Friday, May 24, 2013

Froch-Kessler II: Keys to the Fight

Saturday brings the anticipated rematch between Carl Froch (30-2) and Mikkel Kessler (46-2). Kessler won the first fight in Denmark in 2010 by a close, unanimous decision. For the rematch, Froch will play host, with the fight in London's O2 arena. Since their matchup three years ago during the Super Six super middleweight tournament, both fighters have gone in different directions. Froch has continued to fight top competition (losing to Andre Ward but demolishing Lucian Bute) while Kessler has knocked out lesser fighters (Brian Magee, Allan Green).
To the delight of boxing fans around the world, these two champions have decided to face each other again. Does Kessler still have Froch's number three years later? Will Froch's improvement in the ring be enough to take down one of his chief rivals? Read below for the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article.
1. So, what's new?
In my eyes, both fighters have made several improvements in the ring since their first fight. Kessler has become much more effective with his left hook to the body and he has also incorporated an uppercut. Although Kessler has always been a skilled fighter, he primarily featured just a jab, straight right hand and right hand to the body. Now, his arsenal is more well-rounded. In addition, you'll notice that he's stands less upright in the ring, giving him the ability to transition from defense to offense just a hair faster than he did earlier in his career.
Froch has improved in a variety of ways. He was once a notorious slow starter and would grind down fighters to win. However, against Bute and Yusaf Mack, he dominated fights from the onset. In addition, Froch has become a more versatile fighter. He can box, rush in, slug, in-fight, use movement and feint. Although he's not the most gifted athletic specimen in boxing, these added dimensions make him a more difficult fighter to defeat than the version that Kessler saw in 2010.
2. Kessler must be first.
Bute made the strategic mistake on waiting on Froch to initiate offense. Because Froch can rush in from bizarre angles with unconventional shots, he can be a tough fighter to counter. Kessler, like Bute, is much better leading than following. Kessler will look to set up his offense with his jab. He'll also incorporate his straight right hand and left hook. Although he certainly can counterpunch, that's not his strength as a fighter.
If Froch is going to stay out of the pocket, Kessler must track him down and apply pressure. This battle of ring generalship will be paramount in determining the winner of the fight. Kessler must force the pace and the action. He needs to make Froch fight three minutes a round and not let him engage only at spots. Froch has a tendency to take breaks during rounds. Kessler must capitalize on this downtime by initiating action.
3. Froch needs to take away Kessler's jab by staying out of midrange.
Let's face it. If it's a jabbing contest, Kessler will win. It's probably his best punch and he controls much of the action with it. For Froch, he must make Kessler beat him with other punches. Either by staying out or by getting all the way in, Froch will probably be in a better position to win rounds. He's a cagey fighter from the outside, where he can rush in and tag opponents with a variety of shots. He's also a capable infighter, an area where Kessler is not at his best.
Froch needs to use the ring, circle both directions and feature movement to confound Kessler, who is more of a straight line fighter (although not as rigid in this regard as he used to be). The more unpredictable that Froch is in the fight the better that he will do. A pocket should be an evil thing for Froch in this match. That set up gives Kessler time to control distance and work from his strengths. For Froch, make it sloppy, run some, grapple on the inside, but don't let Kessler be in position to jab.
4. The late rounds.
With the first fight seemingly up for grabs, Kessler was the boxer who had the big 12th round to secure the victory (in actuality, Kessler would have already won the fight going into the final frame, absent a knockdown). Both fighters are now in their mid-30s (Kessler – 34, Froch – 35) and are theoretically further from their athletic peaks. Since the first fight, Froch has gone 12 rounds against Arthur Abraham, Glen Johnson and Andre Ward while Kessler hasn't even had a fight make it to the seventh. Froch performed well down the stretch against Johnson (the Abraham fight wasn't close) and even had a few good moments in the final third against Ward, even though that fight shouldn't have been on the table – there was some bizarre scoring in that bout.
The final third has a good chance to be the separator in this fight. Is it possible for one of the fighters to drop his fatigued opponent? Who can stick with his game plan in a hotly contested fight? Who needs to pull out a round or two to make sure he secures victory? The answer to these questions will most likely determine the winner of the match. Although Froch has gone harder rounds more recently, one could make the case that there's less wear and tear on Kessler. Ultimately, I'm not sure who the later rounds favor on paper, but it very well may play a crucial role in the fight.
5. The home elements.
Froch is the type of emotional fighter who really gains a lot from his home crowd. Although this match won't be in Nottingham, it's clear that Froch will be the overwhelming crowd favorite. This will help him perform in a tough match against a worthy opponent. Kessler has fought many times outside of Denmark in his career – America, Australia the U.K and Germany. He will not be overawed by the pro-Froch crowd, but he won't have the advantage in the arena. It should be noted that Kessler hasn't fought his best away from home. I'm not suggesting that he crumbles when outside of Denmark, but his record is just a pedestrian 3-2.
The officials for the match are a competent bunch with vast international experience. Pete Podgorski may not have the highest name recognition among American referees, but the Chicagoan has had a number of international assignments over the past five years, including fights in South Africa, Australia the Philippines and Canada. The three judges – Adalaide Byrd (USA), Carlos Sucre (Venezuela) and Jean-Francois Toupin (France) – have tons of title fight experience and are used to big events. Byrd can be an idiosyncratic scorer but she's a fine judge without discernible biases. Toupin and Sucre both get a lot of WBA assignments (Kessler, should be noted, is the WBA champion). Toupin has judged scores of title fights in Europe. Sucre has judged mostly in his home country and Central America, but he has also worked numerous Japanese assignments. On paper, this is a fair slate of officials for this match.
By following his blueprint against Lucian Bute, Froch has the formula to beat Kessler, who can be a tad mechanical and isn't a great counterpuncher. Froch needs to stay unpredictable and avoid repeatable patterns. If he follows this game plan, he can take more than enough rounds to win. However, he must stay busy and let his hands go. Kessler certainly will win some rounds in the fight. By staying active and fighting three minutes each round, he will pick up a number of frames on volume alone. However, in the trenches and along the outside of the ring, I think he'll be outgunned. I see Froch landing the more damaging shots and frustrating Kessler with his movement and offensive flurries. It will be a competitive fight but the Froch will hear his name called after the final bell.
Carl Froch UD Mikkel Kessler, along the lines of 116-112, or eight rounds to four.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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