Should Ward be the tournament favorite now? Maybe so. I still think he might have trouble with his friend Andre Dirrell, who exceeds him in speed, and Arthur Abraham, who might match him in smarts. But America’s last Olympic gold medalist did his country proud Saturday evening.
I did predict Ward would win, but I never expected him to do so without a mark on his face. Calzaghe had problems with Kessler, and needed his strong chin as a backstop to hold him up while he figured him out. Ward never had a moment of trouble. Ward is more technical than Calzaghe and probably a better defender, and Ward’s movement, reflexes and selective holding made it so that Kessler never really found him.
In between, Ward was doing everything under the sun offensively. His left hook and straight right, either counter or lead, were especially dialed in. His jab set it all up, and Ward’s body punching had Kessler looking worn down. Only when Ward got a little overconfident and lunged aggressively did Kessler have his moments, landing left hooks to the head and rights to the body. As a 1-2 artist, and maybe the sport’s best 1-2 artist, Kessler has usually had enough speed and power on top of it to get the job done. Here, he was just too robotic, too predictable.
Ward’s performance was what the British might call “classy,” as it was technically brilliant, but it was far from boring. Ward was fighting in there, not just boxing. He hurt Kessler a few times. I’ve never seen Kessler back up so much from getting hit. Ward probably could have knocked out Kessler if he’d kept the fight on the inside, where he was fantastic and Kessler was clueless. Every time they’d break, Ward would take a step back and then immediately launch an assault, and Kessler was lost every time he did it. That maneuver from Ward was one of several that has impressed me each time he fights: The kid just has a great head on his shoulders, and it shows when he renders his man a borderline dullard like that.
Kessler complained after that Ward was using his head too much, literally. Head butts opened up cuts over each eye in the 8th and 10th, the second of which led to the fight going to the scorecards in the 11th. And yes, the latter looked intentional. Ward may love Jesus, and may say he isn’t a dirty fighter, but I don’t think he’s above getting a little rough, honestly. Still, Kessler had a cut near his left eye in the 4th, and that was from a punch. He was bleeding from the nose, and that was from a punch. He was puffy and had a mouse very early in the fight, all from punches. Kessler was complaining he couldn’t see in the 7th, well before there was any major head butting. Ward kind of kicked his ass, and that Kessler didn’t know that suggests to me he was in denial. I hand it to him for fighting through that ass-kicking, but it was an ass-kicking, pure and simple. Only the 5th round might have conceivably been a Kessler round. It wasn’t in my books.
The next round of the tournament will pit Kessler against Carl Froch, who won’t do all that darting around – it’ll probably be the purest slugfest in the tournament, and despite Kessler’s showing, not to be missed. It looks like the second round will pit Ward against Jermain Taylor, even though a lot of people would like Taylor to retire after three brutal knockout losses in five fights. Taylor has signaled he is likely to continue, but Rick Reeno today reported that we’d know more officially in a couple days. Now that Ward has a title belt, Taylor might think, “I’ll give it one last shot.” But while I originally thought Ward wouldn’t brutally knock out Taylor, Ward was very powerful in this fight, surprisingly so. Either way, I think Ward wins that fight far more easily than he does this one. Ward has arrived, and in a big way.