Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Thank You, Brian Nielsen!

Joe Calzaghe (left) and Mikkel Kessler will meet again in one of the year's biggest fights on November 3rd at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.

You know who’s responsible for getting Mikkel Kessler interested in boxing don’t you?

Well, it was none other than the “Danish Pastry” of a heavyweight, the cream puff himself, Brian Nielsen. Yes, the same Brian Nielsen that was pole-axed by Mike Tyson. The same Brian Nielsen who made it all the way to a record of 48-0 to threaten Rocky Marciano’s mark, and the same Brian Nielsen who was once the benefactor of a fight allegedly ‘thrown’ by Jeremy Williams.

“After I had seen Brian Nielsen on television when I was about 13 years old, I thought it would be fun to try boxing,” says Mikkel, pronounced like ‘nickel’.

“My mother took my two friends and I over to C.I.K., which was the local boxing club, and I remember clearly my first impression of the gym. It stank of sweat and the trainer was a rough, old, bowlegged man who cursed and swore and liked to smoke cigars. I didn’t know it then, but that was actually the day that would change my life forever.”

That crotchety old trainer turned out to be Richard Olsen, and through the cigar smoke and the curse words he has led Kessler, over the past 15 years, to two world boxing titles in the 168-pound division, an undefeated record of 39-0 (29)KO and to the brink of a world-wide mega-fight against fellow undefeated champion Joe Calzaghe.

“Richard was the one that taught me to box,” says the handsome Kessler, whose piercing blue eyes and white smile make him look more like a model that you might see on the pages of ‘International Male’ than a fighter.

“Richard is my second father and we get along really well, which is one of the main reasons why I’ve been so successful,” says Kessler. He’s very good at exploring new training methods and together we figure out how we’re going to defeat my opponents.”

Olsen and Kessler will have to come up with a doozy of a plan to beat Welshman Joe Calzaghe at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales on November 3rd. Calzaghe is the universally recognized champion of the 168-pound division and he has held the WBO Super Middleweight title since he beat Chris Eubank way back in 1997.

Kessler, whose father was a former sailor and pub owner and whose mother, Mikkel says, “makes the best meatballs in the world” is keeping secret what he plans to do to be victorious against Calzaghe and the 60,000 people that will pack the stadium.

“I can’t tell you what I’ll do in training because that’s all a secret,” he says in a coy way with a hint of a smile. “But, I can tell you that my training is varied and weight lifting has become an important part of my training program.”

In the other corner in less than two weeks will be Joe Calzaghe. You won’t find a fighter that takes his work more seriously than “The Pride of Wales”. Calzaghe has shown all the grit and determination that you would ever want to see a fighter display in rising from knockdowns and fighting through broken hands to win all forty-three of his pro fights and defend his title 20 times.

Calzaghe has been trained by his father Enzo for his entire life and he doesn’t ever wallow in self-doubt. He confidently says of the fight against Kessler, “I believe I’m going to win. I’ve seen him fight and he’s very good with a European style, upright fighter. Very good power with either hand.”

And more importantly, Calzaghe thinks he has Kessler and his style all figured out.

“What you see on one tape, you see on two tapes - he looks the same,” says Joe. “He basically always boxes the same and I believe that he’s not adaptable. I don’t think he looks to adapt to what I have to give him. He’s never faced anybody remotely in my league with regards to my ability and my adaptability. He’s confident, of course he’s going to be confident. He remains undefeated so he’s going to be confident but like I say, on November 3rd, I win - simple as that.”

Kessler, who goes by the nickname “The Viking Warrior” was voted the 2006 Danish Athlete of the Year and has a penchant for speedy motorcycles that go fast. The right side of his upper body is covered in intricate, colorful tattoos. His outlaw need for speed and the body art seem to go against his clean-cut looks.

“I have some tattoos with the Vikings because in Scandinavia we conquered all of Europe- but not France,” he laughs. “Because they paid us not to conquer there. Now I want to conquer all of America.”

Aside from the WBA and WBC Super Middleweight titles that he currently holds he’s won a European championship, the Danish championship five times and as a youth he was Nordic champion. He only lost three times in nearly 50 fights as an amateur.

When asked to assess Calzaghe’s chances against him, Kessler was dismissive.

“Calzaghe is an awkward fighter who throws lots of punches, but slaps a lot,” said Kessler. “I’m a more intelligent fighter than him and I’m going to kick his ass.”

Calzaghe, a southpaw, who has been known to overwhelm opponents with swarms of stinging, yet light punches, has other detractors and those who say that he doesn’t have power when he unloads his flurries.

“Calzaghe’s a southpaw, he’s got fast hands, he’s a good offensive fighter,” says veteran trainer and ESPN boxing commentator Teddy Atlas. “But he’s not a real big banger. He even slaps with his punches a little bit.”

There is no question that this is a huge fight. Since it was first announced back in July, boxing enthusiasts from around the world have been frothing at the mouth at the prospect of seeing this fight come off.

The match-up sees two undefeated champions at or near the top of their game fighting each other for the championship slot in a division that has been dominated by Europeans since it’s very inception. Even though their names are not well known by mainstream American sports fans, the fight is being televised in Europe by Setanta Sports and live on HBO in the United States. It is also receiving loads of press in Europe and even in U.S. newspapers that have been anemic when it comes to boxing coverage in recent years.

Frank Warren, the English promoter behind the fight is glowing in his praise of the fight. “It’s the biggest fight I’ve put together in the past 20 years,” claims Warren. “This is likely the biggest fight in the world at the moment and one of the most important involving a British fighter since I began promoting.”

And don’t forget, we’ve got Brian Nielsen to thank for all of it.

October 2007

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