Calzaghe-Kessler: A Battle For World Supremacy

By Matthew Aguilar


Calzaghe-Kessler: A Battle For World Supremacy

It’s probably fitting that the showdown between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts – the supposed biggest game in NFL regular season history – is happening the same weekend as super middleweight unification showdown between Joe Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler. Both are highly anticipated matchups of undefeated champions who have dominated their divisions. But the comparison ends there. Because one is of national interest. And the other will have world ramifications.

Calzaghe-Kessler has been years – not months – in the making. Calzaghe-Kessler is the dominant sports topic of a continent – not a single nation. And Calzaghe-Kessler will be the first – and possibly the last – meeting between the two rivals.

There’s no tomorrow for Calzaghe and Kessler. There’s no wild card game down the road or a watered-down playoff system. It’s single elimination.

And for European boxing fans – who suffered through last week’s abysmal New York Giants-Miami Dolphins NFL game at Wembley Stadium - and boxing fans in general, this is the Super Bowl.

It’s been a long time coming. But, finally, Saturday at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, longtime WBO 168-pound king Calzaghe, 43-0 (32 knockouts), will put his legend on the line against WBA/WBC champ Kessler, 39-0 (29 KOs) in a battle that conjures up memories of boxing’s greatest battles.

Ali and Frazier. Leonard and Hearns. Barrera and Morales. It’s a battle between veteran master and young lion. Confident superstar and cocky upstart. A battle between Wales and Denmark.

By the end of this 12-rounder for super middleweight supremacy, Calzaghe-Kessler could rank right up there with the best ones ever.
Calzaghe may not have a Bernard Hopkins on his resume. He may not have a Winky Wright or a Jermain Taylor.

But, sometimes, the most impressive credentials are those built, workmanlike, over time. And Calzaghe has certainly done that.

Consider, the Welshman won the vacant WBO title almost exactly 10 years ago, a 12-round decision over former world champion Chris Eubank. It was a victory that could be best described at the time as spectacularly insignificant. Eubank, afterall, was a substitute for the legitimate WBO champion at the time, Steve Collins.

There was no indication that the “Prince of Wales” would go on to compile one of the most lengthy title runs in boxing history.

But, since that win over Eubank a decade back, Calzaghe has made a staggering 20 defenses of that WBO strap. And, as you might guess, he has fought virtually every style imaginable.

He’s beaten punchers (Charles Brewer), boxers (David Starie), and boxer-punchers  (Robin Reid). He’s fought wars (Byron Mitchell), and he’s fought bores (David Starie). He’s defeated courageous-but-limited sluggers (Omar Sheika, Sakia Bika) and previously undefeated  hotshots (Jeff Lacy, Mario Veit). He’s fought unknowns (Bronco Sobot, Kabary Salem) and former world champs (Eubank). And he’s fought guys that probably didn’t belong in the same arena (Tocker Pudwill, Peter Manfredo).

He’s fought everyone in his division – and virtually cleaned it out. Yet, he has remained largely ignored over his 14-year career even by knowledgeable boxing fans – despite his several appearances on American television.

Calzaghe’s anonymity, however, began to erode in March 2006, when he put such a terrific whipping on fellow champion Lacy that one wondered how the fight was ever deemed pick’em.

The ease with which Calzaghe pounded and peppered the defenseless Lacy in the corners and on the ropes was startling. Lacy’s power punches – previously regarded as the single most significant factor in the fight going in – was negated by Calzaghe’s surprising, blazing hand speed.

The Welshman’s rat-a-tat-tat combination punching was something to behold. It would have been enough had Calzaghe demonstrated merely the workrate of a man 40 pounds lighter. But the accuracy with which he punished Lacy was breathtaking. Everything he threw connected with precision. Absolutely everything.

Calzaghe won every round, and topped it off with a knockdown in the 12th. The decision was a formality.

He is often criticized for slapping with his punches. But, anyone who saw Lacy’s face, and the hurt in his eyes afterward, knows plenty different.

Joe Calzaghe is a future Hall of Famer who will go down as one of the greatest practitioners of his era. He is 35 years old, yes. But he is also a very well-preserved 35 years old. Don’t expect him, a man who stays in tremendous shape in between fights, to fall apart overnight.

And make no mistake: Mikkel Kessler is in for the fight of his life.
Actually, the young lion isn’t so young. Kessler, 28, has been around for nine years now. But, like Calzaghe, he has only recently become appreciated, especially by Americans.

The fearsome ability has been there since the beginning, Kessler knocked out four of his first six opponents in the first round. His first opponent was undefeated at 6-0. And by his second year as a pro, he was fighting seasoned veterans like Charles Whittaker and Israel Ponce.

Because most of his fights were in Denmark, Kessler really didn’t make much of an impact in America, even after he won the WBA 168-pound strap from Manny Siaca in 2004 (KO 8). But then he beat tough Anthony Mundine, and picked up his second championship with a shocking third-round knockout of Markus Beyer.

Denmark or not, no one expected such an easy dismantling of Beyer. The boxing world raised its collective eyebrows, and made sure to tune in the next time he fought.

The next time was against previously undefeated Librado Andrade. Sure, Andrade was crude. And he was unpolished. And he was young. But Kessler’s performance that night was brilliant.

Using his classy jab out of the southpaw style, Andrade’s constant pressure paid no dividends against the skillful Kessler. The champ simply tossed out his combinations, and easily slid left or right out of harm’s way. That Andrade made it through the fight was a tribute to his heart.

Kessler’s quality was obvious. And so, it also became obvious that an impending showdown with Calzaghe was the only fight that mattered in the super middleweight division. Now, it’s here.
The thing that makes this fight so intriguing is the utter skill these two combatants bring to the ring. Both are fundamentally sound, both are southpaws, both are solid punchers, both have good defenses, and both have good chins.
The difference will be speed.

Calzaghe won’t make the mistake he made with Bika and brawl. He learned that getting down and dirty on the inside isn’t what he does best.

What he does best is stay on the outside, and fire his combinations. And that’s what he’ll do with Kessler. Through 10 rounds, this will be a nip and tuck affair. But, in the championship rounds, expect Calzaghe to take charge. He’ll pick up the pace. And he’ll fire the faster, more accurate, blows. And he’ll sweep the final two rounds to take a unanimous decision. And solidify his place in boxing history.

Together, though, Calzaghe and Kessler will make boxing history.


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