In May 2011, my two friends and I took a five-week road trip from New York to Miami and back, and it was awesome. One of the best moments of the trip was something that quite easily couldn’t have happened had I not been such a boxing freak.
We were stopping off at Atlantic City, and while we were there we realised that Nottingham’s own Carl Froch was defending his WBC title against Glen Johnson in the Super Six semi-final, at the Boardwalk Hall. The Hall was famous for hosting some of my favourite fighters most glorious nights. That fighter was the late Arturo ‘Thunder’ Gatti. He was the ultimate blood and guts warrior, and it was great to visit a place that had taken him to its heart.
It was a week before the fight, and we were supposed to be moving on down the coast towards Miami, via North and South Carolina. As much as I loved the thought of visiting those places (and I have some great stories of the time we spent there), something was pulling me towards staying in AC for the extra week, just to have the experience of seeing a fighter who I admire and who lives about 20 miles away (I’m from Leicester) fight in America, at Gatti’s house.
I went into overdrive and managed to grind down the defenses of my comrades so that we could stay. Anyone who ever doubts the extent of my love for boxing should talk to my two friends, who were bludgeoned to defeat by my passion in five rounds. Neither of them were particularly fussed about boxing, but after the fight in AC, they experienced everything that was great about boxing.
AC fans are truly amazing. They made the 2,000 in attendance Boardwalk Hall feel like Anfield on derby day. You always know when you’re in the presence of true sport fans, because everybody is friendly and you can feel the energy. I couldn’t hear a thing but I felt everything!
Before the fight though, we had the weigh-in to attend at the hotel. We met Carl Froch and Glen Johnson and had our photos taken with both, and we chatted to Froch’s home fans who had travelled to see him fight on US soil. It was strange to be talking to fellow East Midlanders in Atlantic City, but it was cool.
What was also very cool – for me as a giant boxing fan – was to be sitting in the front row for the weigh-in. Jimmy Lennon Jr. (“It’s Showtime”) introduced the fighters, and I got Goosebumps. Then the two fighters went nose-to-nose, and my Goosebumps turned to jelly legs. I was so excited, it was like an out of body experience. That’s when I looked over to the left and saw Andre Ward and Jean Pascal.
I don’t get star-struck very easily, but Andre Ward has an aura about him. Simply put, he’s one of the best fighters in the world. You can keep your Justin Bieber’s and Mick Jagger’s. Fighters are my heroes. I thought from day one that Ward would win the series, and I feel a little smug now that he’s generally regarded as pound-for-pound one of the best fighters in the world. I approached him and shook his hand, then I asked for a photo. He obliged and was really respectful towards the fans that were clamouring for a word, a photo or an autograph.
I turned to him and said: “Nobody expected you to beat Kessler like that. Now there’s nobody betting against you winning the whole thing!”
“Appreciate it,” he replied.
Cool as a cucumber.
I have to mention how cool Jean Pascal was, too. He was wearing black shades to hide the battle scars from two weeks previous, when he lost his world light-heavyweight title to Bernard Hopkins. He was clearly still hurting, but he was respectful and engaging. A really great guy.
The day of the fight was kind of a blur, but the night was something I’ll never forget. We were on a pretty small budget, so we bought seats up in the rafters, and it was a bit of a drag. But then we wandered out into the main area to get ourselves some beers, and we came across ‘Team Froch’, which consisted of Carl’s two brothers, his management team and some friends. We got chatting to them and had a couple of drinks, and then we followed them back to their seats at ringside, because that’s what you do when you’re a bit drunk and a lot stupid.
We were expecting to get booted out within seconds, but we found three empty seats about two rows back from Team Froch and placed our asses down. We managed to watch the whole fight and get our programmes signed by Carl himself without being kicked off the premises. Not bad, eh?
Froch won the fight by majority decision. It wasn’t a great fight by any stretch, but Carl did what he had to do to make a date in the final with Andre Ward, who was at ringside. During the post-fight wind-down, I managed to chat to former IBF cruiserweight champion Steve Cunningham and have my photo taken with him. He was a really nice guy, and he’s going to be a real handful for Tyson Fury soon, that’s for sure. I also had the bizarre experience of seeing Bernard Hopkins make an appearance, only to leave before the fight ended. He was being flanked by some entourage who prevented fans from getting too close. He definitely has that old school aura about him, in and out of the ring.
When the crowd dispersed, my friends and I quickly realised that apart from Carl Froch and his team, a few press members and a certain Andre Ward and Jean Pascal, nobody else was around. We couldn’t believe our luck! We walked over to Ward and Pascal and chatted to them for about twenty minutes. What I love about fighters is that they’re just regular guys who do extraordinary feats in the ring. Both men signed our programmes and wished us a safe journey home. Pound for pound nice guys just chatting to some dumb-ass Brits!
On the way out of the Hall we chatted to Team Froch, who asked us if the beach bar was any good. After we said that it was pretty good, they asked us if we wanted to join them. Gee, let me think… Yes! Carl gave the bar a miss and went back to his hotel, but we had a great night with Team Froch, who were a great laugh.
Whenever I talk to my two friends about our road trip, they always say the same thing: “Imagine if we’d left Atlantic City without watching that fight?” To which I always reply: “You would have had to drag me out!”
That’s the power of boxing!