Like many fans, I was intrigued by the performance of Danish thumper Mikkel (rhymes with nickel) Kessler during last night's performance on HBO, so I decided to dig around and see what I could find out about him.
In case you missed it, Kessler gave a near-textbook performance against Mexican upstart Librado Andrade, sweeping every round on all three cards and looking like an all around badass. Badass, and clinically outstanding boxer, that is -- for Kessler played it tight, hitting and moving gracefully, launching his wicked jab with precision and tenacity, and showing an ability to pull back quickly into a defensive position when needed. And despite the fact that he failed to knock Andrade out, his punches looked strong (which emphasized how terrific of a chin this Andrade guy has).
Everyone wants to see him fight the other belt holder at 168, that is, the mighty Joe Calzaghe, whose name appears on nearly everyone's top ten pound for pound list these days, ever since his demolishment of Jeff Lacy. Along with Mosley vs. Mayweather and Marquez vs. Pacquiao II, this is one of the best fights boxing could offer its fans.
Kessler is 28 years old, with an immaculate 39-0 record, including 29 KO's. Aside from Andrade (who himself was undefeated going into the fight), his best challenge was a remarkable KO victory over the once heralded Marcus Beyer. Like the Welshman Calzaghe, he has never fought outside his homeland in Denmark, but he tells us that he "most definitely want[s] to fight in the USA." How about Wales, Mikkel?
Kessler has been repeatedly described as a "Danish Oscar de la Hoya," meaning he's a handsome chap, I suppose, one who, unlike Mayweather, isn't prone to alienating fans with an assholish demeanor. He has a cult following in Copenhagen, where apparently some fans have adopted similar tattoos (Kessler has a formidable sleeve on his right arm). Denmark, I'm told, has a significant fan base for boxing, the sport's stature having been elevated by portly former heavyweight Brian Nielsen, whose rise was stopped by Tyson in 2001. Already, Kessler's reputation has begun to rival Nielsen, despite the fact that Kessler isn't a heavy. Lets hope Kessler's career isn't plagued by the kind of funny business Nielsen's was.
Kessler seems like a modest, all around good guy. I was impressed by the little hug he gave Andrade before the final round last night -- Andrade, who had taken brutal punishment and seemed unfazed, deserved it. It seemed genuine and unforced. He spoke modestly after the fight, though he wasn't too mousy to call out Calzaghe in a clearly rehearsed "dare" at the end of his post-fight interview.
Let's hope Calzaghe takes it. Although I would favor the more experienced and aggressive fighter in Calzaghe, there is no better challenge than Kessler at 168. As a descendant of the Danes myself, I'll be cheering for Mikkel.