By Cliff Rold
Any other time, Showtime’s Saturday night ShoBox split telecast wouldn’t do much to stir emotions. Neither fight, on paper, promises drama. This isn’t any other time.
The man presumed the chief of the Super Middleweight class, Mikkel Kessler, is slated for a November showdown with 2004 U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist Andre Ward (19-0, 12 KO). It’s arguably the most intriguing of the opening round matches in the much-hyped “Super Six” tournament at 168 lbs.
Of the two, Ward is presumed the softer matched. His foe, Shelby Pudwill (22-3-1, 9 KO), isn’t much of a puncher, has been stopped twice, and has fought only once since 2006.
Ward’s going to win the fight. This weekend a win isn’t enough. Ward faces a scenario where he must not only win but also avoid injuries or dramatic cuts. The old saying is the show must go on; Ward won’t want to risk it going on without him.
Kessler should also be a safe bet to win this weekend but his opponent doesn’t qualify as a patsy. While his record is hardly replete with stunning names or wins, WBA mandatory contender Gusmyl Perdomo is a competent fighter. On neutral turf, rather than on the road in Germany versus Dmitri Sartison and Mario Veit, he might even be undefeated.
Kessler is a pivotal piece of the “Super Six” puzzle, the de facto number one seed. Is his holding that spot down on Saturday night a lock?
Let’s go to the report card.
Titles: WBA Super Middleweight (2008-Present, 1 Defense)
Previous Titles: WBA Super Middleweight (2004-06, 3 Defenses); WBA/WBC (2006-07, 1 Defense)
Weight: 167.6 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 167.75 lbs.
Hails From: Copenhagen, Denmark
Record: 41-1, 31 KO
Record in Title Fights: 7-1, 5 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 6 (Dingaan Thobela, Julio Cesar Green, Manny Siaca, Anthony Mundine, Eric Lucas, Markus Beyer)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 1 (Joe Calzaghe)
Title: 1st Title Opportunity
Weight: 167.1 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 167.9 lbs.
Hails from: Turmero, Venezuela
Record: 16-2, 10 KO
Speed - Kessler B; Perdomo B+
Power - Kessler B+; Perdomo B
Defense - Kessler B+; Perdomo B
Intangibles - Kessler B+; Perdomo B
It might surprise some, but Perdomo may be a hair faster than Kessler. The lanky Venezuelan southpaw throws nice short counter lefts and rights if he can catch an opponent coming forward. The problem for Perdomo is likely to be the problem everyone has with Kessler. Even if he isn’t the fastest fighter in the sport, he might have one of the best jabs. Perdomo often paws with the jab which could make it difficult to get around the Kessler stick and the Dane rarely charges face first. Calzaghe showed Kessler’s jab can be overcome with volume and angles and Perdomo will need those tools.
Even with them, the incoming is likely to be more dangerous for Perdomo. Perdomo has some knockouts on his record but has shown little power is his steps up. All of Veit’s four losses came via knockout and he handled Perdomo fine. Sartison, the common opponent for each, was beaten into submission by Kessler and had no problem making the distance with Perdomo.
Kessler has some highlight reel knockouts but hasn’t been a one punch threat against many of his best foes. Eric Lucas was bludgeoned into a stoppage; Anthony Mundine and Librado Andrade were dominated on the cards but standing at the final bell. Kessler is best described as heavy handed, heavier handed than anyone Perdomo has faced, using four punches almost exclusively. He has a jab, a left hook, a straight right, and the occasional uppercut. He almost never goes to the body and prefers the classic one-two. If the jab starts to work against Perdomo, his punches will flow in fundamental combinations.
Perdomo’s defense has, so far, been based on range. He looks to use his range to create distance so he can duck and bend when his opponents are on offense. Kessler is traditionally European, often blocking with his arms and riding out storms before resetting with his jab. He’s fairly flat footed and Perdomo could use that to his advantage if he can get off and move to Kessler’s left after jabbing.
In terms of intangibles, both men have solid beards though Kessler has been in with the more dangerous foes. Against Calzaghe, Kessler was hurt badly to the body and may be more vulnerable there than upstairs. To his credit, he weathered the storm. With almost a year out of the ring heading into Saturday, his body would be a good place to test.
The year off provides one of the biggest questions of the night. Will Kessler be rusty? It would be a more interesting question if Perdomo didn’t have the same one hovering over him. Kessler last entered the ring for a glorified sparring session with Danilo Haussler in October 2008. Perdomo? He was last in the ring in November 2008 against a fighter with a losing record. Sitting on a mandatory is a great way to insure a paycheck but, most of the time, not the best way to prepare to win.
Perhaps the biggest intangible in this fight is the stances of the fighters. Awkward southpaws versus stand –up orthodox fighters can be a recipe for accidental headbutts. Just as Ward will want to make it through without harm Saturday, Kessler will want to avoid any nasty skull clashes.
Perdomo should provide Kessler with something he needs before the Ward fight. He’ll go some rounds. That should be all he does. Whether he might have deserved the nods over Veit and Sartison or not, those were close fights and neither is on the level of Kessler. Kessler’s jab, right hand, and experience, should secure him a decision or late corner stoppage on Saturday.
If everyone’s skin is intact, Kessler-Ward should then be right around the corner.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org