Two years have passed since Showtime began its ''Super Six Boxing World Boxing Classic'' in an effort to find the top super-middleweight boxer.
There were some obstacles along the way. Some contenders, such as IBF champion Lucian Bute, opted not to participate. Injuries forced Jermain Taylor and Mikkael Kessler to withdraw during the round-robin tournament. And Andre Ward suffered a cut while sparring and had to postpone the final bout for nearly two months.
But the search for the best 168-pounder will finally end Saturday at Boardwalk Hall, when Ward (24-0, 13 KOs), of Oakland, Calif., puts his WBA title on the line against WBC champion Carl Froch (28-1, 20 KOs), of Nottingham, England, in one of the most anticipated fights of the year.
''Have there been problems? Sure,'' Ward's promoter, Dan Goossen said. ''But for Showtime to be able to get past the politics of boxing, promoters' egos and everything else to keep this tournament together, has been quite an accomplishment. It was a brilliant concept and when the bell rings on Saturday night, people are going to enjoy an outstanding, exciting fight.''
Both Froch and Ward fought their way through top competition to earn their spots in the final.
Froch, 34, went 4-1 in the previous rounds of the tournament. He opened with a 12-round decision over Andre Dirrell on Oct. 17, 2009, then rebounded from the first loss of his career - a 12-round decision to Kessler on April, 24, 2010 - with decision victories over Arthur Abraham and Glen Johnson, respectively.
Froch has never backed away from a challenge. His last 18 opponents sported a combined record of 449-63-12 at the time he fought them.
''I've come up the hard way, but I'm finally starting to get the recognition and credit I deserve,'' Froch said. ''People are counting on me to restore pride in British boxing.''
British boxing fans have been searching for a hero since former champions Joe Calzaghe and Ricky Hatton retired.
Heavyweight David Haye lost a lot of support with a listless performance against champion Wladimir Klitschko last July. Middleweight prospect Darren Barker, who suffered an 11th-round knockout loss to Sergio Martinez at Boardwalk Hall two months ago, has yet to record a signature victory. Former super-welterweight champ Amir Khan suffered a split decision loss to Lamont Peterson last week.
''The problem is that every UK boxer talks a great fight, but they've seldom delivered,'' Froch's promoter, Eddie Hearn, said. ''You know what you're going to get with Carl Froch. I'm expecting an impressive performance from Carl on Saturday night. I want him to beat Ward in devastating fashion.''
That figures to be a daunting task.
Ward, 27, hasn't lost as an amateur or a professional since he was 14. He capped an outstanding amateur career by winning a gold medal for the U.S. in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece and has since dominated his competition in the pros.
He entered the Super Six tourney as an underdog to the more experienced Abraham, Froch and Kessler, but is favored to win after posting an 11th-round TKO over Kessler, then posting decisions over Allen Green, Sakio Bika and Abraham.
''You're going to have two hungry fighters in the ring, two fighters who don't want to lose,'' Ward said. ''I know I'll bring it and I believe (Froch) will bring it. This has been a long time coming and I'm ready.''