The Super Six World Boxing Classic continues tomorrow night when Mikkel Kessler faces 2004 Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. Both fighters will be looking to crash the Super Six standings in the final bout of Group Stage 1. The tournament structure awards three points for knockouts, two points for decisions, and one point for draws. Kessler will also be defending his WHO alphabet title.
Although Ward, 20-0 (13), is a slight underdog, this bout looks closer to a pick ‘em affair. Ward, fighting out of Oakland, California, specializes in the kind of razzle dazzle that may frustrate a methodical boxer like Kessler. With quick hands, nifty footwork, and shifty defensive moves, Ward might be able to jump off to a quick start and force Kessler to fight from an early points deficit. In all likelihood, Ward, 25, will also employ his unpredictable switch-hitting methods to keep Kessler off-balance.
For his part, Kessler, 30, will need to boost his workrate and vary his offense a little more in order to prevent Ward from setting up. But is Kessler ready to increase the pressure? Kessler, Monaco via Copenhagen, Denmark, has been on cruise control since losing a unanimous decision to Joe Calzaghe in 2007. Since then, Kessler has fought infrequently and against modest opposition. In fact, his last fight, an effortless fourth round TKO over someone named Gusmyr Perdomo, was little more than a freebie handed to him by Showtime. Before the Perdomo fiasco, Kessler crushed Danilo Haussler in three, and dominated Dimitri Sartison before stopping him in the final round. Sartison did manage to jar Kessler in the first, but it was all downhill from there for the Kazakhstani. Needless to say, three consecutive blowouts is no way to prepare for a major fight against a talented young boxer with a hometown advantage.
Still, Kessler is a solid if slightly mechanical fighter with a professional demeanor and a proven track record. His only setback remains the competitive loss to Calzaghe two years ago. In that fight Kessler started well and looked sharp until Calzaghe overwhelmed him with his activity and began to hurt him to the body. According to Compubox, Calzaghe threw over 1,000 punches that night, and Kessler was unable to cope with the avalanche of blows.
Calzaghe, along with speedy Anthony Mundine, are probably the best barometers to determine how Kessler might fare against Ward. Calzaghe, a shifty southpaw with quick hands, outpointed Kessler, but Mundine, an erratic trickster, lost a unanimous decision to Kessler in 2005. Mundine landed his fair share of blows against Kessler, and often had Kessler looking confused, especially when he was able to force the Dane to retreat with rapid combinations. By the fourth round, however, Kessler began taking over with his steady jab and pinpoint right hands, and Mundine, who lacks first-rate counterpunching skills, began to fade.
Against Ward, Kessler, 42-1 (32), will have to be more proactive than usual. Occasionally, Kessler gets stuck in a holding pattern in the ring where he merely throws one left-right combo after another. Sometimes he looks like a man who has been hypnotized and is trapped in a perpetual 1-2 trance. Add to this predictability a near-parody of the typical European stand-up style, and you have a fighter who might be easy pickings for a flashy boxer like Ward. When Kessler does open up, he reveals a fair double-left hook to the body and head. He also has faster hands than perhaps he is given credit for. With a slew of late round knockouts, Kessler can probably be considered the puncher in the fight, although he is not noted for explosive KO power. A few thudding shots here or there may slow Ward over time, but Kessler cannot risk going for a close decision on enemy turf. He will have to fight from the opening bell.
Andre Ward is coming off of a massacre over Shelby Pudwill last September, and, five years after winning a gold Medal in Athens, is looking to cash in on the big time. His trainer, Virgil Hunter, says that Ward will be coming forward to bang Kessler to the body, which is good news for Kessler, who probably prefers to have Ward in range. Even so, Ward has explosively quick hands and can get away with a lot simply because he is so much faster than his opponents. Some of his defensive lapses, like retreating in a straight line and squaring up in front of his opponents, are red flags going into his bout with Kessler, but there is a chance that a focused Ward has worked on these deficiencies during preparation. If so, his chances of outpointing Kessler are very good. If not, he will take some hard shots from a technically sound fighter with some pop in his gloves.
Kessler, a two-time Alphabet titleholder, has the definite edge in experience, and it is this, ultimately, that swings the pendulum his way. Big fight experience in Denmark, Wales, Australia, and Germany should make him immune from the pressure of fighting in Oakland, and his resume is far superior to that of Ward. Other than Jerson Ravelo and Edison Miranda, Ward has never even come close to facing stiff opposition and one could make the argument that neither Ravelo, a Contender reject, nor Miranda, a reject of a different type, can be considered quality tests.
Speed, youth, and natural talent all belong to Ward, who has the potential to put it all together tomorrow night, but right now Kessler is the proven commodity. It is up to Ward to shift gears from AA ball to the major leagues. Kessler, by a very slim margin over twelve.