Last Five Fights: Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler

Usually we do this in reverse, but the Bad Left Hook full fight preview went up on Wednesday. This fight is incredibly interesting to me because of the fact that it matches one guy (Froch) who has continued to win, often against the odds, and one (Kessler) who may well be nearing an early end of the line -- or, you know, perhaps not. I see neither man as a clear favorite, and like every other fight thus far in the Super Six, we'll learn something about each fighter.

We'll start with the defending WBC titleholder, Carl Froch.

Fight 1: Robin Reid (W-RTD-5 / November 11, 2007)

Reid is best known for having lost a disgusting decision to Sven Ottke, and a very debatable decision to Joe Calzaghe. At 36, Reid was being put into the position of gatekeeper for Froch, who had already won the British super middleweight belt. Robin had seen his best days go past him -- he'd come off a win over Jesse Brinkley, but before that had been pounded out by Jeff Lacy in seven rounds in August 2005. An impressive win over Reid, who was faded but not worthless or anything, would mean that perhaps Froch was ready to go beyond domestic level.

Reid didn't come in like a sack of bricks or anything, either. He came to win, to get his career moving higher, to win Froch's British belt. But the former Olympic bronze medalist was simply outgunned by the younger, hungrier, stronger Froch, who battered Reid for five rounds, leaving Reid to stay on his stool and concede victory to Froch. After the fight, Reid announced his retirement from boxing, and has not fought since.

Fight 2: Albert Rybacki (W-TKO-4 / May 10, 2008)

Froch made his Showtime debut with this one, which was meant to be a fight with Denis Inkin, another promising and unbeaten European super middleweight, but Inkin pulled out late, and was replaced by Rybacki. Rybacki was also unbeaten coming in (15-0), but was considered by nobody to be on the level of Froch or Inkin. This fight was paired with Junior Witter's upset loss to Timothy Bradley.

As expected, Froch had a pretty easy time with Rybacki. The Pole had turned pro in 2000, at the age of 29, and was simply nowhere near Froch's class. He was already 37 when they got into the ring, and had fought just 15 times in eight years, so clearly this wasn't the stiffest test for Froch. Rybacki has not fought since.

Fight 3: Jean Pascal (W-UD-12 / December 6, 2008)

A big jump in competition came when Froch took on Jean Pascal in Nottingham on December 6, 2008. The two battled for the WBC belt that Joe Calzaghe had vacated when he moved up to the light heavyweight division. It had been Froch's great desire to fight Calzaghe, something he made no secret, but instead he got Pascal.

Pascal at the time was somewhat loathed among boxing's diehards, I'd say. His arrogant style didn't win him a ton of fans, nor did the idea that he had ducked a fight with Edison Miranda. Earlier in 2008, ESPN2 had them co-headline a Friday Night Fights. That January evening, Pascal had gotten into some minor trouble against Omar Pittman, a fighter he figured to run through, while Miranda scored a great highlight-reel knockout of David Banks in the following bout. The idea at the time was to match the two of them in a bigger Friday Night Fights main event that summer. It didn't happen. Many blamed Pascal for that, but later in the year Pascal wound up in a big fight anyway. It has since come out that Pascal was struggling through the shoulder injury that put him on the shelf with surgery late last year.

This was a Fight of the Year contender, a wonderfully hard-hitting affair that featured two unbeaten guys who wanted to stake their claim in the super middleweight division. Pascal brought it and showed a lot more guts than most thought he had at the time. Froch was simply a bit better, and earned the unanimous decision win. After the fight, both men were elevated to a higher standing in the minds of most, it seemed. They'd come together with doubts about each man, and while they didn't leave being hailed as our next great stars or anything, they beatings they gave one another earned them each newfound respect from fans and media. Pascal has gone on to do very well in the light heavyweight division.

