Carl Froch and Robert McCracken and an unbreakable, enduring friendship

When a fighter gets inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame for the culmination of their boxing journey, they are usually surrounded by loved ones, partners, kids, proud parents, you name it.

When the Sheriff of Nottingham, Carl Froch, rode into Canastota on Thursday he did so only with one person by his side, his old trainer Robert McCracken.

Froch's wife, Rachael, and their three children, remained at home.

Froch messaged me a few weeks ago to say he was going to attempt to bring McCracken out.

Attempt was the key word. Rob doesn’t like the limelight. He’s largely softly-spoken, understated, and he often listens and observes rather than talks. He was a fine fighter in the nineties, and boxed Keith Holmes for a world belt at ’54.

Still, he trains a couple of pros today – after parting company with Anthony Joshua – and is heavily involved in the Team GB amateur set up. He is a busy man.

But it is no surprise Froch wanted McCracken here, where today Froch will officially be enshrined into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. After Froch won bronze at the World Championships in Belfast in 2001, Rob started to court him and insisted Froch would make a good pro.

Froch had been a decorated amateur but he had always lacked confidence – hard to tell when you see the Cobra rearing up in interviews today! – but McCracken kept chipping away.

They became close, Carl eventually turned over and Rob helped guide his career. Carl said this week how Rob helped select the right opponents at the right time, giving him stiff tests, southpaws, tall and short fighters, awkward rivals and experiencing as much as he could as he built his confidence, his record and the momentum needed to propel a career. 

McCracken was with him every step of the way. Not some of it, not until there was a crisis or a loss or a difference of opinion, but through it all.

He was there when Froch arrived, with what would become a typical Froch war, against Jean Pascal to win his first world title. He was there giving Froch instructions to stay cool in the next fight when, having climbed off the deck, Froch stormed back to stop Jermain Taylor, on US soil, seconds from the end of the fight.

He helped Froch solve the Andre Dirrell puzzle and was on the minuscule private plane with Carl when their commercial flight to Herning, Denmark, for the first Mikkel Kessler fight was scuppered owing to the now infamous volcanic ash cloud that was spreading through Europe. 

Despite the close loss to Kessler, which was heartbreaking, brutal and close, there was never any doubting McCracken or their relationship. It was simply, what do we need to do to get it back? How do we make sure we win next time?

Well, tactically McCracken’s directions in Helsinki were followed to the letter as Froch produced arguably the most clinical performance of his career all-but shutting out Arthur Abraham. Froch was punch perfect, and Abraham was routed.

I remember talking to Froch that fight week and it is one of the few times that sticks in my mind of a fighter so confident in himself that it wholly confirmed my prediction, but I never envisaged the masterclass I saw from ringside that night. The blood and guts warrior took part in some kind of violent ballet and managed to do it all without having to change out of second or third gear.

Even with that defeat to Andre Ward, McCracken’s head was never near the chopping block. They just wanted to get Ward back in the ring, but to have a shot at him in the UK. It did not happen, but there was – to my knowledge – no inquiry. No autopsy. In fact, not only was there no feeling sorry for themselves but they approached the Lucian Bute fight, as underdogs, with so much confidence it bordered on recklessness, as if they had nothing to lose.

It was in Nottingham, the crowd was on fire, and Froch walked to the ring after a rendition of The Script's Hall of Fame. As with many circumstances, clearly he and Rob knew something many others did not.  

Froch jumped on 30-0 Bute early and had suffocated him under a blanket of concussive shots within five blistering rounds. Bloody hell. Froch and McCracken had done it again and if they thought they were riding high then, they only went and reversed the Kessler loss in another epic.

By the way, it is worth pointing out here that for a while Froch languished without a suitable broadcaster in the UK for some of this period – and it was criminal. Every fight was a banger. It seemed every fight was a roll of the dice, but little did we know that the dice might have been weighed a little in Froch’s favour because of the man he trusted to stay at the helm.

When Froch hadn’t dazzled against the always tough Glen Johnson, he blamed himself for perhaps overlooking the veteran, not McCracken. When Froch was hurt and then escaped from the jaws of defeat against George Groves – and with the younger man chasing him for a rematch – Froch questioned himself but never McCracken. Needless to say, McCracken didn’t question Froch. He knew he had created a rare beast.

Some would call it a blind loyalty but Froch figured out they could always find a way to win together as well as anybody else could. And if they did ever come up short, Froch looked to himself and did not pass the buck.

It was like father-son, two brothers and/or a bromance rolled into one.

And it was great to see. I remember having my lunch breaks at the old Real Fight Club in London, in around 2007, when Froch lived there during the week to have McCracken’s time. I recall McCracken not allowing Froch to shadowbox more than 10-15 seconds without some kind of perfecting or honing advice. He could never be sloppy. There was serious attention to detail as McCracken tried to create what would become a Hall of Fame masterpiece.

I would watch Froch spar the likes of Darren Sutherland and Darren Barker back then, maybe even the Cuban Luis Garcia, but when McCracken said to me last night that for a fighter “this is a tough game” it made me recall watching Froch spar Kid Chocolate and some heavy local cruiser prior to the Johnson fight in a gritty New York gym and I would leave those sessions thinking exactly that. It’s those sessions you don’t see where the mileage is done to make sure a fighter is ready in his own mind.

“This is a tough game,” is exactly what I would think as I watched Froch during those spars and the gym door would swing shut behind me and a cool air hit my unbattered face as I would leave Froch and McCracken in the boiling hot sweatbox to analyse their day’s work.

But it is those rough and tough days that made Froch the fighter he would become and they were the ties that would bind Froch and McCracken so tightly. 

It has been great to see McCracken here in Canastota with Froch, not because he wants the attention or plaudits, far from it, but to see his pride in Froch. Rob’s been taking pictures of Carl signing autographs and photographing Froch taking pictures with fans. This is what Rob invested 14 years of his own life for, for a fighter to reap the fruits of McCracken's labour. Rob clearly derives his pleasure from Carl getting the respect he earned, not from getting any respect for his part in the journey. 

It's also worth noting that McCracken was beating the drum loudly for Carl when Froch could not attract a mainstream UK broadcaster, so no doubt seeing Froch finally getting his recognition at our sport's absolute pinnacle went beyond gratification. 

These days a trainer is thrown under a bus at the drop of a hat and it is rare these hugely meaningful relationships endure, but this one has.

It is why, when Froch could have been surrounded by loved ones this weekend, he turned to the man he has the unbreakable bond with and the one who has been with him every step of the way. Froch didn’t need anyone else to look after him during his career and he didn’t need to share it with anyone else but McCracken. 

It is their journey.