Boxing

The Fights we Need for 2007 (part 1) – Calzaghe v Kessler

By Neil Thompson 26th October 2006: Two undefeated champions sharing all the major versions of the 168lb-title, this fight would be historic. Just like in 1981 when we had two outstanding Welterweight champions in Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns, this division, like all divisions, needs to be unified. When you are down to only 2 champions sharing all the 4 major belts everything that can be done should be done to secure the fight.

On the first weekend of October 2006 I watched two very good Super Middleweight world champions at work. In the UK Joe Calzaghe, 42-0 (31) was making his 19th defence of his WBO title and his first defence of his IBF title. Whilst in Denmark, WBA champ Mikkel Kessler, 38-0 (29) stopped the WBC champ Markus Beyer to become a double world champion. Now we have two ‘World’ champions in the 168lb division each with 2 versions of the crown each. Surely these two undefeated champions have to meet in 2007..

Throughout the relatively short history of the Super Middleweight Division (19 years) there has never been one unified champion. There has been quality fighters such as Roy Jones, James Toney, Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Steve Collins, Mike McCallum, even Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas ‘the Hitman’ Hearns have briefly competed at this weight, but we have never had an undisputed champion. This is possibly due to the fact that’s it’s often been considered an unfashionable division being sandwich between the classic Middleweight and Light Heavyweight weight classes. The 168lb division has also suffered over the last 10 years because of the lack of ‘stars’ participating at the weight, especially in America. Since the retirement of Eubank, Benn and Collins and the departure of Jones and Toney (to a higher weight class) there has been few people to take this division forward. Germany’s Sven Ottke won 2 versions of the title but he was painfully boring to watch and many of his fights were marred with biased refereeing and suspect judging. Only Calzaghe has looked like a worthy champion yet for many years he’s failed to land the big fights.

Even when Ottke held 2 versions of the title, Joe Calzaghe was still considered, by most, as the ‘man’ at the weight. The problem was that there were no big fights out there for him to showcase his talent. A great fighter is measured upon whom he has fought and although he’s fought more ‘names’ than any other active 168-fighter, those ‘names’ were never ‘stars’. Then after 17 defences against former champions, aswell as mandatory defences against virtually unknown fighters and a few voluntary ones against walking punching bags like Tocker Pudwill and the like, Joe finally got the fight his career had needed in Jeff Lacy. Lacy was a star on the rise being built up by American TV to help bring boxing back into the mainstream. Not only were people hyping this guy up but many people believed he was already the best in the division. Jeff Lacy was made for Calzaghe and he showed the world that he was still the ‘man’ at 168 and proved what many in the UK already knew, that he could be, and sometime was, an exceptional champion.

Now Calzaghe has another rival at 168, and one that I feel is more of a threat than Lacy was. I believe, at Super Middleweight, Kessler is the only real challenge for Joe Calzaghe. He's big, hits hard, is patient, seems to have a good chin and has sound boxing skills. I believe his thoughtful, aggressive, boxer-puncher style will cause Calzaghe problems. Whilst Joe is firmly considered ‘the man’ at the weight with his WBO and IBF belts, along with the even more prestigious 'Ring Magazine' belt, he now has a worthy rival for his number the one spot he‘s enjoyed for so many years. Mikkel Kessler has emerged as a serious threat holding the remaining WBA and WBC titles and looking more impressive with each outing. Already becoming a national hero, Kessler can fill almost any arena in Denmark. Either in the UK or Denmark this fight would be a sell-out.

Along with America’s Allen Green and Jeff Lacy, Mikkel Kessler can be considered amongst the heaviest hitting Super Middleweight’s today. Kessler-Beyer was impressive for the new WBC/WBA champ, turning in a dominant performance against the 3-time WBC champion, stopping Beyer within 3 rounds. Beyer was not a great champion by any means, but the way Kessler dominated him was very impressive all the same. Kessler showed that he is not as one paced as I had previously thought. He has a good array of punches and everyone of them are thrown with bad intentions. Beyer just had no reply to Kessler's assault.

This new double champion, from Denmark, already believes he is the best in the division and would be willing to come to the UK, for the right financial incentive, to prove it. The problem is that Kessler needs Calzaghe more than Calzaghe needs Kessler. Calzaghe has a number of possible big fights ahead of him, Jermain Taylor and Winky Wright could be tempted to move up in weight and Tarver, Hopkins and Woods at 175 would also be big fights for the undefeated Welshman. Kessler however would have to beat Calzaghe for these fights to open up for him. Whilst Calzaghe stays undefeated he will continue to be considered the ‘real’ champion at this weight and until someone beats Calzaghe, that’s the way it will stay.

On the same night of Kessler-Beyer, Calzaghe made his 19th defence by out-pointing Bika in a rough, foul-filled yet entertaining fight. He is now 34 and from Calzaghe’s perspective, an immediate fight with Kessler would benefit him rather than a later one. Kessler will only get better with more experience and may not be at his peak yet. For Joe however, its only a matter of time before he starts to deteriorate, he’s no ‘spring-chicken’ and when his speed, reflexes and chin start to diminish someone as good as Kessler will take advantage. So now is the time to tackle the challenge of Kessler whilst Joe is still at the peak of his powers.

I have watched Joe for years and with the exception of Roy Jones, I do consider him to be the best Super Middleweight in history. Unifying the four major alphabet titles and beating a quality champion in Kessler would mean more to his credibility and legacy than moving up to 175lb's and beating an average ‘World’ champion like Clinton Woods. Amongst hardcore boxing fans, Calzaghe-Kessler is bigger than Calzaghe-Woods. It would also be a lot closer fight. A fight with Hopkins would be huge and one I would pay to see but it is unlikely it will happen. Jermain Taylor is young and may play the weighting game for now and Winky Wright may feel this division is too big for him. Kessler however is more than willing to get it on now (mandatories permitting). Two Champions with any equal share of the title. This could, with the right build up and promotion, be huge in the UK / Europe and would create interest in the states aswell, especially with hardcore fans.

So who would win? Well I would have to go with Calzaghe. He’s the more tried and tested of the two at world level, he's fought better fighters than Kessler has, he's faster and has a higher work-rate. Calzaghe has also proved his chin is still solid and his reflexes intact even though he’s 34, but in no way is this an easy fight. Kessler is a good boxer and he will not be beaten in the same manner as Jeff Lacy was. Kessler is more thoughtful in his boxing than Mr Lacy and hits just as hard. Also, unlike Lacy, Kessler doesn’t seem to be the one-dimensional type as he can adapt his style to suit the fighter he's facing. He is a slow starter whilst Calzaghe starts very fast so the early rounds would belong to Calzaghe and that could be the difference. However, I feel Kessler would claw his way back into the fight and it would be a close decision whichever way it went. Their styles would also complement each other, both are excellent boxers who hit hard and both have good chins. It should go the distance and be competitive all the way through but I believe Calzaghe would win a tight contest.

No matter what other big fights are out there for Calzaghe and no matter what the result may be, as a fan of both fighters, I would rather see the number 1 taking on the number 2 of the division for unified and undisputed championship of the world. Not many of these fights come along these days but when they do they are usually remembered. Fights like these can help save boxing’s credibility.

Prediction: CALZAGHE beats KESSLER split-decision 12.

Thanks for reading.

Article posted on 26.10.2006



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