Calzaghe-Kessler: The Super Middleweight Superfight

By George Kimball


Calzaghe-Kessler: The Super Middleweight Superfight

NEW YORK ---  Boxing can produce some strange bedfellows, but when Joe Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler met with the media Tuesday to kick off the promotional campaign for their Nov. 3 fight in Wales, they shared a head table with what may have been the most improbable alliance since the Corleones last broke bread with the Tattaglias.

We were told that the long-anticipated fight was happening because “Joe wanted to fight Kessler and Mikkel wanted to fight Calzaghe,” but that was the easy part. It was the intrigue that followed that produced the strange juxtapositions.

In the Big Apple Tuesday, let’s see, former Showtime Boxing boss Jay Larkin was seated just a few feet away from his new best friend, Ross Greenburg, and before the festivities commenced in earnest, Larkin and HBO vice president Kery Davis also shared adjoining chairs.

Besides their abiding interest in Calzaghe-Kessler, Larkin and Davis apparently also patronize the same barber. “When we put our heads down,” said Larkin, “we look like a pair of eggs.”

There was Michael Marley, the onetime Don King mouthpiece who in another incarnation had been a first-rate sportswriter for the New York Post. Marley had recently been staying close to the boxing game as the impresario of his own website,, and resurfaced for this fight as the American representative of Kessler’s Danish promoter, Mogens Palle. (Call Marley the Tom Hagen of this group; when he’s not on the suspended list, is also a practicing attorney.)

Calzaghe’s promoter Frank Warren, described by Marley as “the Scarlet Pimpernel,” was not in attendance at the Landmarc restaurant, although he presumably footed the bill.  Warren, who 18 years ago took a couple of bullets, allegedly fired by one of his own fighters, doubtless had his own reasons for staying away, but he was ably represented by his point man, Ed Simon, and, of course, by Larkin.

Although HBO wound up with the US television rights to the unification bout between the two undefeated super-middleweight champions, Larkin nearly wound up going eyeball-to-eyeball at the negotiating table with Ken Hirshman, his successor at Showtime.

“That would have been great fun,” said Larkin mischievously.

“They really wanted to do it,” he said. “The ‘rival network’ expressed a lot of interest, and made a very aggressive offer.”

The offer, it is understood, involved a two-fight deal, but there were five million more reasons the fight wound up on HBO.

Marley claimed that Palle (who had offered Calzaghe $5 million to fight Kessler in Copenhagen) made the key concession by offering to meet “Stay-At-Home-Joe” in the United Kingdom.

“Once Mogens and Mikkel agreed to fight in Britain, we always knew the fight was going to end up in Cardiff,” said Marley.

If so, said Simons, then Marley must have been clairvoyant.

“People who know Mike Marley know that he takes liberties with the facts,” said Simon. “If he knew it was going to be in Cardiff, then he knew it before we did.”
Warren’s Sports Network, recalled Simon, entered into serious negotiations to place the fight at London’s O2 Arena, which is owned by the Anschutz Entertainment Group.

“When we spoke to them we were looking at a Sept. 22 date,” said Simons. “That would have involved moving several Prince concerts, and Prince actually agreed to do it. In the end it wasn’t their unwillingness, but the fact that we couldn’t work out the dates with television.”

Once it became clear that HBO couldn’t work with the September date, Prince reclaimed his tour dates, and will play a two-week engagement commencing this week.

“Once the deal was made with the Kessler side, it was up to me to make it work on the television end,” said Larkin. “We didn’t want to negotiate until we had a deal for the fight, but we couldn’t make a deal for the fight until we knew we had HBO, so it was a delicate balance. I negotiated with Ross and Kery, and Frank (Warren) negotiated with Marley and Palle.”

Palle has been promoting boxing cards in Denmark for 50 years. His relationship with Marley began six years ago, shortly after Marley, who when he parted ways with King had slipped out the back door with the Norris brothers, took Orlin Norris over to Copenhagen to lose to Palle’s heavyweight Brian Neilsen.

“Why did Palle pick Marley?” supposed fellow scribe (and fellow attorney) Tom Hauser. “Bob Mittelman was unavailable, and Rick Glaser was too expensive?”

“I’ve always had a good relationship with the press,” said Larkin of Marley. “Now, he’s not just the press, he’s, uh, conflicted.”

Simon described Marley as “a legend in his own lunchtime,” and when the Brit mentioned Marley’s website, Boxing Confidential, the mouthpiece quickly corrected him by adding “dot-com.”

“That’s ‘com,’ win an ‘m,’ not ‘con,’ said Simon.

Calzaghe said he was taking the Kessler fight because “everybody knows I want to fight only the best.” (Like Peter Manfredo?”) Kessler, it was revealed, won’t be an entirely alien presence: Turns out his mother is from Salisbury, and he is half-English.

The promoters are looking for a world-record crowd of 63,000 in the domed, 74,500 seat Millennieum Stadium. Reportedly, the advance sale is already 30,000, and their New York appearance was literally the first time Calzaghe and Kessler had been in the same room together. Simon and Palle confidently predicted that an influx of 4-5,000 boxing fans from Scandinavia would cross the North Sea to cheer Kessler on. An American travel agent is also arranging packages for flights from the US.

Ross Greenburg revealed that HBO will show the bout live, at 5 p.m. Eastern time, replaying it at 10:30 that evening.


Send questions and comments to: