Friday, September 11, 2009

It's Always Good to be the Favorite

Super middleweight titlist Mikkel Kessler of Denmark thinks he will be universally regarded as #1 in the not too distant future.

The ball begins rolling tomorrow night when two of the participants in Showtime's “Super Six World Boxing Classic” tournament engage in two fights on two different continents – albeit in non-tournament affairs – and not against each other.

In California, Andre Ward will face North Dakota's Shelby Pudwill. Meanwhile, half a world away in Denmark, Mikkel Kessler hopes to take care of his WBA mis-mandatory title defense against Venezuela's Gusmyr Perdomo.

Provided Ward and Kessler both come out on the winning end tomorrow night, they will face off against one another on Nov. 21 for Kessler's WBA super middleweight title belt.

Kessler is an easy-going Dane who has only lost one fight – to Joe Calzaghe in 2007. Other than that one misstep, he has had a perfect career as a professional and his ring record of 41-1, 31KOs is testimony to that. For Kessler, it has been a seemingly easy journey to the top of the 168-pound heap.

So when asked for his thoughts on the 168-pound tournament and his role in it, Kessler, who was born in Denmark but now lives in Monaco, was as usual, light-hearted and stress free with his response.

“I just heard that I'm one of the favorites to win it all,” he said in a joking manner. “It's always good to be the favorite. I'm coming into this tournament with my WBA championship belt and I'm ready to show the others and the rest of the world that I'm the champion. I'm going to be in the finals and I'm going to win this tournament.”

Kessler, a pro since 1998, credits Mike Tyson with getting him into the sport. He claims that when he was 13-years-old he saw one of Tyson's fights on television and after that the boxing bug bit him.

Kessler doesn't look like most people that get punched in the face for a living.

“I said to myself, that I have to try this boxing,” explains Kessler who has an accent that sounds a little like Arnold Schwarzenegger's. “I began boxing with two of my boyhood friends. One of them stuck with it for about two weeks, the other one about a year. Obviously I kept at it, and here I am seventeen years later. Everybody told me not to box, that I'd be punch drunk or become silly in head, but that really riled me up. I wanted to show people that I could do this – and I have.”

The potential fight against Ward is a much anticipated affair. Kessler is one of the the darlings of European boxing. With sharp blue eyes, an engaging smile and calm demeanor he has the look of a fashion model. Heavily tattooed, but clean cut at the same time, Kessler has the appearance of a new age fighter. There is no missing teeth, no crooked nose and no scrambled brains. If you didn't know better, you might mistake him for a tennis player or bicycle racer.

And then there is Andre Ward. An American Olympic gold medal winner, which for boxing, is a rarity in this day and age, Ward is the only current, active, American fighter that has won an Olympic gold medal. Undefeated as a professional at 19-0, 12KOs, Ward recently outclassed the big-punching Edison Miranda in what was his most impressive performance as a pro. God-fearing and pretty good with the fists, Ward hasn't been beaten since he was 15-years-old.

So to say the pairing of these two fighters in the first round of the World Boxing Classic is a “big deal” is somewhat of an understatement. It will be a major fight with major implications for the winner - and the loser. And while boxing fans have been watching Ward's every punch since he was an amateur, Kessler claims he has witnessed very little of Ward's career.

A Champion and the spoils of victory - Kessler pictured in Denmark behind the wheel of his Ferrari.

“To be honest with you, I've only seen a couple of minutes of Andre Ward's fights,” said Kessler. “He looks very good, he looks strong. You can see his talent and you can see he's a an Olympic gold medal winner. But you know, you have to remember that boxing in the professionals is something altogether different. It's twelve rounds, it's not eight minutes. Ward has a good record, he's strong, he's hungry and he's a young up and coming fighter. Eventually we'll meet and all I can say is that I'm very much looking forward to that fight.”

The Super Six tournament features Kessler, Ward, WBC titlist Carl Froch, former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, former IBF 160-pound belt holder Arthur Abraham and 2004 Olympic bronze medal winner Andre Dirrell.

It's a tournament that makes most boxing fans salivate like Pavlov's dog. It will see most of the marquee names in the division face off against one another – another rarity in the sport of boxing. With that being the case, the inevitable banter has been about who will be the last man standing atop the carnage when all of the mash-ups have concluded.

Many think it will be Kessler and even the “Viking Warrior” himself can't say that he disagrees with that notion.

“I don't like to look too far ahead, I need to get by Perdomo first,” he says. “But I'm very confident of my chances in the tournament. I'm very excited about it and it is a great opportunity for me and for all of us. It's a dream come true for all of us. I don't mind if people say I can win it all. I believe I can, I believe I will, but it will be tough to do.

“This tournament gives me the chance to show the people, boxing fans, my home country, that I am the greatest and that's what I want to demonstrate to everybody – everywhere. When I'm finished with this I'm going to be the champ. I'm the champ now, of course, but I'm still going to be the champ and I'm going to have another belt.”

You can say stuff like that when you're the favorite.

September 2009

No comments: