“The Cobra” Strikes Back

by Eric Raskin

Carl Froch - Photo: Will Hart

If you look at the result, history reversed itself. If you look at everything else, history repeated itself.

Carl Froch-Mikkel Kessler II, fought before a crowd of 19,000-plus frothing Brits at the O2 Arena in London, was another energetic, engaging, occasionally sloppy, never dull, and highly competitive delight. Again, the home-country fighter got his hand raised. We were just in a different country this time.

The script was only flipped when it came time for the ending, as scores of 118-110 from Adalaide Byrd, 116-112 for Carlos Sucre, and 115-113 from Jean-Francois Tupin were announced as being all in Froch’s favor. This pulls Nottingham’s “Cobra” even in the rivalry, with Kessler having won by nearly identical scores (117-111, 116-112, and 115-113) in Herning, Denmark, in their first fight in April 2010.

Read the Complete Froch-Kessler Fight Recap at HBO.com.

Raskin & Mulvaney’s Fight Week Stat Chat

by Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney

When analyzing the CompuBox stats heading into a fight, we often have to factor in the quality and style of the opposition on each man’s record before drawing any conclusions about what those numbers mean for the impending showdown. With Mikkel Kessler and Carl Froch, we know exactly what the numbers mean for this matchup because we’re looking at CompuBox numbers from when these two elite super middleweights fought each other—with Kessler winning a unanimous decision. Kessler-Froch II, the rematch, is upon us. CompuBox compiled the data, and HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney sat down to discuss whether the numbers, and the result, will look the same the second time around:

 

Click for Complete Compubox Analysis

Raskin: This Saturday night if you’re in Europe, or this Saturday afternoon if you’re somewhere in the States, Mikkel Kessler and Carl Froch will share the ring in a rematch to a very close 2010 bout won by Kessler in his native Denmark. Before we dive into the rematch, let’s look back at the first fight. I remember a lot of leather flying, and I remember it being sloppy at times, but also tons of fun. Indeed, the CompuBox stats show plenty of activity: 682 punches thrown by Kessler, and 961 by Froch. Kieran, what memories stand out for you from that fight, and do you recall how you scored it?

Mulvaney: I’m cheating a little (a lot) because I decided to sit down and watch it again before writing my preview of the rematch. (Remember, kids: Research is your friend.) I was struck by what an intriguing example it was of shifting momentum, of one man taking charge, then the other. Apart from a couple of rounds, I thought Kessler—atypically aggressive in the early going—was the clear winner of the first two-thirds of the bout, but Froch’s trademark storming finish made it tremendously close. In the end, I scored it 115-113 for Kessler. How about you?

Read the full CompuBox report on HBO.com.

Raskin: I don’t believe in cheating, so I haven’t re-watched the fight recently. But I also scored it very narrowly for Kessler—I seem to recall I had an even round in there and ended up with a 115-114 card. But you’re the guy who recently re-watched the fight. I’m curious, how accurately do you feel the CompuBox stats tell the story of this particular fight?

Mulvaney: I was fascinated by the fact that Froch greatly out-threw and out-landed Kessler. Given that many of those punches were jabs, I suspect that’s a function of the particularly curious jab that Froch has. He holds his left hand low and then lifts it up into a jab that is frequent, repetitive, but almost apologetic, a tap-tap-tapping jab that suddenly carries extra weight and is then often followed by a heavy right. He’s quite the enigma, Froch: He seems to do so many things wrong, and seems to throw so slowly, yet he’s so effective with what he does. The other thing that leapt out at me is the way that sometimes, even the best stats don’t tell the whole story. Round 8’s stats, for example, are even and unremarkable, but include one punch that buckled Froch’s knees and seemingly had him in some trouble.

Raskin: Excellent point. I love what CompuBox stats add to the viewing experience, but you can’t rely on them alone to tell you what happened. Your point about Froch being an enigma is interesting. This is a guy who has morphed and adapted his style quite a bit over the last few years. In some fights he’s a banger, in others he’s all about volume, and against Arthur Abraham particularly, he was a slick boxer. Which style gives him the best chance to beat Kessler on Saturday?

Mulvaney: Before the first bout, Froch said he thought Kessler was best at counterpunching, and so resolved not to give him that opportunity. He deliberately held back and allowed Kessler to come to him. But that actually worked quite well for the great Dane. Here’s what makes this rematch so interesting to me (and I’m not avoiding the question entirely): I think Kessler is the better technical boxer by far, but I think the wild card is how Froch decides to fight. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Froch begin by testing Kessler, being aggressive, seeing if he can take the pressure, doing to him what he did to Lucian Bute. If Kessler looks like he’s coping with that, then I imagine Froch will back off, circle and move, and look to drag Kessler into counter right hands of his own. And if Kessler is still there after eight or nine, we can expect Froch to turn it up again.

Raskin: You’ve hit upon the key thing here: Froch has options. He has different gears. He can fight in different ways from one round to the next, or even within a round. He can throw 77 jabs, like he did in Round 2 of their first fight, then dispense with the jab the next round. If one thing isn’t working, he can try something else. I don’t believe Kessler is nearly as versatile. As you say, he’s the better pure boxer—or at least he was when in his prime. But Froch has more ways to win. Two quick questions to wrap it up before you give me your official pick: Is Froch better now, at 34, than he was in the first fight, at 31? And is Kessler worse now than he was then?

Mulvaney: Quick answers: Yes, and I don’t know. I guess that’s the other wild card: Kessler is maybe being overlooked a little because he hasn’t fought much since he last faced Froch. But while his opposition hasn’t been stellar, he’s splattered them. Maybe he’s going to surprise us.

Raskin: Okay, so what is your official prediction then? It sounds like you’re picking Froch. If my ability to infer is as otherworldly as I think it is, then specifically, knockout or decision?

