LONDON, England — A few days ago, Carl Froch promised that he was willing to “kill” Mikkel Kessler in order to win their highly anticipated rematch. Froch didn’t have to go that far last night, as his iron chin, hard-punching, physical strength, and momentum-altering pressure allowed him to overcome Kessler’s brief surges to take a clear unanimous decision (118-110, 116-112, 115-113) before his countrymen at the O2 Arena.
It was a very good fight that just got better and better as the fight progressed. And while I would personally stop short of saying there needs to be a rubbermatch, the great atmosphere and exchanges won’t allow me to begrudge anyone that does.
FROCH TAKES THE EARLY LEAD: Froch was able to take the first four rounds of the fight through a nice mix of a consistent jab, occasional hard right hand counters, and being able to keep Kessler off-balance with his superior physical strength. Froch’s jab at times was pawing and more of a range-finder, as the Cobra would later state he was wary of Kessler’s right hand and didn’t want to over-commit. Froch was bulling forward by the second round. Kessler, while not being badly hurt in any exchanges, almost always looked the worse for wear as Froch’s punches, whether landing flush or glancing, succeeded in knocking him off-balance and bringing the O2 crowd into a frenzy.
To Kessler’s credit, he gradually found a rhythm as the rounds went on, and by the beginning of fifth had found a weapon that would serve him for the remainder of the fight.
KESSLER’S LEFT HOOK: Although he never got a handle on slowing down Froch’s punch output, Kessler got his attention with a bunch of massive left hooks in rounds 5-6. Froch was so worried about the right hand that Kessler found that he was able to whip his left hook over Froch’s low, lead left. Froch took two big lefts in the fifth, and Kessler landed his best one at the beginning of a sixth, a vicious blow that snapped Froch’s head back.
In these rounds, Froch’s chin was his best weapon, as Kessler landed the same type of left hooks that vanquished Allan Green.
THE TIDE TURNS: Midway through the seventh, Kessler was still in control behind the power and accuracy of his left hook. However, Froch took away all of his momentum when he landed a big right hook and stunned Kessler with a left hook for a huge finish. Kessler’s luck was no better in the eighth when he was rocked several times by right hooks that Froch was now looping around his guard. Kessler found himself hurt late in the round and had to run and hold to survive, making it appear this fight had another round or two before Froch delivered the final blow.
The ninth was the slowest round of the night with Froch taking a breather but still potshotting and carrying the round. He attempted a few home-run right hands, but they were wild, wide shots that Kessler easily evaded.
KESSLER’S FINAL STAND: Starting in the 10th, Kessler sensed the urgency of needing a KO and let loose with his best power shots. The exchanges still favored Froch, but Kessler did good work to the body with his right, and came upstairs several times with the left hook. The 11th was Kessler’s best as he finally succeeded in wobbling Froch behind a counter right cross. Kessler followed up with a left and right hook, but Froch refused to fold and flurried to get through the round.
The 12th was a potential round of the year that mirrored the fury of the ending minutes of their initial clash 3 years ago. The first half of the stanza saw Kessler abuse Froch with overhand rights before getting stunned by a left hook. From there, it all was Froch, who trapped Kessler in a corner and uploaded with wild shots in hopes of a stoppage. Kessler barely escaped and held off one final attack as the bell sounded, promptly the combatants to immediately embrace.
RETIREMENT ON HIS OWN TERMS: Mikkel Kessler really surprised me. I predicted a Froch KO simply because I felt Kessler was too shopworn at this point to handle Froch’s pressure. Sure, Kessler’s stamina didn’t allow him to keep up the needed effort to fight hard for entire rounds, but he had Froch stunned several times and appeared on the road to turning things around completely in the seventh and at several points in the championship rounds. His performance proved to me that he’s still a force in the super-middleweight division should he choose to continue. No, he can’t beat Ward, and it’s highly unlikely he can improve enough to defeat Froch in a trilogy, but he can definitely hold his own against guys like Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR FROCH: Andre Ward was ringside working for HBO. When asked about a rematch, Froch was blunt in stating he loved to avenge his other defeat, but that Ward is a hard sell because of his unappealing style. If the fight could be made in the UK, Froch continued, he’d be more than willing to do it. Ward retorted that he had a strong fanbase and that Froch and promoter Eddie Hearn needed to make him an offer that was worth the trip.
Much as I like Ward, he’s really has no leverage to demand anything these days, which is ironic since he’s clearly the best fighter in the division. For one, Froch can easily make a third Kessler fight for more money and marketability. Secondly, Hopkins has name-checked Froch as a potential opponent, calling him “easy work.” That bout trumps a Ward bout in both the U.S. and abroad.
If Froch and Hearn balk at Ward trying to play hardball (which I would do), he literally has no name opponents to fight unless he can convince Gennady Golovkin to move up, or Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. to take an OK payday to get embarrassed.
Let’s hear it, people. Are you up for Froch-Ward II, or would you rather see Froch-Hopkins?[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8FjM3uUFtg&feature=youtube_gdata_player]