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Bad Left Hook Fight Preview: Carl Froch v. Mikkel Kessler

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24967_277023989962_83612869962_825398_1509605_n_mediumUsually we hold off until before the day before the fight, maybe two, but Saturday's Carl Froch-Mikkel Kessler fight is already stirring up a lot of conversation in various posts around the site, so why not just centralize it? This is a blog, not a periodical of note. Let's do it!

Again, a note: We are going to try to bring live, round-by-round coverage of this fight (and its live undercard) on Saturday afternoon, starting at 5pm EDT. This fight will be shown in the United States on tape delay at 9pm EDT on Showtime. If we are able to get live coverage in the afternoon, that means that for those waiting for the Showtime broadcast, there will be spoilers here, but only if you click through into the live thread and read the comments, or if you click through the results post that would follow after.

Those waiting for the Showtime airing on Saturday who don't want to be spoiled are advised to basically stay off all boxing sites until after the Showtime airing, because the results will just be posted in headlines most places. We should be safe for you here, but I cannot guarantee that either. Anyone who posts spoilers outside of the live thread and the results thread of the Froch-Kessler fight before the Showtime broadcast is finished airing will be banned for at least seven days.

Now then, on to the fight at hand.

Super Six World Boxing Classic, Stage Two: Carl Froch v. Mikkel Kessler

Both Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler faced quicker, younger, more athletic, more dynamic fighters in Stage One, when they were matched with Americans Andre Dirrell (Froch) and Andre Ward (Kessler).

Froch had home turf in Nottingham, and it helped him out. I don't want to say this with certainty, but it seemed the majority of fans felt Dirrell won the fight. I thought Dirrell won the fight. That's not to say that Froch didn't have his supporters, as well. Dirrell did run, did play dirty, and Froch played dirty, too. Overall, it was a pretty miserable viewing experience, but Froch left with the W.

Kessler was not so lucky. Traveling to Oakland to face Ward, Kessler found himself matched against a guy who didn't come right to him, who completely neutralized what Mikkel is good at, and who roughed the Dane up something fierce. There's no arguing that Ward got away with plenty of tactics that almost surely, Kessler would have been protected from fighting in Denmark with the usual referees who work his fights there.

We've seen this happen twice in the tournament now, in fact. In the recent Abraham-Dirrell fight, Abraham did his usual complaining about constant low blows, most of which were either his imagination or his desperation running wild. The referee in Detroit (Texas' Laurence Cole) did not give Abraham his usual safety net. I don't mean to call Abraham a fighter who's handled with kid gloves when he fights in Germany, but the action would have been stopped a lot more often, Dirrell probably would have lost a point eventually that he didn't really deserve to lose, and Arthur would have just gotten away with his act a little more. He's done it frequently in the past. In Detroit, it didn't happen for him.

Mikkel Kessler was battered by Andre Ward his last time out.

Mikkel Kessler was battered by Andre Ward his last time out. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images)

In Oakland, Kessler's status as tournament co-favorite (with Abraham) came crashing down dramatically. He was left bruised, battered, bloodied, and widely defeated by a fighter who broke through into the upper echelon of one of boxing's best divisions, and raised a lot of doubts about Kessler in the process.

After the Kessler-Ward fight, I wrote a piece about the blueprint for beating Kessler having been drawn up by Ward and Joe Calzaghe. Even before that fight, I noted that Kessler (42-2, 32 KO), for as good as he is and as successful as he's been, did so on very basic stuff. Kessler is not a tricky fighter. He's not difficult to figure out. He has a powerful jab, a good right hand behind it, and he moves in a very fundamental way. Kessler doesn't make many true mistakes, but he's also not exceptionally strong anywhere but with his jab.

Before the fight, I said this about Kessler:

Kessler has been called "overrated" by a few people, but I don't see it. When you watch him fight, you can see where his record and his standing comes from. His jab is powerful, sharp and accurate, among the best in the sport. He isn't a tricky fighter by any means; in some ways he's like a superior Kelly Pavlik. Simple, basic, and extremely effective. He's tough to rattle, partially because to get at him, you're going to have to get past that nasty jab of his. In terms of overall "skills," Ward probably is the better man.

What Ward showed in that fight was exactly how you rattle Kessler. Rough him up. Late in the fight with Joe Calzaghe, Joe out-paced, out-fought, and out-thought Kessler. But when I was putting together the Kessler-Ward preview, I chalked that up to being more to do with Calzaghe being a terrific thinking fighter and Kessler just going that one step past his ability against Joe. Ward, for all his talent, had little by way of credible wins on his record before Kessler, and I was hesitant to assume he could do what Calzaghe did with Mikkel.

He didn't do what Calzaghe did with Mikkel, either, at least not directly. But he took him out of his gameplan, made him think. Mikkel Kessler doesn't operate on his toes well, doesn't adjust within a fight. Mikkel Kessler's "simple" style clearly went all around -- physically, he's strong and basic. Mentally, he had a Plan A and then nothing else.

I said this after the fight:

[A] few things are now clear about Mikkel Kessler.

  • Speed kills. Specifically, it kills him.
  • He doesn't deal well with being disrupted. Ward used some holding and got his head and elbows involved. It is what it is -- it's a part of the game, legal or not, and if a referee isn't calling it, you have to find a way to neutralize it. That may not seem fair, but what is?
  • Again: He can't adjust. He's just shown no ability to change and turn the tide of a fight that isn't going his way.
  • He doesn't like fighting inside. He's not good at it, isn't comfortable in close, and gets beaten up.
Carl Froch's confidence and heart could make a big difference on Saturday.

Carl Froch's confidence and heart could make a big difference on Saturday. (Photo by John Gichigi / Getty Images)

So how does Carl Froch battle Kessler?

Froch (26-0, 20 KO) has quite an impressive run of victories going right now. In his last three fights, he's beaten Jean Pascal, who then moved up to win a title at 175 pounds and will now fight for the legitimate world light heavyweight championship in August against Chad Dawson; former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, in a dramatic comeback; and the disputed win over Dirrell, who then went out and put on a clinic against Arthur Abraham.

Carl Froch is never mentioned when people are talking about the world's best at super middleweight. They talk about Andre Ward and Lucian Bute, and some are starting to consider Andre Dirrell, too.

It's not that I don't understand why. When you watch Froch fight, it's just not that impressive. He's very strong, both with his punches and with what he can take. Taylor put him on the deck, but Froch responded very well, and he and Pascal went right to war when they met.

But he's slow, his defense is leaky, and he's really easy to hit. So to break down those four things about Kessler above, I can say that while speed kills Kessler, that shouldn't be a real concern for him on Saturday. Kessler is no speed merchant, but he's probably still quicker than Froch.

The leaky defense is good for Mikkel, too. Froch has been hit by basic 1-2s before. Froch got beaten up pretty well by Pascal, who admittedly is faster and wilder than Kessler, but Taylor hit him plenty, too, and Taylor by that point wasn't really utilizing his speed as much as he could have (or at least in theory could have), and spent too much of the fight trying to club Froch away, sort of "reducing" himself to being a Kessler-style fighter anyway.

But the other things, Froch can work with.

Froch can disrupt Kessler. He can't do it with speed, but he can do it by being willing to take shots to give shots. Against Calzaghe and Ward, Kessler talked about how both "spoil" his style. Froch can't do it the way Calzaghe did, but he can look at how Andre Ward was able to confuse and rattle Kessler and try to incorporate some of that. It's not strictly legal, no -- but Froch is probably going to want to get rough with him. Kessler handled it really poorly.

Now, again, this fight will be in Denmark. Montreal referee Michael Griffin has been assigned the bout. Griffin has done big fights before (Pascal-Diaconu II, Bradley-Holt, that Golota-Austin fight in China) and is an experienced guy. He's also worked in Europe plenty of times as a neutral referee, most recently for the Humberto Gutierrez-Vitali Tajbert fight last November.

Griffin, in Denmark, won't let Froch get away with as much as Ward got away with, but Froch is no stranger to dirty tactics when he needs them, and he'll be given some rope. What I'm saying is, I don't think he'll have to be convinced to get rough with Kessler. Honestly, if he doesn't initiate some of that stuff, I'll be surprised.

Will Kessler respond well? I have my doubts, to say the least. He's changed his corner for this fight, but he's 31 years old with 44 pro fights under his belt. He pretty much is what he is. There's not going to be much changing him, and it's certainly hard to change the way a fighter reacts to certain things. That's a mental process. That comes from somewhere that can't truly be tweaked in the gym.

As for the gameplanning stuff, I hope Kessler has a Plan B this time, because Froch is tough enough, good enough and, frankly, dumb enough to ruin whatever Plan A is unless Kessler knocks him out in the first half of the scheduled 12 rounds. If it comes down to it, Carl Froch will go in guns blazing and go for broke on Kessler. He's that kind of fighter.

Then there's fighting inside. To get inside, you have to do something that prevents Mikkel Kessler from unleashing his good jab, or you have to walk through it. I can see Froch doing either. Kessler seemed easily deterred against Ward. Froch, with his power and recklessness, has tools to make Mikkel Kessler hesitant in the ring. If Froch gets close to him, Kessler's in a world of trouble.

What I keep coming back to when I think about this fight is simple: I think Carl Froch, slow and hittable as he is, just has more to his game than does Mikkel Kessler. Kessler is a good fighter, but after years of injuries, he might be slowing down. As Brickhaus pointed out in another thread, Mikkel seemed a little off against Gusmyr Perdomo last year, too. It wasn't just the Ward fight. Perdomo he blasted through because he's a lot better than Perdomo. That was not the case with Ward, and I don't think it'll be the case with Froch, either.

If Kessler puts on one of the better performances of his career, he can out-box Carl Froch all night long, and he very well may do that. But I am fairly sure that the Ward disaster, while being a lot about how good Ward is, also had something to do with Mikkel Kessler and his limitations, both mentally and physically. Froch is a confident, even cocky fighter, and he comes to win every single fight. He is not deterred by the man across the ring out-boxing him, or fighting toe-to-toe with him. Mikkel Kessler has shown that he can be defused by the other man.

I love this fight because it's yet another tough bout for Froch, and it's a chance for Kessler to do something big. Beating Froch would, in my view, be the best win of Kessler's career. But I see him folding under Froch's pressure, when he can't get Froch away from him with the 1-2, when he can't keep him at bay, and when Froch just keeps piling up punches. Froch will get better as the fight goes along, Kessler will not. This is a huge crossroads for Kessler, who would be essentially out of the tournament running with a loss here. For Froch, it's another chance to keep winning and prove skeptics wrong again. Froch TKO-11