by Eric Raskin
The state of the super middleweight division can be summed up with an adaptation of a cliché: There’s Andre Ward, and then there’s everybody else. And among that “everybody else,” it’s probably accurate to say that there’s Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler, and then there’s everybody else.
In whatever set of impartial rankings you look at, Froch and Kessler are the first two names listed after Ward. So when the second- and third-rated fighters in the division face each other on Saturday, May 25, in London, the winner will emerge as, clearly, the man most deserving of a shot at lineal champion Ward.
Just one problem: They’ve both faced Ward already and lost to him fairly convincingly. It’s not that Ward-Froch II (if Froch is coming off an impressive win over Kessler) or Ward-Kessler II (if Kessler is coming off an impressive win over Froch) aren’t quality matches; it’s just that the opportunity to face the immensely skillful, offense-smothering Ward again might not be of particular interest to the victor.
In a sense, the motivation for Froch and Kessler is not another shot at Ward, but rather the prestige that comes with being Ward’s inarguable top contender. There’s also the motivation to avoid falling into the lower “everybody else” tier with a defeat. That’s not a knock on Lucian Bute, Robert Stieglitz, Arthur Abraham, and the rest of that tier. It’s just that there’s a sizable gap in reputation and earning power between “number two fighter in the division” and “afterthought.” That’s ultimately what’s at stake in Kessler-Froch II.
If a rematch with Ward is not the end goal, then who else is available to the winner afterward? Stieglitz is a credible opponent to either, particularly in Europe where all three of them are based. Bute might make sense for Kessler (not as much for Froch, since “The Cobra” stopped Bute easily last year), but Bute currently has his sights set on Jean Pascal in the biggest event in Canadian boxing history.
Beyond that, some of the more tantalizing options can be found in the weight classes directly above and below 168 pounds. Perhaps the Kessler-Froch winner will want to challenge the winner of the June 8 bout between Chad Dawson and Adonis Stevenson for the lineal light heavyweight title. Froch has already broached the household name of Bernard Hopkins, and B-Hop broached it back. At middleweight, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.—who really is built more like a super middle or light heavy anyway—is the best financial option, while Gennady Golovkin is emerging as the darling of the hardcore fight fans.
Obviously, neither Froch nor Kessler should be looking past each other. Each man is ranked directly next to the other at super middleweight for a reason, and there’s every reason to expect another close fight the second time around. It’s possible that when it’s over, nobody will be talking about Andre Ward or any of the other fighters from 160-175 pounds. Instead, the question might simply be, “How soon can we make Froch-Kessler III?”