(Mikkel Kessler, left; Carl Froch, right; mean-looking stone lion, center)
With Saturday night’s entry in Showtime’s excellent Super Six tournament, which brings together the cream of the crop of the loaded super middleweight division, we are getting what might turn out to be the most action-packed bout of the event. Whereas the other bouts have thus far manufactured drama in controversy, strategic intrigue and/or upsets of the tournament favorites, Carl Froch-Mikkel Kessler figures as a brawl between men who usually prefer to come straight forward. But it has its own drama, aside from that. Kessler, who owns zero points in the tournament, badly needs a win. He is a better technician than Froch and possesses edges in most physical categories, but he’s shown some emotional fragility, and Froch is used to out-gutting better specimens and sweet scientists who don’t possess his steely resolve. If it all works out as expected, I think we’ll have a candidate for Fight of the Year.
It’s one of two such potentially action-packed fights this weekend, and we’ll get to the HBO card later. I started my weekly previews with this fight because I think the Super Six tournament is suffering from a kind of criminal disregard by boxing writers, a view Froch promoter Mick Hennessy also recently espoused. Lucian Bute beats yet another one-dimensional brawler this past weekend on HBO and suddenly everyone’s ready to dismiss the whole tournament yet again, when we all knew from day one that Bute’s absence from the tournament was a flaw. Ultimately, the Super Six is where it’s at in this stellar division, with six fighters ranked in the top 10 all fighting each other, all with different styles and backgrounds, in a far superior series of fights than anything Bute could ever manage in the division until the tournament is over. Listen: This tournament remains one of the most exciting things happening in boxing, and neither Bute nor a delay in the schedule nor other niggling complaints have changed that no matter the size of the bandwagon.
[TQBR Prediction Game 2.0 begins with this fight. For those of you joining now, please review the rules. For those of you who have played before, please look them over again as they have been slightly revised.]
As I mentioned, once more Froch comes in the lesser boxer and the lesser physical talent, as he has three consecutive times (Jean Pascal, Jermain Taylor, Andre Dirrell) although I don’t think it’s quite as pronounced as in the case of his last fight. Froch was within shooting distance of the speed and technique of Pascal and Taylor, but was way out of his league in both categories against Dirrell. He’ll be back in shooting distance again with Kessler.
I think Kessler is faster than Froch, who’s sometimes described as slow when that’s not exactly true — he’s slower than anyone in the tourney, sure, but he wasn’t so much slower than Taylor was, and he fancies himself faster than Kessler. Kessler also may be the bigger puncher, but that’s not entirely clear either, especially if you look at each man’s knockout record — although Kessler has knocked out more top-10 opponents, I think, than Froch. And while the offensive technique of both men is fairly basic, I give Kessler an edge there, too. Kessler works his 1-2, his left hook and the occasional cross to the body. Froch has a kind of 1-2 — it’s more of a jab-hook combo — a left hook, a wild uppercut and the occasional hook to the body. Kessler’s punches, though, are straighter, and while Froch’s wildness is occasionally an advantage because they’re unpredictable, Kessler is more fundamentally sound and therefore a bit more effective. Defensively, neither man is a wizard, but Kessler’s tendency to keep his gloves back and take steps up is preferable to Froch’s tendency to rely on the strength of his chin by way of defensive technique. And while Froch’s chin might seem like an advantage, don’t forget that he was down against Taylor and hurt late against Dirrell, while the only trouble Kessler has been in was against Andre Ward late, after tons of accumulated punishment. I’d say the only definitive physical advantage Froch has is in stamina, where he’s a real marvel.
Where Froch has the real advantage is in determination. It’s no small advantage. It’s the major component of who he is as a fighter. Down against Taylor? Doesn’t care, he knocked him out late. In a dog fight against Pascal? Doesn’t care, he’ll just step on the gas a little harder. Hopelessly unable to hit Dirrell cleanly? Doesn’t care, he’ll hit him on the back of the head during clinches. I’m not praising the latter, I’m only saying that so far, Froch has found a way to will himself into fights where he’s in trouble. You can’t say the same of Kessler. He got discouraged against Joe Calzaghe, but still was “in” the fight. His confidence in himself seemed to fade after suffering that first loss, however, which I believe contributed to him pulling out of an Edison Miranda fight. And he looked extremely disconcerted when he had trouble against Ward in his second loss. Extremely. He hired some weird “mental trainer” after the loss to Ward. There’s zero chance Froch would ever need to hire a mental trainer. None.
So what wins out: Heart, or physical and technical superiority? I don’t think it’s entirely that simple. I’m going to give Kessler the benefit of the doubt here that he realizes his career is very nearly on the line, because going into the third round of the tournament with no points would immensely damage his chances of getting to the semi-final. I don’t think he’ll puss out from moment one. Froch will be facing a crowd that views him as a villain, which he’s fine with, but he’ll also have to be traveling via private plane to Denmark because of the Icelandic volcano, which could disrupt his rhythm, plus there are other advantages to fighting on home soil (as I believe Froch knows from the disputed decision win he got over Dirrell on his home soil of Nottingham). And I think that because he focused in training on the flaws he demonstrated against Ward — like lack of lateral movement — he’ll maybe have widened his technical edge. Most importantly, I think Kessler knows what to do with gutty, slower, technically less proficient fighters, because he did it against Librado Andrade with a good deal of ease. Kessler’s two losses were to extremely quick technicians, which Froch is not, and Kessler’s actually beaten every other kind of fighter without much trouble, for that matter. So the match-up is a favorable one for Kessler, based on his history.
That said, I found this fight one of several of late that is exceptionally hard to pick because counting out Froch is craziness. Believe it — Froch can make Kessler feel the pressure and revert to panicky jitters. He also hits hard enough to do serious damage to Kessler’s noggin, and he’s more likely to connect on said noggin than the likes of Andrade, as Froch is a better boxer and better athlete than Andrade. My thinking is that all of this adds up to a real firefight, with Kessler being too good for Froch but not so much better that he doesn’t take some punishment along the way. I also see it being more strategic than both men going straight ahead and slugging it out. There are going to be moments where Kessler goes backward and vice versa. But more often than not, they’re going to be fighting, and when they do, it’s going to be Kessler fighting better, if not harder. I think Kessler edges Froch in a unanimous decision thriller where Kessler may have to hold on for dear life as Froch, down on the cards, summons a late frenzy the likes of which Kessler has never encountered.
(One note: If you see the fight before it airs on Showtime in the United States, please, DO NOT post any spoilers in this or any thread other than one that might or might not be designated as such.)