Anyone who thought Mikkel Kessler was "done" as an elite boxer coming into his rematch with Carl Froch got a very welcome wake-up call Saturday on HBO. It wasn't enough to beat his 168-pound rival Froch, who won a unanimous decision in London before a delirious crowd. But it was enough to at least equal, and, in my view, surpass their 2010 Fight of the Year contender.
I was in the minority that scored the bout a draw; the 118-110 scorecard was bad, but the other two, 116-112 and 115-113, were well within reason. Froch got off to a hot start, working his jab and controlling distance smartly, and by the 3rd Kessler appeared flummoxed. Knowing that Kessler can be mentally fragile at times, this had the look of going downhill for him fast, and his bruised and bloody visage was evidence of what was happening to him physically. But Kessler relaxed and began to dial in left hooks and his own excellent jab, all while getting closer to Froch. He took over some of the early-middle rounds before trading too much in the 7th, when Froch did the heavier damage in an excellent round. The 8th was all Froch, with the 9th and 10th more seesaw affairs as Froch slowed down a little.
The 11th was shocking: A Kessler combination rocked Froch badly, only for Froch to regain his senses and storm back by round's end. And in the 12th, Froch built on that momentum, rocking Kessler right back and nearly sending him down before the Dane held on, literally and figuratively, until the final bell.
Froch has options now, and the 18-19,000 on hand in London shows what kind of economic leverage he can exert to get his way. He could do it again with Kessler, with a third bout to settle the score once and for all rather than leaving the series tied 1-1. Light heavyweight Bernard Hopkins wants Froch. And HBO bought this bout because they want the winner to face their golden boy, super middleweight champion Andre Ward, who has defeated both Kessler and Froch. (HBO's commentary was ridiculously Ward-centric, and Ward himself, usually a sharp analyst, called the fight like Froch wasn't responsible for anything happening; it was all about what Kessler wasn't doing. It got very, very old.) After the fight, it sounded more like Froch was leaning toward Kessler because their match-up was more fan-friendly, and he's right. Froch has reestablished himself as a viable opponent for Ward now, but if Ward is going to be a sissy about it and not go overseas for the bout — and he indicated in post-fight comments he didn't have to, a sign of his golden boy status with HBO — I'm all for Froch-Kessler III.
We've seen it twice. It was terrific both times, high-level action for 24 rounds. Why wouldn't it be again?