Andre Ward outclassed Mikkel Kessler last night before a crowd of over 10,000 at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, and put two points on the board under his name in the Super Six World Boxing Championship. The bout was stopped in the 11th round after Kessler could no longer continue due to a cut caused by a headbutt. Ward earned the technical decision by scores of 98-92, 97-93, and 97-93. He is now tied with Carl Froch for second place in the Super Six standings. Arthur Abraham, who has scored the only knockout of the tournament thus far, leads the pack with three points.
As for the fight itself, it was a sloppy affair, oddly heightened on television by a partisan crowd and a blow-by-blow announcer, Gus Johnson, whose contract must include a provision for him to shout every time a muscle twitches in the ring.
Ward was in complete command from the opening bell. His potent mix of skill, smarts, and spoiling were too much for the predictable Kessler, who could not figure out a Plan B once he saw his jab and straight right neutralized. He was taken out of his rhythm and found himself unable to adjust. Ward was simply too fast and too smart for Kessler and threatened to overwhelm him at times with a hailstorm of punches. He also clinched excessively and threw in a little dirty work–particularly with headbutts–to keep Kessler perplexed. In fact, Ward did just about everything to Kessler last night except give him a Wet Willie.
Kessler began the fight with pressure, but Ward boxed well from the outside. In round two, Ward came out firing shots, but switched to boxing on the perimeter, catching Kessler with left hooks and a busy jab. Round three was the beginning for the end for Kessler, who took some flush shots and could not draw a bead on Ward. It was also the round where Ward began to John Ruiz homage.
The next few rounds were more of the same, with Ward sticking his jab, moving intelligently, firing off combinations, and clinching whenever the opportunity for it arose. Kessler was staggered by a big right in the fourth, and an uppercut jarred him to his toes. Wary of quick counters from either side, Kessler soon abandoned his jab and was left trying to counter with an ineffective left hook. When Kessler, Monaco via Copenhagen, Denmark, tried pressing forward once more, Ward peppered him from an assortment of angles, dipped low to avoid shots, or slipped him adroitly into a full-nelson. Luckily for Ward, Oakland, California, Kessler is perhaps the worst inside fighter in the history of prizefighting. During clinches or in close, Kessler merely sought to be cradled like a toddler, and he even allowed Ward, not exactly Jack Dempsey in the trenches, to work a bit with one free hand. Over and over Ward, now 21-0 (13), rushed in, embraced Kessler,
pounded on the ribs or kidneys, stepped back out and, before Kessler could press RESET on his offense, smacked his opponent with an array of combinations from both orthodox and southpaw stances.
Ward, 166 1/2, did as he pleased, when he pleased, and stunned Kessler several times throughout the bout with counter lefts and straight rights. He also jabbed sharply, both to the head and to the body. By the middle rounds, Kessler, 167, was taking a beating and was a bloody mess at the time of the stoppage. Kessler was cut over his left eye by a headbutt in round eight that left him complaining about blurry vision for the rest of the bout. Ward landed at last three head butts in round nine and Kessler kvetched to Jack Reiss without success. Another headbutt from Ward in round ten–this one was 100% blatant–ripped open a cut above his left eye and drew a cry of agony. Kessler, who fell to 42-2 (32), was now cut and bleeding from both eyes. He landed few telling blows and was practically out of the fight by the time referee Jack Reiss called in the ringside physician to examine Kessler. The doctor immediately advised Reiss to stop the fight.
War showed his attributes as well as his drawbacks last night. No one in the tournament, not even Andre Dirrell, has faster hands than Ward, and his creativity in the ring will leave plenty of fighters flummoxed for years to come. He also has nifty footwork and fine counterpunching skills. As for shortcomings, Ward is sloppy, squares up with abandon on offense, and is not much fun to watch. In addition, another referee, one with two eyes open, might not let him get away with the low blows, excessive holding, and billygoat imitations that marred his performance.
Ward, who also earned a super middleweight title with his victory, is now scheduled to face Jermain Taylor in a Group Stage 2 bout.