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Azad Championship Report - Can the "Viking Warrior" Charm "The Cobra"?

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A rematch of a fight as savage and closely contested as the April 24, 2010 fight between Denmark’s Mikkel “The Viking Warrior” Kessler, 46-2-0 (35), and Nottingham, U.K.’s Carl “The Cobra” Froch, 30-2 (22), begs many questions. Who will improve since the first fight? Who took more damage and how well did he heal since? How will the fighters react when the home canvas advantage is switched? In order to succeed in Saturday’s rematch - his first - Kessler hopes to have some of the answers.
 
Some say the first fight, held at the MCH Messecenter Herning in Herning, Denmark, had much to do with the close decision going to Kessler. “If that fight was held in Nottingham, Froch would be the winner,” they said. This fight will be held at the O2 Arena in Greenwich, London, a two-hour and 23 minute, 127.4-mile drive from Nottingham. No one can predict how Kessler will react to that new environment. Only the moment at hand will show him that. As for entering into new (yet familiar) territory, Kessler said it was a matter of fighter honor and pride.

“I promised Carl I would give him a rematch and here we are,” Kessler told the media during a conference call. “Of course it is dangerous to give Carl a rematch but I tell you, I had something in me that had to show boxing fans around the world that I beat Carl Froch. I know it is going to be a tough fight but I have to be a man. If I put my gloves away tomorrow, people would talk about it: ‘He never gave him that rematch.’ I heard about Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler and so on. This is a fight I want to fight also,” said Kessler, stating that with Froch defending the title he annexed from Lucian Bute, the win will huge for Kessler’s career.
 
While co-promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport (Sauerland Event is the other promoter of record) did not wish to discuss a possible fight with the recognized true World Super Middleweight Champion Andre Ward, he let the media know that Kessler and Froch are the big ticket sellers in any combination of those fighters and fights, especially in Europe. A win over Froch and the two promoters can go straight to a highly lucrative third fight or the winner will be in a position to potentially offer Ward enough money to invade Europe to defend his crown.
 
The first fight was a brutal, 12-round affair that saw Kessler take a physical beating despite pulling out the unanimous decision by scores of 115-113, 116-112 and an absolutely ridiculous 117-111. In August of 2010, Kessler’s doctor advised him to take a nine-month break from boxing due to an eye injury he suffered vs. Ward in the first round of Showtime’s “Super Six World Classic: the Super Middleweights” tournament. Ward went on win it all with a broken left hand, beating Froch in a one-sided, 12-round boxing lesson.
 
Kessler returned to fighting - and Denmark - in June of 2011, stopping Mehdi Bouadla in six. He knocked Allan Green out in four rounds the following May and capped off the year with a third round TKO of Brian Magee for his portion of the super middleweight crown.
 
Froch has battled back from the Ward loss with aplomb. Ward balked at facing former IBF champion Lucian Bute of Montreal, who is still probably the biggest draw among Froch, Ward and Kessler. Froch didn’t. In the first of what should have been two fights, Bute was beaten down and stopped by Froch in a Nottingham homecoming for “The Cobra” in May of last year. The performance was electrifying, quickly removing the Ward loss from fans’ minds. Froch finished the year with a third round pasting of Yusaf Mack in November, bringing us to Saturday’s rematch and the first fight of 2013 for both men.
 
The two fighters comprise a study in contrast. Kessler appears refined and mild-mannered. Froch is brash and blunt. Kessler’s fighting style is a bit more basic but technically sound. His punches, thrown with a 74” reach, are straight. Froch is the definition of awkward, choosing odd angles and finding ways to elongate his 75” reach even further by subtly turning his shoulder as he throws.
 
“He is a difficult fighter; you know. He’s not slow. He’s not so fast but he is so awkward sometimes,” explained Kessler of Froch. “You think he is there and I can hit him but then he’s not. And then he forces you to do something else. He is difficult in a strange way if you can say it like that. But we’ve been studying him for three months’ time. We also have an awkward style to try and beat him.”
 
Both are smart, tough and hungry enough to get to the top again. In terms of age (Froch is 35 to Kessler’s 34) and ring experience, they are very close; however, Kessler’s taken more physical damage in his career.
 
This being Kessler’s first rematch, this writer asked if it felt different preparing for this fight as opposed to his previous bouts.
 
“It is another approach to fighting the same guy again,” he said. “When you are in a fight, you don’t remember so much of it when you come down. You are pumped up with adrenaline so you don’t remember so much. I don’t remember so much as pieces of the fight but I can go back and think, ‘Why did I do like that?’ Watching the tape, he really had long arms. I got hit with the left sometimes and I couldn’t understand because he had a longer reach than I thought he had. So now I know he has this reach, to give an example. So now I can keep my head away from that long left.”
 
I asked Kessler if he felt Froch had changed much since their first fight.
 
“You know; I really don’t think so. He has awkward way of fighting. He knows what he is doing. He’s smart,” he said. Even after the Ward fight, a loss which brought out the proverbial adjective “exposed” from some fans, Kessler feels Froch is still the same Froch.
 
“He still does the same things and he is still awkward,” Kessler said.  But he added that, considering the Bute win, “he is definitely a more confident fighter.”
 
I asked him if during this recent stretch of training, had he discovered anything he had not seen the first time. While Kessler did not reveal everything he has discovered, the feeling I got was that part of the changes he had to make were internal. The more he got hit in the first fight, the more he seemed to go to war. When fighting an awkward fighter, the fighter who is considered the classic boxer must remain technically sound in order to prevail. Think Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Naseem Hamed. Kessler got out of his game plan and fed into Froch’s despite getting the nod on the scorecards. It felt more like a Carl Froch fight than a Mikkel Kessler fight. This time around with a new approach, the challenge is remembering not to go to war so easily.
 
“Know what? I’ve been training for three months. I’ve been watched all his fights all day long,” Kessler laughed. “We’ve studied hard; you know? What he does here and what he does there, he does not change much. But I just have to remember in the first round, the first time I get hit, try to [react] a different way this time.”
 
The first fight ended on a violently high note. Each man fought as if his life and career depended on it. That was also over three years ago. A lot has changed. From a mental and physical standpoint, this is a rare gift of a rematch in that both men are on an upward trajectory despite some setbacks. No one’s age is showing. No one is coming off a knockout loss. Sure, Kessler has some wear and tear but in boxing, who doesn’t at age 34? While Froch gets to essentially fight at home - something Kessler was more than willing to do - no one here is at a particular disadvantage. Whoever adjusts better from the first fight and throughout this one should win. Plain and simple.
 
“I never tried to. In my whole professional career, I’ve never tried to fight the same guy again so that’s why we have to make a different game plan,” said Kessler. “And as people say, [the fight] will take off where we left. Of course, it would be stupid. It could go 60 seconds. It could go 12 rounds. But of course, we both want to win the fight. I think even though we are at an age that is different than 21, 22 or 24 when I won my first WBA title, of course it is different. I think I have more experience. I also think that Carl is going to come very strong and hard. I have to be prepared. I have to have a plan A, B, C and D.”
 
For Kessler, the first fight was like cutting through an angry storm in the dark. Now that he has at least a rough map of where to go, the hope is to find victory a little easier this time.
 
“Exactly,” he said. “A better game plan than number one.”
 
You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 p.m., PST.
 
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