Mulvaney: You’re positively Kreskin-esque. Officially, I’m picking Froch by a wide-ish decision. But even though Kessler has a pretty good beard, I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s a very late stoppage—perhaps on cuts. And you?

Raskin: Agreeing is quite boring, but I have to do it. Froch on points. I do suspect Kessler is slipping ever so slightly, whereas Froch has added so much valuable experience against a wide range of elite opponents since their first fight. He’s always been a confident fighter, but his confidence is positively through the roof these days. It’s up to Kessler to do something early—either hurt Froch or find a way to frustrate him—to take the confidence away. I don’t think the Dane can do those things, so I too expect Froch to win a convincing decision. Well, enjoy the fight, Kieran, and if Kessler wins, I’ll blame you for influencing me into making the wrong pick.

Read the Carl Froch vs. Mikkel Kessler CompuBox Analysis at HBO.com

Kessler-Froch II: Is Ward A Reward?

by Eric Raskin

Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler - Photo: Will Hart

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?”

How Much Can Change in Three Years?

by Eric Raskin

Mikkel Kessler, Carl Froch

When Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler renew hostilities on March 25, it will have been three years, one month, and one day since they first fought. In that initial affair, Kessler won a close, unanimous decision in his native Denmark. But a lot can change in three years, and with the rematch set for London’s O2 Arena, Englishman Froch is listed as about a 2-1 favorite.

Standard rematch protocol following a very close, entertaining first fight, which is what Kessler-Froch I was, is to arrange an immediate rematch. That wasn’t an option here because Kessler-Froch I took place as part of the “Super Six” tournament and both men were pre-committed to other future fights. So this could never be like Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward or Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez, classic rivalries in which three bouts were crammed into just 12 or 13 months. If there was going to be a Kessler-Froch rematch, there would be time for the rivalry to breathe first.

Maybe that’s not boxing’s standard protocol, but it does happen. There have been plenty of famous fights throughout history that led to a rematch three or more years later.

Probably the most well known case is Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Thomas Hearns. In 1981, they met to unify the welterweight championship. It wasn’t until 1989, when they were super middleweights, that they shared the ring again. Though both were somewhat diminished as fighters by the time they rematched in their 30s, the product was similar: a close, dramatic, action-packed fight. In the first fight, Leonard rallied late to win by 14th-round TKO. He might done the same in the rematch—but it was only scheduled for 12 rounds, so Sugar Ray ran out of time and the bout was ruled a draw.

If the eight years between Leonard-Hearns fights sounds like a lot, that’s nothing compared to the 17 years separating Roy Jones’ 1993 win over Bernard Hopkins and the revenge Hopkins exacted in 2010. When that much time passes, it’s almost certain that circumstances will be wildly different by the second go-round. In this case, Jones was all but spent and coming off a first-round knockout loss just four months earlier, and the rematch was an embarrassment all the way around.

In most cases, however, the result doesn’t change from the first fight to the second. History repeats itself, often more quickly and less memorably.

Julio Cesar Chavez defeated Meldrick Taylor via controversial 12th-round stoppage in 1990 in arguably the best fight of the decade. Four years later, Taylor was no longer an elite boxer and was dispatched in eight one-sided rounds.

When Billy Conn challenged Joe Louis for the heavyweight championship in 1941, he led on the cards before Louis caught up with him in round 13 of a legendary duel. World War II got in the way of a rematch and forced them to wait until 1946, by which time Conn was rusty, old, or both, and Louis dominated the eight rounds that the fight lasted.

Joe Frazier’s first fight with Jerry Quarry, in the summer of ’69, was not exactly summer-of-love-appropriate, as Frazier won on cuts in seven rounds in a bruising Fight of the Year. When they fought again in ’74, the battle was almost as violent as their first but a bit shorter, ending with Frazier’s hand raised in the fifth.

If Frazier had Quarry’s number, so too did George Foreman have Frazier’s. In the iconic “Down goes Frazier!” fight in 1973, Foreman stomped Smokin’ Joe in two rounds to capture the heavyweight crown. Frazier lasted longer when they went at it a second time in ’76, but he was no more competitive, getting wiped out in five rounds.

The general perception is that Froch is closer to his prime right now than Kessler is, which is why the man who lost the first time is favored on May 25. But sometimes time changes nothing and the style matchup assures the same type of fight no matter how many times they do it. If that turns out to be the case with Kessler and Froch, no fight fan will complain.

Froch, Kessler Reignite Three-Year-Old Rivalry

by Kiearn Mulvaney

In the immediate aftermath of his first, back-and-forth, give-and-take tussle with Mikkel Kessler, before the rationalization and defiance kicked back in, Carl Froch’s eyes told the story. So too did his words.

Appearing uncharacteristically downcast, the preternaturally super-confident Englishman looked at girlfriend Rachel Cordingly as the two embraced in the ring.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Cordingley’s response – a disbelieving “What?” – was more than the effort by a loving partner to be consoling; it was a genuine and legitimate expression of disbelief that, after 12 rounds of Herculean effort, Froch could possibly feel that, win or lose, he had failed in any possible way.

The judges’ scorecards provided the explanation for Froch’s apology: Kessler had won a unanimous decision. But it had been a truly titanic battle, one that most neutral observers considered to be closer to the 115-113 card of Guido Cavellari than Roger Tilleman’s 117-111. As the disappointment ebbed, Froch’s swagger ultimately returned with the assertion that had the fight been in England rather than Kessler’s Denmark, the result might have been different.

He has the opportunity to put that theory to the test on May 25 when, three years after their initial encounter, super-middleweights Froch and Kessler clash again, this time in London, on HBO World Championship Boxing.

Read the Complete Carl Froch vs. Mikkel Kessler Fight Overview on HBO.com