- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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The original favorites, Mikkel Kessler and Arthur Abraham, are long gone from Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic. Now it's down to the final three.
Titleholder Andre Ward, who has been masterful throughout the tournament, punched his ticket to the final on May 14 with a dominant decision against Abraham.
Now, the last piece of the puzzle in the long, winding road of the 168-pound, modified, round-robin tournament -- announced nearly two years ago -- is almost in place.
It will be decided when super middleweight titlist Carl Froch defends against former light heavyweight champ-turned-super middleweight contender Glen Johnson at the Adrian Phillips Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., on Saturday night (Showtime, 9 ET/PT).
The winner will face Ward (23-0, 13 KOs), who will be ringside to scout the fight and work on Showtime's broadcast team, in a unification bout in the fall.
But the fight to get there figures to be action-packed.
"Glen Johnson and Carl Froch are two of the most fan-friendly fighters in boxing," said Lou DiBella, Johnson's co-promoter. "Both are proven winners who have earned fans the old-fashioned way, by entertaining fans fight after fight. Glen is known as 'The Road Warrior' because he isn't afraid to go to someone else's turf for a big fight, and Carl's biggest wins have come outside the U.K. Everyone knows that both men will leave it all in the ring in Atlantic City for the right to advance to the Super Six final."
Showtime's telecast will open with same-day taped coverage of Kessler's (43-2, 32 KOs) return to the ring for the first time in 14 months because of an eye injury that forced him to drop out of the Super Six. Kessler, who will fight in his hometown of Copenhagen, Denmark, will meet France's Mehdi Bouadla (23-3, 11 KOs) in a scheduled 10-rounder.
Froch (27-1, 20 KOs), 33, has navigated a hard road to the semifinals. Fighting in his hometown of Nottingham, England, he scored a debatable split decision against Andre Dirrell. In Froch's next fight, he traveled to Denmark and lost a hotly contested decision and his title to Kessler in a tremendous action fight, one that Froch strongly believes he won.
"As far as I'm concerned, I'm an unbeaten fighter coming into this fight," Froch said. "That loss was maybe a little injection or a kick in the ass, whatever you want to call it, to get me back to where I was when I [first] became champion."
After Kessler dropped out of the tournament because of the eye injury and was subsequently stripped of his title, Froch regained the vacant belt by blowing past Abraham in an utterly one-sided decision to advance to the semis.
"I'm getting tired of hearing about how many big fights I'm fighting in a row," Froch said. "That's why I'm here. I don't want to fight bums."
Froch always has had a bit of a chip on his shoulder, and nothing has changed as he readies to fight Johnson.
"Rachael [Cordingley] texted me that our son, Rocco, is walking. He took his first steps and I missed it, and I'm going to take that out on Johnson," Froch said. "Johnson is perfect for me. He's made for me. He'll be right there, right in front of me.
"The winner of this fight is going to the final of the best boxing tournament in the world, the Super Six World Boxing Classic. And the winner is going to be me. I heard Johnson's team talking about an easy fight. They can think what they want. I'm not concerned with that rubbish."
In reaching the semis, Johnson (51-14-2, 35 KOs), for once in his career, had a decidedly easier road.
After he lost a light heavyweight title bout to Tavoris Cloud in August, Johnson had no particular fight of consequence lined up. He had even contemplated retirement. But suddenly, Kessler dropped out of the tournament, and Johnson was asked whether he could make 168 pounds and was interested in joining the field.
It took Johnson, 42, of Miami, about 10 seconds to say yes to both questions. He found himself facing Allan Green in November with a berth in the semifinals on the line. Johnson, who easily made weight, looked very good in a division in which he hadn't fought for a decade, scoring a highlight-reel eighth-round knockout.
"I have to thank Showtime for considering me for the Super Six," Johnson said. "When they heard the name Glen Johnson, they could have said, 'He's an old guy, and it might not go over very popularly,' but they took a chance on me, and I want to say 'Thanks so much.' I'm going to go out there and do everything to make you proud and not regret that decision.
"At the end of the day, it's a fight. I'm not about lip service or talk. That's not what I do. I'm about boxing. I will wait for Saturday to finish the rest of the conversation."
Although Johnson, one of the most humble fighters in the game, had no bold predictions for the fight, trainer Orlando Cuellar, who has been with Johnson since 2003, sure did.
"For us, Froch will be an easy fight," he said. "If Glen did as well as he did against Chad Dawson [in their first fight], we believe he should do very well against Froch. Froch isn't as fast or mobile as Dawson. Glen has faster hands and feet. He has better body work and better defense. The only advantage Froch has is age, and Glen has shown he's only gotten better with age. The fight won't go the distance. Glen will win by KO. I'm sure of it."
Froch didn't like hearing that.
"Glen Johnson's trainer is delusional," he said. "He's not only not going to win the fight; he's not going to win a round. I'm too young and fresh. From Round 1 to 12, I will dominate."
For Showtime boxing chief Ken Hershman, the spirited talk is music to his ears.
Hershman is the architect of the groundbreaking tournament and is proud of the Super Six despite a rocky road that included postponed bouts, injuries, countless squabbles between promoters and three of the original six members withdrawing from the field.
"I couldn't be more thrilled to have Glen Johnson and Carl Froch in these semifinals," Hershman said. "They're proud warriors who signify everything that's great about this sport. The Super Six has been a challenging roller coaster. As everyone knows, we've been through some ups and downs in this tournament, but one thing is certain: All the fights have been interesting and compelling, many of them more than compelling -- thrilling.
"We have whittled the field down from six to now three, and after Saturday night, it will be two. So again, I think the tournament has served its purpose. It's designed to keep attention on boxing and attention on these great champions throughout the entire 18 months to two years that this has been going on. It's certainly done that -- in between fights, after fights, before fights. Lots of drama. Lots of politicking and drama out of the ring. There has also been a lot of great action in the ring, so we couldn't be more thrilled."
Ideally, Hershman -- and everyone else who has followed the tournament and all of its ups and downs -- will get a few more thrills before it's finally over.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.
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