CARL FROCH imagines himself to be a much harder puncher than Andre Ward, and maybe he is. But the outcome of another boxing match a week earlier could have an effect on how the two reigning super middleweight champions go at it tomorrow night in the Showtime-televised unification bout that brings the curtain down on the "Super Six Classic" in Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall.

Last Saturday night, in Lamont Peterson's hometown of Washington, D.C., Peterson upset WBA/IBF junior welterweight champion Amir Khan, of England, on a controversial split decision. The scores were 115-110 for Khan and 113-112, twice, for Peterson.

Khan complained bitterly about the two penalty points for pushing he was docked by referee Joe Cooper. Had those points not been deducted, Khan - who complained bitterly of "home-cooking" - would have won by unanimous decision.

Not that Ward, the WBA titlist from Oakland, Calif., is as likely a candidate for any perceived favoritism in Boardwalk Hall. He's never fought there, and every map of the United States will reveal his hometown is 3,000 miles from the fight site. But Ward (24-0, 13 KOs) won a gold medal for the USA at the 2004 Athens Olympics and figures to have the backing of a majority of the audience over Froch (28-1, 20 KOs), the WBC champ who brought a small but noisy contingent of his supporters when he scored a 12-round split decision over Glen Johnson in Boardwalk Hall on June 24 in a "Super Six" semifinal.

Froch, 34, not unexpectedly, is predicting a knockout victory. The slicker-boxing Ward, 27, isn't saying that in so many words, but he strongly disputes Froch's assertion that he is a powderpuff puncher with a glass chin. Oh, sure, he's a 3-1 favorite and the likely winner if the fight goes to the scorecards, but he is dropping plenty of hints that he'd rather it not come to that.

"If Carl Froch beats me, there won't be any excuses," Ward said. "I beat Carl Froch, there shouldn't be any excuses. No judges, no referees, no nothing. May the best man win."

And that was the idea when the "Super Six" format was conceived nearly 2 years ago. Six of the finest 168-pound fighters in the world in a round-robin tournament, with the winner being recognized as the best in the world, alphabet designations notwithstanding.

There have been problems - withdrawals by three of the six fighters in the original field (two replacements came aboard to fill a couple of the vacancies), and the fact that IBF super middleweight champ Lucian Bute was a non-participant - but there have been dandy bouts along the way, and Ward-Froch stands as a pre-Christmas gift for fans who have waited through all the preliminaries.

"I've gotten some really great matchups since the tournament started - [Andre] Dirrell, [Mikkel] Kessler, [Arthur] Abraham, Johnson, and now Ward," Froch said. "I don't think those fights would have happened if it wasn't for the tournament. It's been great for Andre, and it's been great for me."

Froch, who hails from Nottingham, England, has cited an earlier Ward opponent, journeyman Darnell Boone, as proof that Ward can be taken out if nailed with the right shot. Boone scored a fourth-round knockdown of Ward on Nov. 19, 2005, in Ward's seventh professional bout, but the Olympian recovered sufficiently to score a six-round unanimous decision.

"If he's not knocked cold, he's going to be hurt," Froch said of what will happen if he lands the same sort of uppercut to Ward's jaw. "He's going to be in serious trouble.

"I'm tough and strong. I'm like a caveman ready to tear someone apart."

Ward described himself as a "chameleon," able to make adjustments on the fly, and he said he has added incentive to zip the lips of the brash Briton.

"The guy is doing a little bit too much talking," Ward said. "He's very arrogant and needs to be humbled."