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Ward dominates Kessler

21
Nov

Mikkel Kessler was cut up by a combination of punches and accidental headbutts but beaten up by a younger opponent, Andre Ward, who was superior on Saturday night. Photo / Alexis Cuarezma-FightWireImages.com

OAKLAND, Calif. — It’s a good time to be a boxing fan.

The sport is loaded with talented and accomplished fighters from around the globe, and many of them, such as super middleweights Andre Ward and Mikkel Kessler, are willing to face each other.

The public has responded by supporting recent pay-per-view events in record numbers. In September, Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s rout of Juan Manuel Marquez drew 1 million pay-per-view buys. Last Saturday, Manny Pacquiao’s domination of Miguel Cotto attracted 1.25 million buys.



As good as the sport’s top two fighters looked against their respected opponents it says here that the boxing clinic Ward put on Kessler in front of a vocal hometown crowd at the Oracle Arena was more impressive.

Ward (21-0, 13 KOs) wasn’t facing an older, smaller man, as Mayweather did. The 2004 Olympic gold medalist wasn’t in with a fighter who had accumulated enough punishment in recent bouts for some fans to consider him “damaged goods,” as Pacquiao was.

Kessler (42-2, 32 KOs) is a big, strong, skilled and experienced super middleweight who had never taken a beating in the ring and is still in his athletic prime. The Dane, who had faced and defeated far better competition than anyone Ward had faced in his 20 pro bouts, was favored to beat the Oakland resident for good reason.

However, Ward was brilliant in proving the odds makers and many boxing writers (this one included) wrong. Ward scored a unanimous 11-round technical decision over Kessler when the Danish beltholder, the favorite to win Showtime’s Super Six 168-pound tournament, of which this fight was part, was deemed unable to continue fighting due to cuts above both his eyes.

The bout went to the scorecards because Kessler’s cuts were ruled to be caused by head butts and not punches. Ward was comfortably ahead by scores of 97-93 and 98-92 (twice).

Much was made about where the judges hailed from in the final days leading into the bout. One (Steve Morrow) is from California, two are from outside the U.S. (South Africa’s Stanley Christodoulou and Sweden’s Mikael Hook), but it didn’t matter.

The combination of Ward’s quicker hands, accurate punching (from alternating southpaw and orthodox stances), lateral movement and holding in close gradually disarmed Kessler, stripping away the 30-year-old veteran’s confidence round by round.

Kessler’s piston-like jab and powerful straight right were never factors against Ward, who took those weapons away by beating him to the punch, countering those punches or avoiding them with constant head and upper-body movement.

To his credit, Ward wasn’t content to jab or pot-shot his way to victory. With 10,277 fans alternately chanting his nickname, “S.O.G.” (which stands for Son of God), “Let’s go Andre!” and “U.S.A.!,” the 25-year-old contender was not going to coast against Kessler. And beginning with the seventh round he stalked and punished the No. 1-rated super middleweight, lumping and lacerating the Danish fighter’s face with uppercuts and hook-cross combinations.

It was by far the most complete and impressive performance of Ward’s five-year career, even if the boxer wasn’t 100 percent sure of that immediately following the victory.

“This could have been my best performance but I have to watch the tape,” Ward said after the fight. “Right now I’m dreaming. I don’t know what I’m feeling. I can’t compare this to winning the gold medal because it’s going to take a while for it all to sink in.”

One thing Ward was immediately conscious of was his opponent’s inability to cause damage or adapt to his game plan.

“He never hurt me,” Ward said. “I was surprised he didn’t change it up at all during the fight. Everybody said we got the worse draw (in the Super Six tournament by having to fight Kessler first). I was not intimidated by Mikkel Kessler at all.”

Kessler was humble in defeat but frustrated by what he felt was preferential treatment that California referee Jack Reiss showed Ward.

“He was the better man tonight, but I would have liked the fight to go another minute. I thought I could continue,” Kessler said. “The cuts were not caused by punches. There were a lot of head butts and he hit me with a lot of elbows and he never got any warning.

“There was also a lot of holding. The referee didn’t stop the holding. That got me out of my rhythm. (Ward) comes in with his head all the time. I tried to do something else but the referee told me in the corner that he would break up the clinches.”

Obviously, Kessler’s second pro loss was a bitter pill to swallow. His only other loss was to former super middleweight and light heavyweight champ Joe Calzaghe, but he was competitive with the now-retired Welshman.

Ward’s domination puts a new light on the Super Six tournament, which was beginning to look like a showcase for the European participants after Germany-based Arthur Abraham stopped Jermain Taylor and Briton Carl Froch narrowly out-pointed Andre Dirrell in their first of three fights in the first round of the tournament last month.

Now there’s a solid American contender in tournament. And who knows? Perhaps Ward’s win will inspire his longtime friend Dirrell, who predicted that his Olympic teammate would take Kessler to school.

In the second group of first-round fights in the tournament, scheduled for next year, Dirrell is slated to face Abraham, Kessler will fight Froch, and Ward will have the opportunity to defend his new title against Taylor if the former champ decides to stay in the Super Six.

In their last first-round fight, Ward and Dirrell will have to put their friendship aside and fight, while Froch faces Abraham and Kessler takes on Taylor. It’s possible, if Kessler wins his next two bouts, that he and Ward could meet in the single-elimination semi-finals part of the tournament.

If so, Kessler has learned two things about Ward, that the Bay Area native is no joke and that he’s going to have to come up with a better game plan if he hopes to win a rematch.

“If I fight Andre Ward again, I can’t come straight forward or stand in the middle of the ring,” Kessler said. “I have to move side to side. I have to do something different from what I did tonight.”