By Cliff Rold
And now for what might have been.
What was once supposed to be one of the final preliminary bouts of the “Super Six” Super Middleweight tournament unfolds Saturday as a critical crossroads fight. Mikkel Kessler, hampered by an eye problem, withdrew from the tournament following a scintillating second round decision over Carl Froch in April 2010. Green, who lost badly as the tournament’s seventh man to Andre Ward in round two, was ultimately drummed out in eight by Glen Johnson as the tournament’s final new addition.
Neither has done much since. Green has had two rebuilding assignments at Cruiserweight and Light Heavyweight. Kessler returned last June with a rebuilding assignment at Super Middleweight and then more injury issues in a career plagued by them. The choice is made to test the waters at Light Heavyweight for this contest.
It reads only as a test of waters as this bout was scheduled for a catchweight of 170 lbs. Green came in slightly over but the show will go on. Can Kessler get on track for big fights again in front of what should be a raucous hometown crowd? U.S. fans got late news that they will be able to find out. The bout will air live on ESPN3.com at 6 PM EST/3 PM PST.
Let’s go the report card.
Previous Titles: WBA Super Middleweight (2004-07, 4 Defenses; 08-09, 2 Defenses); WBC Super Middleweight (2006-07, 1 Defense; 2010)
Weight: 169.1 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 167 lbs.
Hails from: Copenhagen, Denmark
Record: 44-2, 33 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #2 at Super Middleweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 9-2, 6 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 2 (Dingaan Thobela, Julio Cesar Green, Manny Siaca, Anthony Mundine, Eric Lucas, Markus Beyer, Dimitri Sartison, Carl Froch)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 2 (Joe Calzaghe, Andre Ward)
Titles/Previous Titles: None
Weight: 171.7 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 171.9 lbs.
Hails from: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Record: 31-3, 21 KO, 1 KOBY
BoxingScene Rank: Unrated
Record in Major Title Fights: 0-1
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 1 (Carl Daniels)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 2 (Andre Ward, Glen Johnson)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Kessler B; Green B
Pre-Fight: Power – Kessler B+; Green B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Kessler B; Green C+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Kessler A; Green C
Kessler at his best displayed one of the best jabs in boxing but the weapon seemed to lose some sting in recent years. Pushing rather than popping the stick, Kessler was exposed in losses to Calzaghe and Ward for a lack of inside game. For all his solid fundamentals and above average speed and power, he struggled with fighters able to improvise on the fly.
While one couldn’t take too much from his rehab assignment against heavybag Mehdi Bouadla last year, there were signs that the work of trainer Jimmy Montoya is adding dimensions to Kessler. He showed off a sharp uppercut in close and got back to some of the bodywork he’d abandoned as he expanded his profile in the championship ranks. It was the sharpest, and quickest, Kessler had looked since a 2007 win over Librado Andrade.
It helps when the incoming is little to fear. It won’t be the case Saturday. While Green has, to date, done far more rhetorically than he has in the ring with top competition, his left hand remains a lethal blow. Fired with an under and over arc, if Green can time the jab of Kessler the Dane could experience rough moments.
The problem for Green is the question of what else he has to offer. He showed some heart in the Johnson loss. The heart didn’t erase a questionable beard and obvious questions about his stamina. Green can be lapped by opponents in terms of activity and, when under fire, has not always shown the killer instinct to attempt victory. If he can’t land the left, his face can be a mask of befuddlement and he’s prone to complaining in the ring when he should just keep fighting.
Kessler doesn’t have the same questions. While his frustration with Ward was evident, he showed a great will to win against Calzaghe in 2007, never giving up even as he slipped far behind in the second half of their bout. Against Froch, one fight after Ward, he met the gritty Brit in the trenches with his back to the wall and delivered his gutsiest performance and biggest win.
The weight, and general size, issues can’t be ignored. Standing next to each other at the weigh-in, Green looked to have more than a single inch on Kessler in terms of height and could have pounds on him as well. How will Kessler react to jabbing up at Green?
And if he handles it fine, how will Green react to the punches of Kessler?
Physically, Green possesses many traits one would want to see in a top Super Middleweight or Light Heavyweight. It just doesn’t come together in the ring. He doesn’t have odd lapses where he stares at his feet anymore, but his inability to focus has been evident too long to be dismissed. With a crowd heavily against him, there’s no reason to think the pressure of being on the road and facing a top-level foe again won’t work on his psyche.
This fight is really about what Kessler has left. All the injuries, and the tough fights with Ward and Froch, took miles off the tank. He can also be cut. If he still has an A-game, he should win going away and probably by knockout. If not, the quality gap between the two should still be enough for Kessler to throw more, land more, and earn a decision with question marks about what the future truly holds.
Report Card Picks 2012: 24-5
Cliff Rold is a member of the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]