“I THINK a fight with me and Froch, we may have to take that to Wembley.” As world super-middleweight No. 1 Andre Ward uttered those words in the immediate aftermath of Carl Froch’s enthralling revenge win over Mikkel Kessler, my first impression was that, he like many of us, had been swept away on the pervading tide of euphoria. My second thought was, ‘Perhaps he’s referring to the Arena.’ The only other possibility – that Ward genuinely believes he and Froch could come close to filling the 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium for a rematch of their dull duel from 2011 – would justify drug-testing “SOG” at the next available opportunity, if he wasn’t renowned for clean living. More worrying still, a sizeable minority on social media are talking this notion up as if it is feasible.
As much as I hate to rain on everyone’s adrenaline-fuelled post-fight parade, this idea appears to be based on a number of misconceptions and flat-out delusions. There has not been a boxing show held at Wembley Stadium since September 1995, when bona fide mainstream star and national treasure Frank Bruno could attract only 23,000 fans for his fourth world heavyweight title shot, with Nigel Benn, another London draw and genuine crossover name, on the undercard. Since then Wembley has been mooted for fights involving Ricky Hatton and Amir Khan among others but it has never been considered viable. The increased costs involved in stadium fights are prohibitive, negating the kind of fair-minded pricing structure that would help bring in a big audience. Hatton at or near his peak, and given the right opponent (Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Amir Khan), would have had a better chance than anyone in recent years of filling Wembley, though still may have fallen short.
One Twitter poster, whose anonymity I will graciously preserve, insisted that Froch’s recent rise had put him on a par with “The Hitman” as a drawing card. What utter drivel. Froch is certainly far better known than he was two years ago and is an incredible force of nature, but has yet to prove he can convince anything like 55,000 people to part with their hard-earned cash to watch him face a relative unknown, as Hatton did when he met Juan Lazcano in 2008. Or indeed that he can compel several thousand to follow him overseas. Sky’s exemplary build-up for the Kessler fight should have not only assured the event’s commercial success but boosted Froch’s wider profile in the process, with the Nottingham man’s appearance on Jonathan Ross also broadening his appeal. But I’d suggest that in terms of mainstream recognition, Froch still lags behind I’m a Celebrity… finalist David Haye and Olympic medallist Amir Khan, neither of whom are planning a crack at Wembley. Like them – and unlike Hatton – Froch would need the right opponent to do that sort of business with.
Which brings us to Kessler, and Ward. Froch can take significant credit for the performance of last weekend’s show, but Kessler – and the pair’s first fight – was an important factor. The Dane had of course fought in the UK before, in a huge bout opposite Joe Calzaghe so the man or woman on the street may have known who he was. Plus their first epic battle served as an ideal endorsement and advertisement for the return. Fighters often promise fireworks and fail to deliver but past evidence suggested this rematch was as close to a sure-thing as you could desire. That is one of the reasons why 17,000 tickets were sold in under three hours. The correlation between speed of sale and scale of overall demand is unproven, but claiming that Froch-Kessler II could have sold 30,000 tickets would appear a conservative estimate. But while the Ward fighter is bigger in stature – pitting as it does the top two in their division – the American is less well known to the general public than Kessler, having never fought here and emerging in an era where boxing as a whole is increasingly marginalised. More importantly, if Froch-Kessler I inspired people to watch the sequel, the boring and not particularly competitive Ward-Froch would presumably have the opposite effect. There is no reason to expect an exciting fight when both men retain the same styles as in part one. I simply fail to see how Ward-Froch part deux surpasses – or even matches – Froch-Kessler II either at the live gate or on Sky Box Office.
Which is just one factor in why Ward coming to the UK at all for Froch – never mind Wembley – appears fanciful. Not only would the Californian’s purse demands – surely higher than Kessler’s – harm the potential profitability of the venture, but Ward has thus far in his career shown no inclination to travel beyond the opposite coast of his own country. And though Froch is inarguably the bigger draw of the two, and the show as a whole may well make more money in the UK, Ward himself, due to his HBO deal which currently offers him around $2m per fight while not on pay-per-view, could negotiate a higher purse if the bout was held in the US. If the fight were in Las Vegas, say – which Ward would laughably deem a neutral location – it would attract a decent site fee, and that, plus the placing of the match on pay-per-view, instead of standard HBO, could guarantee Ward up to $5m – around double the amount Kessler is rumoured to have received for a fight that’s more attractive to a UK audience. HBO is an issue in itself: they had no problem broadcasting Froch-Kessler II live during the afternoon in America but it’s unlikely they would sanction any contest involving Ward – in whom they have heavily invested – that did not take place at US primetime, which adds yet another obstacle.
All of which is why despite the obligatory not toward Wembley, Ward’s overriding post-fight theme was that Froch would have to travel to the US to become a star. The irony of that statement emanating from someone yet to make that leap themselves is not lost, but it illustrates Ward’s mindset. Forget Wembley and unless promoter Eddie Hearn is ready to stump up at least $5m, forget Ward too. Froch is now a star in the UK and while his pride needs Ward, his bank balance does not.