A reporter suggested to Glen Johnson that Carl Froch appeared to be nothing special, a tough, but limited boxer, going into the Super Six World Boxing Classic and asked the former light heavyweight champion for his opinion.
Johnson smiled awkwardly and paused. Then he revealed his first impression of his opponent on Saturday in Atlantic City, N.J.
“Pretty much the same thing you said,” the former light heavyweight champion told RingTV.com.
Then a funny thing happened in the tournament: Froch beat two world-class opponents and almost took down a third to earn a place in the semifinals and prove that he can compete with anyone in the world.
“As far as American fans were concerned I was just a skinny white kid from England,” said Froch, who is from Nottingham. “What has he done? … A lot of fighters have to come to America to show Americans what they’re about.
“That’s what I’ve done. And now I think I’m respected.”
Froch didn’t always get much respect in the UK, either.
He was overshadowed by such fighters as Joe Calzaghe, Ricky Hatton and David Haye even though he won just as consistently as they did, including a victory over Jean Pascal in 2008 to win the vacant WBC 168-pound title.
Even the television networks in his home country were reluctant to back him. His title defense against Jermain Taylor, immediately before the Super Six tournament, was not on TV in the UK.
Froch’s confidence in himself never wavered, though. He knew what he was capable of even if the rest of us didn’t.
The Taylor fight, in April 2009 in Mashantucket, Conn., seemed to bolster the doubters as it progressed. The former middleweight champion, who put Froch down in the third, had outboxed his less-experienced foe to build a sizeable lead on the cards entering the late rounds.
It was at that point that the Froch we now know emerged. He relentlessly stalked Taylor, who was known to fade down the stretch, and waited for his opportunity.
That came in a dramatic 12th round, when he hurt a fading Taylor badly with a straight right with about two minutes to go, maintained a fierce attack after that as Taylor tried to hang on and finally ended matters with only 14 seconds remaining.
Froch then defeated slick Andre Dirrell by a split (and controversial) decision to open the Super Six tournament, proving that he could contend with a cat-quick boxer.
He lost a fairly close decision in his second first-round fight to then-tournament favorite Mikkel Kessler in Denmark, Kessler's homeland. And then he completely outclassed (exposed?) Arthur Abraham in his most-recent fight to win a near-shutout decision and earn a place in the semis.
Froch probably isn’t the best pure boxer in the world. However, he’s a very good one. He seems to have excellent ring intelligence, with an impressive ability to adapt to his opponents' style. His toughness — including a willingness to brawl if necessary — and chin are becoming legendary.
And he is a fitness fanatic. His fierce attack after 11-plus hard rounds against Taylor was evidence of that.
“I think all I need, minimum, to do what I need to do to him, is fitness, which I’ve got in abundance,” said Froch, referring to his fight against Johnson.
Johnson (51-14-2, 35 KOs) is as confident as Froch is. The Road Warrior believes he’ll be too crafty for a fighter with half as many fights as he has.
That said, he no longer sees Froch as that crude boxer who entered the Super Six tournament. He knows he is faced with a real challenge.
“I really didn’t see a lot I liked about the guy,” Johnson said. “The first time I saw him fight was against Jermain Taylor. I didn’t see a lot there. He kept his hands down. Everything was open. He was slow. He didn’t move as fluidly as guys I was used to seeing in the States.
“But he beat Jermain Taylor, a guy I thought had a lot of skills. You have to give him credit. He was winning. And he wasn’t winning against bums; he was winning against real fighters.”