been a learning experience for him but at that kind of pace I could have gone 25 rounds”, he continued.
Froch will now fight Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler, beaten only by Joe Calzaghe, in the second leg of the Super Six tournament.
“I know that Kessler will bring a war and the fans will have a real fight to look forward to there. That’s a fight I’m relishing. Hopefully he’ll beat Andre Ward in their fight next month (in their first Super Six encounter) so both the WBC and WBA belts will be on the line in our fight.”
Earlier in the evening, Arthur Abraham produced a peach of a right hand to knock out Jermain Taylor with just six seconds remaining in the contest to kick off the inaugural Super Six super-middleweight tournament. Taylor, who was stopped in almost identical fashion by Froch six months earlier, has now lost four of his last five fights.