The Third Time Was...A Charm

By Dennis Bernstein, MBA

Photos: Ray Flores


Oakland Ė The third and final bout of the first round of the Super Six World Boxing Classic went down in Oak Town on Saturday night. The first two chapters of the story were written across the pond in Europe; Arthur Abraham scored an electrifying knockout of Jermaine Taylor in the waning seconds of the last round while Carl Froch, refusing to lose but boring in his execution, plodded to victory over the inexperienced Andre Dirrell.


The Super Six concept has been talk of the boxing world with the most amazing accomplishment being the continued cooperation of the promoters with dogs in the fight. The spotlight of the fight world had been clearly set on the tournament until Manny Pacquiao stepped in the ring and continued to amaze both devoted and casual fans of the sport against Miguel Cotto a week prior. With no fights happening in the tournament until 2010, the Mikkel Kessler- Andre Ward match up needed to be an exciting one to carry over momentum and buzz into the New Year.


Going in the match up, everything seemed to favor the undefeated 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist Ward. He was fighting in his hometown, his opponent was campaigning for the first time outside of Europe in over nine years and the American was five years younger than the Viking Warrior. Adding to the spice was the fact that Kesslerís WBA strap was on the line but wasnít like Kessler was going into the bout with no advantages. Besides living in Monaco (nice life, Mikkel), his body of work was much more robust with victories over the likes of Librado Andrade, Anthony Mundine and Markus Beyer. After being dominated by the since retired Joe Calzaghe in their 2007 match for the undisputed super middleweight crown, the defending champ admittedly never recovered from the domination during the second half of the Calzaghe loss. A pre-fight quote confirmed the effect, ďI had a loss against Joe Calzaghe and it still tears me up, so Iím not thinking about losing anymore.Ē


The Warrior re-saddled to recapture the WBA strap and campaigned three times over the past seventeen months prior to facing Ward.  While Wardís resume was unblemished the only victory of note was his triumph earlier this year against the dangerous but faded Edison Miranda. Ward dominated his Colombian opponent but was unable to stop him and a subsequent third round stoppage of Shelby Pudwell in September only served as a tune up. Wardís promoter, Dan Goossen went all in for the tournament, hoping Andreís previous 20 victories was enough of a body of work to face the finest in the 168 pound class. With Kesslerís next turn in the round robin coming against the difficult-to-solve Froch, it was a must win for the Dane. Most experts thought that this was the right place and right time for Wardís star to ascend to its zenith but at bout time, but Kessler was a 2 to 1 favorite before the opening bell. Pre-fight squawking by Kesslerís promoter, Wilfried Sauerland caused a late change in judges from three Americans to one South African, one Swede and one American as the German promoter threatened not to contest the WBA strap with all Americans doing the scoring.

As the two stepped to the ring in front of a raucous pro-Ward crowd of 10,277 (and most of the Golden State Warriors) at the Oracle Arena, the only question remained was the classic boxing one; would youth be served or would experience and cunning rule the  night? It was the final opportunity for an American to get on the scoreboard in round one of the Classic.


The fight was easily the most entertaining and closely contested of the three; you didnít have an overmatched Taylor doing his round twelve fade or a dancing Dirrell talking a great game but not much more. At the start of every round, both combatants were standing in the middle of the ring ready to engage before the bell rang. Ward started out cautious and spilt the first two rounds but started to take control of the fight in Round 3. With Kessler coming straight ahead, the challenger grew more aggressive, switching for orthodox to southpaw and shortening the range between himself and Kessler.

The fourth round is where the controversy in the match started; Ward kept coming forward with his hands and yes, his head. A cut was opened under the championís right eye due to an accidental head butt and seeing blood gave Ward even more confidence. At the end of round seven, the Oakland native landed a big overhand right that had the Oracle rocking and Kessler looked significantly older and slower than his 30 years. Ward was just too fast defensively and never gave the Dane a clear shot at doing any damage and another butt opened a deeper cut along his left eyebrow as Kessler sat on his stool after round eight. Although Kessler won the ninth round on all three cards, he knew that his only way to victory this evening was via a knockout.


In the eleventh and what proved to be the final round, a Ward right zeroed in on Kesslerís left eye that made referee Jack Reiss look to ring doctor Smith Ketchum for a ruling. The fight off was waived off and went to the scorecards due to the accidental butt. Our ringside card mirrored the Swedish judge, Mikael Hook at 97-93 while Stanley Christodolou and Steve Morrow had Ward one point better at 98-92.


Ward was exhilarated after his 21st victory and first world title, ďI canít describe how Iím feeling right now. Winning the Olympic Gold Medal was great but I donít know how to compare this to it. Iím ready to defend the title anywhere,Ē he exclaimed in the ring while holding the title belt.


Kessler was torn between complaining about the refereeing and congratulating the victor with his words. ďWard was the better man tonight but I would have like to see the fight go one more round. I definitely could have continued, I was cut but they werenít that bad where I couldnít continue. He threw a lot of elbows, there were a lot of head butts and he never got a warning. He always came in with his head and I couldnít see where I got head butted. The referee said he would break us up in the clinches but he never did. If I fight Andre Ward again, I canít got straight ahead or stay in the middle of the ring, I have to go to the side.Ē




With the tournament recessed until early 2010, where do we stand? Here are one manís observations:

-     The heavy favorite to emerge as the best is Germanyís Arthur Abraham. His powerful, dominant performance against Taylor puts him far ahead of pre-tournament co-favorite Kessler and will be a big favorite against Dirrell although that fight will be staged in the States. Dirrell canít dance his way through a second fight but canít go toe to toe with King Arthur either. This match could wind up as the biggest mismatch of the tourney.

-     The damage inflicted on Kesslerís eyes looks to delay the highly anticipated (in Europe) match up with Froch that will be contested in front of a huge crowd in Copenhagen. It will be interesting to see Kesslerís response after being surprisingly manhandled. He was outclassed by Calzaghe but he was beat up by Ward.

-     Though Ward fought a close to perfect fight against Kessler, he canít sleep on Taylor. He wonít be fighting at home and Taylor will hit him with shots that Kessler couldnít or wouldnít. Though he should win, Taylor may prove to be a harder fight than Kessler was for the new WBA title holder.

-     If Taylor canít improve his performance against Ward, he may consider dropping out of the tournament. Back to back stunning KOís at the hands of Froch and Abraham canít be repeated again, the Razorback has to make this a close fight. If the third timeís not a charm for Jermaine, the Classic may be looking for a replacement for Stage 3.

-     Everyoneís a winner when egos are set aside for the better of the game. If the excitement that was in Oracle Arena can be replicated with actions fights and great crowds, Showtime will have be the ultimate winner at the end of the line.


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