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:
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?
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.