By Jake Donovan
For the first time since agreeing to participate in the Super Six World Boxing Classic, Team Mikkel Kessler has come to realize just how advantageous it has become for undefeated challenger Andre Ward to have this weekend’s fight take place in his hometown.
He’s already traveling some 5,500 miles from his native Denmark to defend his alphabet super middleweight title at the Oracle Arena in Oakland (Saturday, SHOWTIME, 10PM ET/PT). From the moment the fight was signed, Kessler hardly figured to see a friendly face among what figures to be a rabid crown on hand in support of their favorite son.
If the beleaguered California State Athletic Commission, whom presides over this weekend’s card, has their way, he also shouldn’t expect to be granted neutrality among the referee or at least two of the three judges.
News leaked out to the Kessler camp early Wednesday morning that a conflict exists as the officials were named for this weekend’s bout. Assigned as the third man for this contest will be Jack Reiss of California. The three ringside judges are Steve English (California), Steve Morrow (California) and Stanley Christodoulou (South Africa).
On the surface, there is little in the way of suspect credentials among any of the four officials, all of whom have proven to be capable at what they do. If anything, Christodoulou – the one neutral judge among the group - has greater ties to the tournament than any of the three local officials.
The veteran official served ringside for Kessler’s knockout over Gusmyr Perdomo, a bout that served as a prelude to the Super Six. He was also one of the three official judges for Arthur Abraham’s 12th round knockout of Jermain Taylor in last month’s tournament opener.
What is of greater concern to Team Kessler is not so much the credentials of the three local officials, but the fact that they are… local.
The Showtime contract, which was signed by all five promoters involved in the Super Six tournament, states: “Judges and referees shall be identified, selected and assigned by the athletic commission with jurisdiction over the Bout; provided that in all events, one judge shall be from the Home Territory of each Boxer Participant and the third judge shall be from a neutral territory, and in all cases, the referee shall be from a neutral territory.”
Given the language of the contract, no fewer than two of the four officials – including the referee - need to be replaced for Saturday’s main event. Kessler’s representatives have requested one of the California judges be replaced by a judge from a Scandinavian country (but not Kessler’s home country of Denmark).
As far the referee goes, failure to appoint a neutral third man could result in the WBA to withdraw their sanctioning of this bout, thus making it a non-title bout, although Kessler wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be at risk of losing his crown.
For the moment, the sanctioning body is going head to head with the California State Athletic Commission, having already requested another official for the bout. However, the end result won’t necessarily result in an out-of-the-ring victory for Team Kessler.
“It is my understanding that the WBA has suggested a different referee, although he too is from California,” stated Scott Shaffer, who serves as the stateside attorney for Sauerland Event, Kessler’s promoter.
The fight will be the first in the tournament for both Kessler and Ward, though Sauerland Event has already dipped its feet in the pool as they also promote Arthur Abraham, whom last month stopped Jermain Taylor in the 12th round to emerge as the current points leader in the Super Six rankings.
It is that very fight in which Team Kessler points to in their offering an even playing field and honoring the terms of the contract.
“When Jermain Taylor came to Germany to fight in the Super Six, neither Sauerland nor the local commission tried to load up on local officials,” informs Shaffer. “There were no German officials involved in that fight, and Taylor’s people didn’t even have to fight about it. The referee was from Mexico, and the judges were from Canada, Italy and South Africa.
“Kessler deserves the same respect Taylor was given, and is contractually entitled to it.”
In other words, hometown advantage should be the only advantage Andre Ward enjoys.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at JakeNDaBox@gmail.com.