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Azad Championship Report - Rematch for a Rematch?

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This Saturday at the O2 Arena in London, England, a highly anticipated rematch takes place in the super middleweight division between Mikkel Kessler and Carl Froch (HBO, 6 p.m., ET/3 p.m. PT and 10 p.m., ET). The first time they met was back on April 24th, 2010 in Hernig, Denmark, where Kessler won a hard-fought, exciting unanimous decision in one of the better fights of Showtime’s “Super Six” series.
 
A lot is on the line this weekend. Froch comes in as the IBF beltholder and Kessler has a version of the WBA title. But what might really be at stake is the rightful claim as the clear, number one challenger to consensus champion Andre Ward.
 
You remember Ward; right?
 
The oft-injured, seldom-seen ring general from Oakland, universally recognized as one of the elite prizefighters in the world, was the winner of the “Super Six” (seems so long ago, doesn’t it?) and during this round-robin tournament, he handily defeated both Kessler and Froch.

Ward dispatched Kessler in November of 2009 at the Oracle in Oakland via technical decision over 11 rounds to mark his entry into the big time. And after several mysterious withdrawals in this tournament (including Kessler’s), he then he tamed “The Cobra” in December of 2011 in Atlantic City, New Jersey to clearly stake his claim as the undisputed ruler at 168.
 
Since then, Ward has performed just once - a thrashing of a weight-drained Chad Dawson last September - and has had his career derailed by a bum right shoulder. Meanwhile, Froch’s career quickly regained momentum as he shattered the myth of Lucian Bute last year in five rounds outside the latter’s safe cocoon of Montreal. Bute wasn’t so much exposed but demolished by the salty Brit. Kessler has remained relevant with a series of victories over Mehdi Bouadla, Allan Green and then Brian Magee for the WBA belt.
 
Now they face each other. And it says here one will have clearly earned a rematch with Ward. The bottom line is whoever wins this weekend will be far and away the top contender at super middleweight.
 
Can anyone argue this claim?
 
No, perhaps the second go-round won’t be any more compelling than the first time around but you hear all the time how boxers should “earn” or “deserve” certain fights. Well, wouldn’t the winner of Kessler-Froch II have done that very thing?
 
And lemme ask you this: Who is a better option?
 
Take a look at the current lot at super middleweight:
 
-  Robert Stieglitz, the WBO beltholder, is scheduled to face Arthur Abraham - again.
 
-  George Groves is talented but green and the top contender in the WBO. You get the sense his management would rather win a belt first than challenge Ward.
 
-  Karoly Balzsay is an unknown quantity in America.
 
-  Edwin Rodriguez is a decent talent but can’t be considered a true world-class super middleweight at the moment.
 
-  Sakio Bika, a previous Ward victim, is in line to face Marco Antonio Periban for the WBC title stripped from Ward by the WBC in June.
 
-  Thomas Oosthuizen, the tall South African, has some skills but is much more of a prospect than true contender.
 
-  Andre Dirrell…uh, his career seems to be sidetracked and delayed again by Dr. Shaw High.
 
So tell me; if not Kessler or Froch, who?
 
Nigel Benn, Steve Collins, Frank Liles and Chris Eubank aren’t walking through those doors - as Rick Pitino would say. In fact, there isn’t even a prime version of Charles Brewer or Antwun Echols for Ward to face. Currently there is a vacuum at 168 and if Ward insists on staying in the division, this is probably his best option. Ward can try and tell the public that he and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. would be a fight the public would yearn for but Bob Arum would convert to Islam before letting that happen.
 
Top Rank might have been willing to cash out Kelly Pavlik but there’s still plenty of money to be taken out of this Mexican ATM.
 
Logic will tell you that HBO, which has dove head-first into the Ward business under the leadership of Ken Hershman (once the architect of the ambitious and critically acclaimed “Super Six”), wouldn’t have invested in buying a fight overseas (which will be broadcast in the afternoon, no less and then replayed on prime time this Saturday) unless it fit into its grand scheme around Ward. Part of a network’s job isn’t just to showcase a fighter but to also develop opponents for him (why they are hoping and praying Adonis Stevenson can upset Chad Dawson on June 8th. They were bitterly disappointed that Tavoris Cloud wasn’t able to defeat Bernard Hopkins earlier this year. Hopkins and Ward have both made it clear they will never meet inside the squared circle).
 
However, first things first; we still don’t know when Ward will make his return to the ring. September the 7th has been cleared by HBO, so perhaps he can fill this slot. As of yet, nothing is finalized. And the winner of Kessler-Froch II may simply have no burning desire to get in there with Ward again, especially in the States.
 
The reality is no matter how impressive they might look this weekend, if they were ever paired again with the master tactician from Oaktown, each would be a sizable underdog. But there’s a reason you fight the fights as they say. There have been many rematches where the decisive loser of the initial pairing turns it around. Not many pundits gave Evander Holyfield much of a chance at toppling Riddick Bowe in their second fight. Just recently, Mike Alvarado was able to swing the tide in his favor against Brandon Rios in their return bout.
 
I know there are many of you who believe Kessler-Froch versus Ward II isn’t an attractive option. Fair enough.
 
But can you realistically come up with another one?
 
WBC
 
What’s lost in all this talk of Andre Ward basically dumping the WBC belt and its offer of an “emeritus title” is the organization might have done him a favor and saved him three percent (what the WBC charges for its sanctioning fee) of his purse moving forward. And he still has the WBA belt in his possession.
 
It comes down to Ward being one of the few boxers in the world with the leverage and network support to not really need any belts. He’s already gained acclaim as the clear-cut undisputed champion from the public and the powers that be. Till he is beaten inside that ring at super middleweight, he will always be looked upon as the champion.
 
There are plenty of beltholders, very few “true” champions. Ward is one of the latter.
 
On the flipside, not unlike any other sanctioning body, the WBC didn’t want any of its titles to be stagnant. When you have a beltholder who simply can’t get out there and fight for whatever reason, business suffers (Newsflash: the sanctioning bodies are “for-profit” entities!) and for all his accolades, Ward wasn’t helping them with their bottom line.
 
And rules state that a champion must defend his title within a year of his last fight. Ward last fought on September 8th of 2012. But the WBC did give him an opportunity to fight for the title (which will be contested on June 22nd between Bika and Periban) whenever he returned to the ring.
 
The WBC is getting heat because they have allowed Floyd Mayweather to hold titles for longer spells without ever defending them. Well, hey, Mayweather sanctioning fees are worth the wait. What else can you say?
 
The lesson here is that perhaps the WBC should be more consistent and just never follow its own rules and regulations.
 
Still, they obviously didn’t want Ward and Ward didn’t need them.
 
SUPER MIDDLEWEIGHT FLURRIES
 
The HBO broadcast team of Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman and Ward will be calling Kessler-Froch II...According to manager, Sergio Diaz, any rumors that Antonio Margarito is making a return to the ring and broke are simply untrue. Let’s hope so. If the “Tijuana Tornado” returns, it’s like he’s just begging to look like the Oakland Raider logo...Unfortunately, Audley Harrison has reversed course and decided to return to the ring...Cavs win the NBA lottery again but is there anything close to a franchise player in this draft?...I can be reached at k9kim@yahoo.com and I tweet at www.twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing, where you can discuss our content with Maxboxing readers as well as chime in via our fully interactive article comments sections.


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