Showtime’s boxing coverage can be irritating at times, what with Gus Johnson’s carny-style, indiscriminate hyping, and Champion-turned-commentator Antonio Tarver’s creepy mugging for the camera as he reads from the teleprompter. It often feels light on substance, and you really don’t learn as much as you might while watching a fight on ESPN or HBO, where the commentary tends to be a little bit more thoughtful. But, to give credit where it’s due, Showtime’s recent experiments with international tournaments at Super Middle- and Bantam weight have turned out to be an innovation that provides the sport with a needed dose of hoopla.
While the two-round bantam weight tournament was interesting, most of the excitement has centered around Showtime’s “Super Six” Super Middleweight tournament, with four rounds of bouts spanning two years. The Super Six field has changed somewhat over that time, with Jermaine Taylor and Mikkel Kessler dropping out due to injuries, and being replaced on the fly by Alan Green and Glen Johnson respectively. Green ended up getting bumped from the tournament after two losses – the second of which came at the hands of Glen Johnson, who squared off this past weekend against Carl Froch to see who will face American phenom Andre Ward in the tournament’s championship this Fall.
Reminiscent of George Foreman’s late-career triumphs, 2011 seems to be a strong year for boxers “of a certain age,” with Erik Morales’ awe-inspiring post-retirement performance against Argentine bruiser Marcos Maidana, and the 46 year-old legend, Bernard Hopkins, trouncing 28 year-old Light Heavyweight titlist Jean Pascal in a definitive follow-up to their December draw. Large portions of boxing fandom held out similar hopes and excitement for Glen Johnson, as he stepped into the ring Saturday night in Atlantic City.
At 42 years-old, Johnson is a tough, fan-friendly veteran with a record of 51-14-2 coming into this fight, and an impressive 452 professional rounds under his belt. He emigrated from Jamaica as a child, and, up until 2004, still worked construction during the day even while maintaining a grueling training and pro-fight schedule at night. He fought for years at light heavyweight, where he performed well against some of the world’s most talented boxers and was avoided by an equal number of top-ranked fighters who didn’t see an upside to climbing into the ring with a real-life Rocky Balboa who fights relentlessly and manages to look good even when he loses.
To join the tournament, Johnson came down in weight to super middleweight, which is Carl Froch’s natural division. A 33 year-old native of Nottingham, England, Froch has held various Super Middleweight titles since 2003, and is at first glance a ready-made villain for many American boxing fans; he’s arrogant, often disrespectful to other fighters, and, most importantly, he’s British.
However, as Froch’s conflicted American fanemies begrudgingly admit, he’s also a rare talent in the ring – balancing speed and power with a weird kind of snakelike elusiveness (hence, his nickname: The Cobra). 20 of Froch’s 27 wins were knockouts, and he still disputes his sole defeat – to Danish former-champion Mikkel Kessler in the second round of the Super Six tournament. Froch is the kind of fighter who you can’t help admiring, even if you don’t necessarily want him to win.
But pairing Froch with a sympathetic journeyman like Johnson made it a no-brainer for the more emotional denizens of boxing fandom to decide who they were going to root for on Saturday. And, in the third round, when Johnson connected with a massive right that seemed to hurt Froch, hopes that Johnson would take this fight down the path of Foreman, Hopkins, and Morales were kindled. But Froch ended up weathering a storm of Johnson’s thudding right hands, proving that his chin is as formidable as his boxing skills. And he used those skills to dominate the remaining rounds, delivering 53 combinations to Johnson’s 20.
After 12 rounds the judges handed Froch a majority decision (meaning that one of the three judges ruled the match a draw, while the other two gave it to Froch), setting up this Fall’s Super Six tournament championship up as a face-off between Froch and Oakland’s own Andre Ward – an even more impressive talent in the ring, with his own share of conflicted fanemies.
WORTH A LOOK:
Anyone who hasn’t watched boxing in a while, or who might be thinking about watching a fight for the first time, should check out a match being broadcast on HBO on the evening of Saturday, June 18th; Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, the 20 year-old, undefeated Mexican Junior Middleweight from Jalisco, will be facing what will probably be his toughest opponent to date; 45-4 European Champion, Ryan Rhodes.
This fight is worth watching because Alvarez is almost always exciting. He brings to the table a mix of unique innate talent, skills honed over a grueling average of one professional fight every other month since he was 15, and just enough youthful aggressiveness to make him vulnerable. The Ring Magazine’s Jr. Middleweight rankings currently list Rhodes at #4 and Alvarez at #9, and those rankings are likely to be shaken up after the 18th.