Fight 4: Jermain Taylor (W-TKO-12 / April 25, 2009)

For his first big American TV fight, Froch was matched with former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor. In November 2008, Taylor had finished off his HBO contract with a win over shot Jeff Lacy in Nashville. The fight wasn't given red carpet treatment by HBO or anyone else, and it was all but accepted that Taylor wouldn't be back with the network.

Taylor went to Showtime, and though his career had skidded around a little, he was a fairly big acquisition for the network, a former HBO golden child now just looking to fight. Having moved up to the super middleweight division officially with the Lacy fight, Taylor's good standing and name value (plus Showtime's backing) got him a major title shot in his next bout, and it was all a good enough package for Froch to fly over to Mashantucket, Connecticut, his first fight on American soil since a 2005 stoppage of Henry Porras in Hollywood.

In the early rounds, it looked like Jermain Taylor was rejuvenated and just too skilled for Froch. He put "The Cobra" on the canvas in round three, and looked for all the world to be en route to a dominant victory. But then, it happened -- Froch's relentless pressure and Taylor's inability to keep pace with the Englishman gradually wore Taylor out. Jermain's conditioning had been questioned before, and it was showing up again. By the 10th and 11th rounds, it was clear that Taylor was going to have to survive Froch more than anything.

In the 12th round, Froch and his corner knew they needed a knockout, and they went for it. The titlist came out to damage Taylor in that final round, and knocked him down in the final minute. Taylor sprawled out in the corner, gasping for air, looking desperate and beaten. There was still time on the clock when he came back to his feet, and Froch pounced again. With just 14 seconds remaining in the fight, referee Mike Ortega had no choice but to stop the fight. Had Taylor been able to hang on, he would have won the decision. He was up 106-102 on two cards, meaning at the very, very worst, he would have won two cards 113-112, and been awarded the split decision victory. (The third judge, Jack Woodburn, had Froch up 106-102.)

It was brought up in the preview post comments that you can see this more as Taylor losing than Froch winning. I see the point, but disagree with it. If it weren't for Froch's pressure and refusal to back off, Taylor would have won this fight. If it were some other guy who had less of a will to win than Froch, Taylor would have won this fight. Taylor didn't just get tired. Froch made him tired, and then when he was gassed completely, he finished the job. He was able to weather Taylor's storm, and then make Taylor pay for not being able to finish the fight. I'm not saying that's a skill in the way that good footwork is a skill, but it's something Froch showed he can do.

Fight 5: Andre Dirrell (W-SD-12 / October 17, 2009)

This fight has been discussed to death, and I really have no great desire to recount it now. It's not even all that interesting. I think Dirrell won, lots of people think Dirrell won, and lots of people think Froch won, too. It was a butt ugly fight between Dirrell, who did not come to fight, and Froch, who attempted to explain his inability to box with Dirrell as being some sort of non-manly flaw in Dirrell's psyche. This fight was the mass birth of the "positive/negative" garbage that has since populated so many boxing articles and has been a part of nearly every Sky Sports boxing broadcast since. I really do hate this fight. It was horrible to watch, neither of them were impressive, and then I got Check Hook's little brother, Positive/Negative. Thanks a lot, Froch-Dirrell.

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(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images)

Fight 1: Joe Calzaghe (L-UD-12 / November 3, 2007)

A meeting between the reigning super middleweight champion of the world and his unbeaten, No. 1-ranked challenger. This was maybe the biggest fight in the history of the super middleweight division. Many thought Kessler, the powerful Dane, could overcome the awkward, smart Calzaghe, who was aging. Kessler did very well for himself in the first half of the fight -- honestly, I think you can say without meaning it as a back-handed compliment that this may have been the best performance of Kessler's career. Eventually, Calzaghe was able to disrupt Kessler to the point that he rendered him highly ineffective down the stretch, and won a conclusive and clear decision victory. It was a fine performance by both men, but Calzaghe was simply better.

