By Cliff Rold
Boxing is, in so many ways, a passion sport. Saturday will be one of those nights where that passion is both displayed and conveyed to those who don’t get it. The 20,000 seat O2 Arena in London might create a roar that sounds like five times that many are in the building.
And why not?
The hometown guy in this one has more than earned the reception. Nottingham’s Carl Froch is everything fight fans say they want but seldom get. In an era where many top fighters talk about needing tune-ups while fighting twice a year, where guys milk network contracts and contacts (and no, that’s not a Mayweather reference; his schedule has been highly underrated if sporadic dating back to 2007) to avoid risk, Froch has made the most of a career that didn’t hit the promised land of opportunity until he was already past 30 years old.
It’s not to say he hasn’t taken a fight that one might consider a safer night on an occasion.
Literally, dating back to his first title shot versus an undefeated Jean Pascal in 2008, it has been only an occasion. In his last outing, Froch took on the dangerous but vulnerable Yusaf Mack and scored a walkover. It was a slight diversion from a schedule that featured legitimate, world-class fare in eight consecutive contests, losing only twice.
There are a couple of fighters in the game today whose schedules match Froch’s (Abner Mares comes to mind). No one’s can truly be called tougher.
Froch returns to form in a rematch of the first loss of his career, facing Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler for a second time. Make it nine fights out of ten for one of the more commendable warriors of his time.
Froch, after his blistering win over Lucian Bute last year, reached a broader acknowledgement of what he brings to the table. It’s made Kessler an underdog this weekend. Should that be the case?
While Froch has stayed active with tough outs, Kessler was able to finally heal up from myriad injuries over the years while working on some elements of his game that have been missing over the years. The feeling exists that Kessler is being wildly slept on going into this one, almost to the degree Juan Manuel Marquez was prior to his third fight with Manny Pacquiao.
Kessler-Froch I in 2010 fight was a Fight of the Year candidate, and the best fight of the Super Six tournament, for a reason. These two brought out the best in each other. There is every reason to think they will do it again.
And odds only matter until the bell rings.
Let’s go the report card.
Titles: IBF Super Middleweight (2012-Present, 1 Defense)
Previous Titles: WBC Super Middleweight (2008-10, 2 Defenses); WBC Super Middleweight (2010-Present, 1 Defense)
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 167.35 lbs.
Hails from: Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom
Record: 30-2, 22 KO
Rankings: #1 (BoxingScene, TBRB, Ring), #2 (ESPN, BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 7-2, 3 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 8 (Robin Reid RTD5, Jean Pascal UD12, Jermain Taylor TKO12, Mikkel Kessler L12, Arthur Abraham UD12, Glen Johnson MD12, Andre Ward L12, Lucian Bute TKO5)
Titles: WBA Super Middleweight (2012-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Previous Titles: WBA Super Middleweight (2004-07, 4 Defenses; 08-09, 2 Defenses); WBC Super Middleweight (2006-07, 1 Defense; 2010)
Weight: 166.5 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 167.55 lbs.
Hails from: Copenhagen, Denmark
Record: 46-2, 35 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #2 (BoxingScene, TBRB, Ring), #3 (ESPN), #4 (BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 10-2, 7 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 10 (Dingaan Thobela UD12, Julio Cesar Green KO1, Manny Siaca RTD7, Anthony Mundine UD12, Eric Lucas TKO10, Markus Beyer KO3, Joe Calzaghe L12, Dimitri Sartison KO12, Andre Ward L11, Carl Froch UD12)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Froch B; Kessler B
Pre-Fight: Power – Froch B+; Kessler B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Froch B; Kessler B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Froch A; Kessler A
Kessler, in losing to Calzaghe and Ward, struggled with men who were able to get close to him. Calzaghe hurt him to the body; Ward tore him up in the trenches. At his physical peak, he was able to control so much with one of the best jabs in the game that he could get away with not really developing an inside game. Against Froch, straighter shots and sheer will got him through a fight that could have gone the other way, but his offensive weakness still stood out.
A layoff to heal up in a career that has seen bad back, hand, and eye injuries, was in order after the rugged affairs with Ward and Froch and he took it. He also took the time to begin adding and adapting his arsenal. While Kessler has hardly turned into a Chavez in the trenches, he has shown against the limited fare of his last three fights some improvements. The left hook has been shortened upstairs, there are more shots to the body, and he’s improved the use of the short uppercut inside.
Has it been at the expense of his jab? There has been some decline in the snap of what was, in his physical prime, his best weapon. He’s been a pro since 1998, four years longer than Froch, and been at the world title level for close to nine years. The miles add up. It’s still a quality stick and will be a factor against Froch. How much of a factor will it be once he gets hit and the instincts kick in for both men?
That’s a question Froch will want to dictate the answer for. Froch, who can show off a solid if unorthodox jab, is a better boxer than he sometimes gets credit for. Everything he throws may not be textbook, but he’s got good timing and punch placement. He also understands the value of just hitting something. It creates chances and chips away.
The crowd could be a factor in terms of Froch’s confidence. He’s worked a long time to be embraced at home. He knows how close many of the rounds in the first fight were. On a different floor the crowd might have swayed the outcome. He has the crowd this time and, if Bute is any indication, he doesn’t buckle under the weight of local expectation.
To the benefit of viewers, Kessler won’t be in awe of the moment and will fight back. Kessler has never been shy about going on the road, returning the favor here after their first scrap in Denmark. A win here would be the finest road trip of his life and a chance to remind fans of why he has lingered near the top of the class for so long.
It doesn’t get much better than this. We have two veterans likely closer to the end than the beginning, equally matched and proven tough, in front of hot crowd and with plenty still to prove. This should be fine theatre.
It should also end up the way most expect. While Kessler might be getting slept on, there are still variables working against him that are hard to ignore. He barely got by Froch the first time, winning more rounds but most only by a hair, and that took everything he had in front of his fans. He needs a similar effort in front of a hostile mass and it looks like a tall order.
This should go a lot like their first fight with home field a factor in close rounds. The potential could be there to stop the oft-injured Dane late, but Kessler has never shown any quit and Froch won’t want to get reckless pursuing a stop against a man who will stay dangerous all night.
The winner of this one will have earned the right to demand a second fight with World Champion Andre Ward, the only man to defeat both. It will be no surprise if the fans are demanding a rubber match at the final bell instead.
For now, the pick is Froch in a close, maybe even debated, decision.
Report Card Picks 2013: 19-14
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]