Michael Rosenthal and Doug Fischer

RING PASS: Froch vs. Johnson

HEAD-TO-HEAD ANALYSIS

SKILLS

Both men are known for their iron will and rugged durability — traits that have helped them defeat more talented opponents — but they also possess underrated skill and ring savvy. Froch is a versatile boxer-brawler. The Englishman can use his jab and box effectively from long range or steadily walk his opponent down behind winging power punches. Johnson is the quintessential volume-punching pressure fighter. However, despite his aggressive style, the veteran seldom leaves himself open or wastes punches. Froch is a better ring general than Johnson, but the 42-year-old veteran possesses superior technique.

Edge: Even

POWER

Both fighters wield heavy hands that earn the respect of their opponents but neither can be considered a “puncher.” Froch, who has scored 20 stoppages among his 27 victories, has a higher KO percentage than Johnson (71.4% to 52.2%), however, the super middleweight beltholder has not faced the elite-level competition that the former light heavyweight champ has battled over the past 15 years. Froch’s opposition only recently upgraded to the world-class level, beginning with Jean Pascal, whom he battled and beat for the vacant WBC belt in December of 2008. Froch has only scored one KO (a 12th-round stoppage of a somewhat-faded Jermain Taylor) since his title-winning effort. The reason for his power outage is simple: he’s had to face top-tier talent since entering the Super Six tournament. This observation isn’t a knock against Froch. Johnson seldom scores stoppages against truly world-class fighters.

Edge: Even

SPEED AND ATHLETIC ABILITY

Neither fighter is gifted with the kind of athletic ability that makes fans jump out of their seats and yell “Wow!” Johnson is strong and durable with good reflexes and quick hands (especially for a man in his 40s). Froch, who is also strong and durable, often appears awkward and off-balance but he possesses very good hand-eye coordination. The Nottingham native's ring maneuverability is also underrated.

Edge: Even

DEFENSE

Both fighters possess world-class resilience but they’re smart enough not to take unnecessary punishment. Froch avoids punches with upper-body and lateral movement. Johnson does so by blocking punches with a high guard. Froch appears to get caught with more flush shots than Johnson for two reasons: he likes to keep his hands down by his waist and he often fights in spurts, which gives his opponents the opening to attack. Johnson, however, rarely drops his hands and the wily veteran is an offensive workhorse, which makes it difficult for his opponents to find openings.

Edge: Johnson

EXPERIENCE

This category isn’t hard to figure. You can count the number of active fighters who have more world-class experience than Johnson on one hand. Johnson has logged an astounding 452 rounds since turning pro in early 1993; 345 more rounds than Froch, who turned pro nine years after the veteran. Johnson has fought nine fighters who held major world titles, including first-ballot future hall of famers Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr., as well as the elite likes of Antonio Tarver (twice), Sven Ottke, and Chad Dawson (twice). Froch has fought five former or current titleholders, including Taylor, Pascal and Mikkel Kessler.

Edge: Johnson

CHIN

Both fighters take a hell of a shot. Froch has been dropped once (in the third round of his fight with Taylor) and rocked a few times (against Pascal, Dirrell and Kessler) but he has amazing recuperative ability and always rages back in the face of adversity. Johnson has been stopped once (in the 11th-round of his first title bout, against Hopkins, way back in 1997) and visibly hurt on only a few occasions, most recently in the fifth round against hard-punching titleholder Tavoris Cloud. Johnson, who has never hit the canvas, has faced more punchers (most at light heavyweight) over the course of his long career and thus has the better-tested chin.

Edge: Johnson

CONDITIONING

Both fighters live clean between bouts and approach their fight preparation with mature professionalism. Neither has ever appeared out of shape or under-conditioned for a fight and both have proven the ability to fight hard over the 12-round distance against quality opposition.

Edge: Even

WEAR AND TEAR

Johnson’s decided edge in experience comes with a price. Even fighters who lead Spartan lifestyles, as Johnson does, slow down with age and ring activity and 67 pro bouts is nothing to scoff at. Johnson has fought 13 bouts that went the 12-round distance and nine 10 rounders. Many of those distance bouts were dog fights, including his battles with Merqui Sosa, Julio Gonzalez, Clinton Woods (who he fought three times), Dawson (the first fight) and Cloud. His first loss to Hopkins (TKO by 11) was a systematic beating that took him a few years to recover from. Froch, who engaged in tough fights with Pascal and Kessler, has taken some lumps in the ring, but not nearly as many as Johnson.

Edge: Froch

CORNER

Johnson‘s trainer, Orlando Cuellar, has worked with seven world titleholders during a career that has spanned 30 years. Cuellar, a native of Cuba now based in Florida, also currently trains former Cuban amateur standouts Luis Franco and Yan Barthelemy. Cuellar has been with Johnson since the “Road Warrior” began to turn his career around in the early part of the last decade. Froch’s trainer, Robert McCracken, has not been a trainer for as long as Cuellar but he possesses the invaluable experience have having been a world-class pro fighter. However, the former middleweight contender from Birmingham, England, may turn out to be a better trainer than he was fighter. McCracken, who helped developed Froch into one of the world’s top super middleweights, also trains British standouts John O’Donnell and Lenny Daws. His work with amateur boxers over the years was so impressive the British Amateur Boxing Association made him their performance director in November of 2009. Under McCracken’s guidance the British amateur squad took six medals )two gold and four silver) at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and five medals at last year’s European Championships (Britain’s best showing since 1961). Both Cuellar and McCracken share uncommonly strong bonds of trust with their star fighters.

Edge: Even

OUTCOME

Froch will use his unusually long arms and lateral movement to neutralize Johnson’s pressure in the early rounds of the bout, racking up points as he did against Arthur Abraham, however, he’ll quickly learn that the former light heavyweight champ is a lot harder to hold off and discourage than the former middleweight belt holder was. Unlike Abraham, Johnson will apply pressure behind a busy jab and he’ll let his hands go whenever Froch is in range. Johnson will begin zeroing in with his right hand around the fourth round which will spark numerous mid-rounds exchanges between the two proud fighters. Froch will score with jabs and looping hooks from long range. Johnson will nail the defending titleholder with short crosses and body shots in close. Johnson, who appears to be the stronger man during the middle rounds, will try to bull Froch to the ropes in an attempt to mug the gangly favorite, but the Englishman will use his legs to avoid being pulled into trench warfare. Froch’s choice of discretion over valor serves him well in the late rounds of the bout when Johnson begins to fade. It could be age, the fast pace of the fight, the strain of making 168 pounds, or a combination of those factors but Froch will have the energy and intelligence to take advantage of it during the championship rounds of a competitive and entertaining bout.

Prediction: Froch by close, perhaps majority or split decision.

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