Kessler had stepped into world competition in 2004, when he faced Manny Siaca for the WBA title. He won that fight, then followed with successful and dominant defenses against Anthony Mundine, Eric Lucas, Markus Beyer and Librado Andrade. His American TV debut came on Boxing After Dark against Andrade, and he put on a memorable clinic, pummeling Andrade for 12 full rounds, barely taking any punishment whatsoever. While Andrade won some fans that night for his awe-inspiring chin, it was Kessler who had brutalized him.

The Calzaghe-Kessler fight was a huge live attraction in Wales, and did very well across the pond. In the States, it was met with lukewarm acceptance as a big fight, but not one that particularly interested anyone. HBO paid big money for the bout, which didn't do a good rating. I think it was here, with Calzaghe having disposed of American Jeff Lacy, that we learned that Joe Calzaghe had either waited too long to try to build an American name, or simply wasn't interesting to American boxing fans. Kessler seemed infinitely easier to market -- not that boxing should ever be about trying to sell jeans, but he just had a better look, and he was more powerful and had knockout power. But Calzaghe was better than him, and he proved it. In my view, it was the single best win of Joe Calzaghe's career.

Fight 2: Dimitri Sartison (W-KO-12 / June 21, 2008)

Kessler had been set to fight Edison Miranda on Showtime on this date, and was a big favorite. That whole thing fell apart, and Kessler's career started shifting dramatically. Arthur Abraham replaced Kessler on Showtime and knocked out Miranda, while Kessler fought Sartison for the vacant WBA title that Calzaghe had given up after beating Kessler.

Sartison was unbeaten, but with a very thin record. Kessler dominated 11 rounds and knocked him out with just a minute left in the fight. It was no challenge for Kessler, but a solid enough bounce-back win, or rather, it would have been exactly that if the next two fights hadn't happened.

Fight 3: Danilo Haussler (W-KO-3 / October 25, 2008)

Haussler was even less qualified an opponent for Kessler than was Sartison, and was coming off a draw with Cristian Sanavia. Kessler and his long-time promoter, Mogens Palle, had been in a growing dispute over the type of fights Kessler was taking. It seemed from the outside that Mikkel wanted more, while the Palles were content to have him make money in easy fights. Haussler lasted less than three rounds, which was about right. Haussler hasn't fought since.

Fight 4: Gusmyr Perdomo (W-TKO-4 / September 12, 2009)

Kessler had signed with Sauerland Event, leaving the Palles, but had to make a final mandatory defense of the WBA title before entering the Super Six World Boxing Classic. The Sauerland/Palle wrangling itself wasn't easy, but at least now it wasn't Kessler alone battling the promoters. He had backing from the powerful Sauerland company to help him through it. Perdomo was another lame duck challenger, like Haussler and Sartison. All three were OK fighters who had no business on the world level with Kessler, who had become de facto top dog at 168 after Calzaghe's departure. Nothing of consequence was learned about Kessler in his comeback from the Calzaghe loss with these fights. They were all guys he would have easily beaten before Calzaghe, and he rather easily beat all of them afterward, too.

Fight 5: Andre Ward (L-TD-11 / November 21, 2009)

If you think about it like that, that Calzaghe was the last real challenge Kessler had before fighting Andre Ward, it in hindsight becomes easier to see this coming. Ward, like Calzaghe, is a skilled, athletic, quick guy, and matched against Kessler's plodding and basic repertoire, seems an easy favorite on paper. It was a question of Ward's maturity and how good he really was as a pro. His best win coming in was Edison Miranda.

His best win leaving was Mikkel Kessler, whom he dominated for the entire fight. Dirty tactics at times, sure, but Kessler simply seemed lost in the ring against Ward. In Oakland, he was out of his comfort zone, faced with the only truly top-notch fighter he'd faced in two years. This entire fight looked like the home stretch of the Calzaghe bout, where Kessler was outmaneuvered and unable to figure his way into the fight. Ward's strong start was surprising -- shocking was how easily he kept it up, how badly he battered Kessler. He made Mikkel Kessler look second-rate, and in the eyes of many, took not just the WBA trinket, but Kessler's spot as the world's best super middleweight.

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