For the past 26 months, Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic has endeavored to answer one question: Who would be the last man standing if you took six elite super middleweights, put them in a tournament and let them duke it out in one tough fight after another?
At long last, we are about to get the answer.
Andre Ward and Carl Froch are two of the original members in the modified round-robin tournament that saw three of the original six withdraw and two replacements added. Ward and Froch have battled their way through quality opponent after quality opponent to make the final they both vowed to reach when the groundbreaking tournament was announced in July 2009.
"He's standing in my way and I'm standing in his way. So someone's got to get out of the way," Ward said.
"I am coming with dynamite on both hands and I'll be ready to explode on the night," Froch said. "I will not be denied."
They both want it badly, and will meet Saturday night (Showtime, 9 ET/PT) at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., in the last major fight of the year -- and one of the most significant bouts in the history of the 27-year-old weight class. There is so much on the line: the fighters' 168-pound world titles (one apiece), the vacant Ring magazine championship, recognition as the best super middleweight in the world and the right to hoist the Super Six trophy.
"I'm tough and strong, I'm like a caveman ready to tear someone apart," Froch said. "I'm going to walk forward, hit him hard and often, and I just feel with his lack of punching power he'll struggle to hold me off."
Said Ward: "I know I've done everything I need to do to prepare for a huge fight like this. We've done everything we're supposed to do. I'm physically fit, mentally fit. I feel fast, I feel strong, I feel explosive."
With no other obvious candidate, the winner of Saturday's fight, assuming it is a clear-cut victory, likely will win fighter of the year honors, something both have said they'd like.
"It would be the cherry on top of everything," Froch said.
"One of my goals has always been for me to be fighter of the year and to get my coach [Virgil Hunter] trainer of the year," Ward said. "It's been a long time coming, almost 15 years of grinding and toiling when no one is around patting you on the back and there are no lights, camera, action. The lights and the cameras have just been coming around the last five, six, seven years, but we've been grinding for many, many years."
Ward, 27, of Oakland, Calif., and a 2004 U.S. Olympic boxing gold medalist -- America's only one since those Games -- was the only fighter to go through the tournament unbeaten. In his first fight, Ward scored a dominant upset win against pre-tournament favorite Mikkel Kessler to claim a title. He has followed up that victory with one dominant performance after another, including whitewashes of Allan Green and Arthur Abraham (plus a non-tournament win against Sakio Bika).
Froch, 34, of England, had a tougher time reaching the final. He eked out a split decision at home against Andre Dirrell in his opener, then lost his title to Mikkel Kessler in Denmark in what many consider the best action fight of the tournament. When Kessler dropped out of the tournament because of an eye injury, he vacated the title, and Froch authored a lopsided win against Abraham to reclaim it. In the semifinals, Froch (28-1, 20 KOs) took a majority decision against Glen Johnson in another grueling fight.
All along, the final was where Ward and Froch expected to be. It had been scheduled for Oct. 29, but, like so many other tournament bouts, the fight was postponed. The reason: Ward (24-0, 13 KOs) suffered a nasty cut over his right eye in a sparring session.
"I had already left home [for training camp], and you're working day in and day out, and then the cut happened," he said. "It's obviously a letdown. Physically, you have to be smart. The warrior in you, the fighter in you, especially with the stakes that are on the line, wants to keep grinding and keep working hard, but you just have to be smart about it."
Froch was initially upset by the postponement, even though Ward was legitimately cut and required seven stitches. (Showtime aired video of the incident and of Ward's visit to the plastic surgeon on the "Fight Camp 360" series.)
In retrospect, Froch said the postponement was good for him.
"The delay in the fight did me a favor. My trainer, Robert McCracken, also has a great responsibility with the Great Britain amateur boxing team preparing for the 2012 Olympics," Froch said. "He would have had to leave camp for a bit, but now it's a non-issue."
Given the length of the promotion for the final -- since the conclusion of the semifinals in June -- Ward and Froch have grown sick of each other between their press tour, interview sessions, teleconference and this week's final news conference.
Ward has never been much of a trash-talker, but even Froch, with a gift for gab, has been a bit more quiet recently. They're just both sick of talking, it seems, and have instead focused on the task at hand.
"This fight should be dubbed, 'No Excuses.' If Carl Froch beats me, there won't be [any] excuses," Ward said. "[If] I beat Carl Froch, there shouldn't be any excuses. No judges, no referees, no nothing. May the best man win.
"There's been a lot of talk, too much talk in my opinion. This is my favorite time, when it's time to get down and showdown. The fight is a few days away. I love to speak the loudest on the night of the fight. I love big moments like this. I love big fights like this. Carl Froch is the self-proclaimed best fighter in England. I love it. I want to fight the best and I want to beat the best."
Said Froch: "I guarantee you that you will not be disappointed with what you see on Saturday night. I am in the best shape of my life. It's as simple as that. I've been on the weight now for a couple of weeks. I feel sharp, strong, confident. Physically and mentally, I could not be in better shape. I know I'm ready and I know that Saturday night is going to be my night.
"I'll be trying to hit Andre Ward in the face -- very hard and very often. Will I be targeting the right eye or left eye or wherever his cut was? To be totally honest, no. It's too difficult to target a square inch on somebody's cranium."
Ward has the speed and technical ability in his favor, but Froch is heavier-handed and has faced slightly better opposition. Although Ward is the favorite, he said that is irrelevant to him.
"A lot of people keep talking to me about being the favorite," he said. "We're not the favorite. I still have that chip on my shoulder, but that's how we prepare. For some reason, there seem to be questions from Froch's camp and the media about toughness, physicality, things like that. There's a sense that I'm looking to squeak by in this fight. You don't squeak by fights at this level. You take them, and that's what I plan to do."
Froch said he is prepared for anything Ward shows him.
"I expect for him to come to box and to use his jab and his boxing skills. But he may try to close the gap and get into my chest and get rough in there," Froch said. "It's hard to tell what to expect. It's going to be a fantastic fight between two high-level fighters. It's going to be a war. There is a Plan A and a Plan B and maybe even a Plan C."
Whatever happens, Ward and Froch at least made it to the final, beating all comers along the way. Their fight will culminate the mammoth undertaking by Showtime and all the fighters and promoters involved in the Super Six.
"These two guys, you can't take your hat off to them enough," said Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport, Froch's promoter. "They're the last two standing from a world-class field, and you have to give respect to both guys. When you take off your vests and you take off your head guards from the amateurs, you dream of nights like this Saturday. It's what boxing is all about."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.