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Kessler-Ward: Clash of the classy professionals

Report by Robert Hough
Photos by Laura De La Torre

Mikkel Kessler won’t talk specifics about his game-plan to defend his WBA Super Middleweight title against Andre Ward, but he doubts Ward can cope with his power.

The super middleweights talked of power, hands, feet, hearts and minds at a recent press conference at Oracle Arena, in Oakland, Calif., to launch the promotion for November 21st fight at the same venue, their first fight in the Super Six World Boxing Classic. Tickets, priced at $35, $65, $150 and $300, went on sale Saturday.

“He doesn’t like to get hit,” said Kessler (41-1-0, 32KOs), the WBA champion whose first name rhymes with “nickel.” “I mean, nobody does, but I have good power and from what I have seen of Ward, I think he might be insecure when I hit him.”

Ward (20-0-0, 13 KOs), who talked more about fluid feet than fast hands, pointed out that you can’t hurt what you can’t hit.

“I’ll tell you a secret,” Ward said with a smile after the press conference. “People talk about fast hands, but feet are the key.”

Ward, who said he learned to move his feet in the ring before he learned to punch, believes his foot movement will make him elusive—and make Kessler easy to hit.

“When we watch Kessler, he steps straight forward and straight back,” Ward said, taking the steps as he explained what he’s seen and what he does. “When I step back and to the side, the other guy misses and he’s there to be hit.”
If Ward’s confident based on watching Kessler fight, he also liked what he saw at the press conference.

“I thought he would be bigger,” the 25-year-old said after the event. “I thought he would be much bigger.”

For Ward, the challenge of facing his toughest opponent will be plenty big enough—and one he aches for.

“You really don’t know who you are until you face something like this,” said the 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist who grew up in Oakland and lives in the area. “You’ve got to prove yourself and prove things to yourself. You can be confident, and I have all the confidence in the world just like he does, but being confident and doing it are two different things. I’m ready to do it.”

Kessler’s ready for someone he believes is slower and stronger than Joe Calzaghe, the only man to defeat the Dane.
“You never know for sure until you’re in the ring, and Ward has fast hands, but I think Calzaghe was much faster than Ward,” the 30-year-old Monaco resident said. “From what I’ve seen, I think Ward has more power.”

Both men, who easily won tune-up fights earlier this month, were in equal parts candid, confident and complimentary of each other; Kessler said any animosity will be brief.

“Me and Ward, we love this game,” he said. “We’re both great fighters and I respect him, but I have always respected everyone I fought, regardless of whether they’re at the top level or not. Maybe we’ll hate each other the day of the fight, but that’s part of it. I’m a gentleman and I’m not going to talk trash. I’ll let my hands talk on the 21st of November.”

Part of the challenge for Kessler, who spent two days in the San Francisco Bay Area on his first trip to the region and went to Alcatraz Island to tour the former prison, is fighting on Ward’s turf.

“Of course I would love to fight in Denmark, but I know that here is much bigger so that means more money,” he said before the press conference. “All the fans will cheer for the hometown fighter even if his punches don’t land and that can affect the judges. With everything, I think it’s worth one point for someone to fight in their hometown, but I can’t let that take me away from what I do best and try to be too aggressive for a knockout.”

Kessler recognizes that there’s little likelihood of a Super Six fight in Denmark, a country with a population of about 5.5 million people, but he loves the tournament.

“There’s a lot of awareness in Denmark, Germany, England and you have three fighters from the U.S. so it’s very international,” said Kessler, who started boxing at 13, when he and some friends saw Danish fighters. “For me, it’s great exposure and I want the top-level competition. I love the challenge of it.”

Having had relatively little exposure in the USA, Kessler, who has exquisitely detailed tattoos on his back and chest, is ready to introduce himself to larger audiences.

“I’d say I’m a happy guy; I’m enjoying life,” he said. “I’m healthy and I stay fit between fights so I don’t have to lose a lot of weight or build up a lot of stamina in training.

Not atypical of young men with some cash to spend, Kessler likes high-performance vehicles.

“I have a motorcycle, a GSX-R 1000, which is very fast, but I don’t get to ride it now because with this tournament, I have to be careful,” he said. “I drive a Toyota Supra, which is a little customized and I’m having work done on the engine. I’m not sure how much power it will have, but it will be a lot.”

Parking the bike’s a trade-off Kessler’s happy to make for the chance to fighting Ward and consistently face the best guys out there.

“I don’t think you’ll see any easy fights in this for any of us because everyone is a very good, but win or lose, they will be tough and then we have to get ready for another hard fight and another one after that,” he said. “It will be great for the fans and it will be hard for us, win or lose.

“If you win a fight, that’s great, but you’ll have maybe a week to celebrate and you have to start thinking about the next one. Fighters some times lose a fight and they get set back really hard, they need to take an easy fight or two to build back up, but with this, you can’t.

“There’s no time for crying here.”

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