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Welcome Kessler, and Meet Andrade

Kessler (left) and Andrade put their undefeated records on the line in five days.
This Saturday night, HBO's Boxing After Dark returns to the air at 9:45 ET, with heralded super middleweight titlist Mikkel Kessler making his HBO debut against Mexican Librado Andrade. Both fighters sport spotless records, with Kessler at 38-0 and Andrade at 24-0. The two 28-year old fighters will be vying for Kessler's WBA and WBC crowns.

Most in the States know Kessler, despite that he's fought just once on American soil, a second round knockout of Israel Ponce in 2000, on the low end of a card that featured Paulie Ayala's victory over Danish boxer Johnny Bredahl, Clarence Adams beating Nestor Garza, and Oba Carr knocking out Yory Boy Campas. Since then, Kessler has done nothing but win. Of his 38 victories, 29 have come by knockout. He won his first championship in 2002, dominating Dingaan Thobela in a unanimous decision for the IBA super middleweight belt. He won the WBA title in 2004, beating Manny Siaca, and unified that with Markus Beyer's WBC title last October, clobbering the veteran southpaw to the canvas just as the third round was coming to a close. Kessler holds a win over Anthony Mundine, who tattooed Sam Soliman recently to win a title of his own at 168.

In fact, Kessler is so good, there is a growing camp that regards him as the best in the world at super middleweight, and not Joe Calzaghe of Wales. While the world was unanimously impressed with Calzaghe's dismantling of American Jeff Lacy, many were left a little flat with his following fight, a win over Sakio Bika, and more still did all but roll their eyes at Calzaghe's upcoming opponent, Peter Manfredo, Jr.

The anti-Calzaghe camp points out -- quite often, I might add -- that the Pride of Wales has a sketchy history of allegedly ducking fighters, and they also wonder, "Why not fight Mikkel Kessler?" Kessler is a superstar in Denmark, Calzaghe one himself in England. There is money to be made in Europe with that fight, and even some to be made in the States, since boxing fans here would want to see it.

But, for now, it's not about Kessler and Calzaghe, though this is the fight that needs to happen at 168, at least on paper, and at least as we stand today. Kessler's HBO debut fuels the hope that we will see that fight if both champions are successful, as Calzaghe's bout with Manfredo is also being carried by the network on April 7.

At this moment, Kessler is and should be concerned with Andrade. Andrade was born in Mexico, but fights out of La Habra, California. For Andrade, it will be his first bout outside of North America, and his first opportunity to capture gold. Andrade fought and beat veteran Otis Grant in Montreal last April in a WBC eliminator bout, but never got a shot at then-champion Beyer, who fought Bika in May, and then Kessler in October.

While he waited, Andrade took a stay-fresh fight against Richard "The Alien" Grant at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago in September, a fight you can see in its entirety below.

Now, of course, a fight against a journeyman like Grant rarely proves very much, and Andrade was not tested at all. And that's what the question really is on Saturday, because Andrade is a big underdog: How good is this guy? It's very hard to say, because he has never faced anyone that is near Kessler's level. Andrade's best win? Maybe it's Otis Grant. Maybe it's Colombian Nicolas Cervera, who was fed to a rising Jermain Taylor the fight before he was fed to Andrade, and hasn't been back since. Either way, you're not talking about much of a real track record, and for most fighters, the only way to truly come into your own is to face top competition. Andrade hasn't been there. Kessler, on the other hand, has.

It also makes one wonder if Andrade is mentally prepared for a fight with Kessler, assuming that he does lose, as he is expected to. Can he come back from that? We've seen plenty of careers thrown off track when the fighter loses to someone he wasn't ready to face. For Librado Andrade, this could become a factor.

Then again, crazier things have happened, but Andrade will almost certainly have to knock Kessler out to get a win in Copenhagen this Saturday night. There's no point in lying: Saturday night's bout is most likely an American coming out party for Kessler, but this is not a fighter you want to miss.

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