“A man who knows how to conquer in war is a man who knows how to arrange a banquet and put on a show” – Livy (Roman historian)
A fight between Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler would look good anywhere.
They could throw down outside a bar or mix it up under the arc lights in Las Vegas and fans would be awe struck. In an age where fighters spruce themselves up in gladiator garb for cringe worthy commercials, these two warriors would actually look normal in protective armor and ancient weaponry.
Yes the slaves of Roman times, who fought for survival, may have been replaced by millionaire combatants who fight for world title belts but many things remain the same. The crowds still thirst for blood and the emperors, now known as promoters, continue to match their finest combatants against one another.
Well, sometimes they do.
The rematch between Froch and Kessler will be held within the modern confines of the O2 Arena in London this coming Saturday. It is so glorious an occasion that Sky Sports Box Office PPV has returned to the UK, for the first time in two years, because quite frankly this one is worth £14.95 (approximately $25).
“It’s humbling to be on pay per view,” said Froch. “I’m in the sport for the honor, not the fame and fortune, but I still love boxing. I fought for years as an amateur, without earning a penny, so it’s humbling and it shows the magnitude of the fight because fans are willing to pay extra for it.”
“Without pay per view this fight wouldn’t happen because we wouldn’t have the budget. People are required to pay individually, which only works if there’s huge interest in the event. It’s fantastic to be involved in a fight which attracts a crossover audience as well as the boxing enthusiast.”
The first duel between Froch and Kessler took place in April 2010. In a ferocious give and take battle both men were tested to the very limits of their endurance and Kessler, who was fighting on home turf in Denmark, was rewarded with a unanimous decision after twelve gory rounds of violence.
“On the night it was devastating,” said Froch as he reminisced over his first defeat. “I wasn’t inconsolable but I was very disappointed because I didn’t think I would lose as a professional. Of course, deep down, there’s always a chance that you can lose and I knew that any of the fighters in the Super Six Tournament could beat me if they had a great night.
“Champions who say they’re unbeatable are being ridiculous. Top level fighters, when they meet each other, win and lose. Over the years the likes of (Sugar Ray) Robinson, (Sugar Ray) Leonard and Muhammad Ali all lost and unless you’re handpicking your opposition, which some fighters have done in the past, then that’s what happens.”
Froch continued: “You also have to factor in that I lost to the Danish equivalent of David Beckham on Danish soil but on the night I didn’t feel as though I had done enough – all things considered. Anyway, I’ve wanted the rematch for three years and now I have the chance to redeem myself and build on my legacy.”
Since the dramatic first fight Froch has engaged in forty four rounds of full contact against the best super middleweight fighters on the planet. Kessler, by contrast, has only completed thirteen rounds of action against opposition one would label substandard by comparison. The Viking Warrior has endured career threatening injury and long periods of inactivity whereas Froch seems to have added more strings to his bow.
“I think mentally I’ve improved but my experience and ring craft have gone from strength to strength,” stated THE RING’s No. 1-rated super middleweight. “Defensively, I know how to position myself to avoid shots and my speed and reflexes have also come on leaps and bounds. People used to accuse me of being slow but I put in a lot of speed training and I’ve worked hard on my reflexes.
“I’m older and wiser now which has come with experience and if you look at the fights I’ve had compared to Kessler then you can see a real difference. I’m in a far better position coming into this rematch, in terms of form and opposition faced, so I’m very confident.”
Froch is 35 years of age, a year older than his Danish rival, but he refuses to cut corners and prepares meticulously. He is trained by acclaimed coach, Robert McCracken, a former middleweight world title challenger, whose gym in Sheffield has produced not only Froch but arguably the finest UK Olympic team in history.
“Nothing has changed in terms of how we’ve prepared,” remarked the confident IBF titlist. “I’ve done 12 hard rounds with Kessler and I know him personally due to all the time we spent together on the Super Six Tournament and with all the recent filming we’ve completed with Sky Sports.
“It’s just the same old, same old. Hard work, dedication, get fit and win your fight.”
Froch continued: “Kessler won’t change much but this time we’ve been working on attacking with punches in bunches. In the first fight I caught Mikkel clean a few times and backed off to get a breather. This time when I catch him I’ll be closing the distance to unload with heavy combinations, just like I did with Bute.”
“The Cobra” upset the previously unbeaten Lucian Bute in May of last year to produce the finest showing of his career to date. Anytime the Canadian threw something worthwhile he was pounded backwards and brutally damaged by serious assaults before succumbing to a fifth round stoppage.
With that thumping victory came a third world title for Froch but he would need a firestorm performance to treat Mikkel Kessler, rated No. 2 at 168 pounds by THE RING, in similar fashion. The Englishman’s preparation has therefore been ferocious throughout a brutal twelve week training camp.
“I’ve been sparring with Warren Baister, who is an amateur heavyweight,” said Froch. “I’m also working with Anthony Ogogo; a former Olympian, Nick Blackwell; who fought Billy Joe Saunders, and a few other good operators. The quality stuff has been with Baister who is a big rangy boxer who punches very hard.”
“Warren is 6-foot 4 inches, 200 pounds and he has a great jab.”
In the last five years, Froch has embarked on a personal crusade to prove himself the very best gladiator at 168 pounds. He fell short against Kessler and couldn’t locate the code to unlock the Andre Ward puzzle but The Cobra has bested every other credentialed super middleweight within his realm.
“When I turned professional I didn’t want to fight anyone,” laughed Froch. “I didn’t want to get hurt and figured maybe I can win a British title and that’ll be it. I have achieved much more than I anticipated and my expectations have been far exceeded but in many ways it has just been natural progression.
“I beat Jean Pascal, Jermain Taylor and had a great run in the Super Six tournament before becoming a three-time world champion. The fans appreciate that I’ve taken on the best and they acknowledge my accomplishments, which makes me proud.”
“Did I think my career would be this glossy? Did I think I would become a boxing icon? I would be lying if I told you that.”
Froch does have a sense of himself and with the results he’s had that is hardly surprising. Most fighters have tremendous egos and their confidence levels can be visceral, which is definitely the case with the Nottingham-based British star. Still, this reporter was keen to know what goes through the champion’s mind when he enters the field of battle.
“When I do the ring walk I’m calm and relaxed,” said Froch. “I feel the roar of the crowd running through my veins and the vibrations in the arena. I’m full of energy and I feel invincible. I know I have a hard task ahead of me and that I’m going to be challenged physically and mentally but I’m up for it and I’m confident. I feel strong and I can’t wait for that first bell to ring.”
The thirty third ring entrance is fast approaching, so what does Froch see unfolding when he collides with one man who is capable of mirroring his vaunted toughness?
“I think this fight can be ended by me in round nine or ten,” said Froch immediately. “I think Kessler will be sharp and strong for the first four or five round but by the midway point we’ll see him slowly start to fall apart and I’ll use my boxing, counter punching, fast hands and work rate.
“I’ll make Kessler realize that he hasn’t boxed at this level for three years. When I catch him, he’ll start to get desperate and open up a bit and then I’ll unload with heavy digs. If I can take the fight in that direction then I’ll force a late round stoppage. I don’t think either of us can be knocked out by a 168-pound fighter but the referee will be forced to jump in.”
Once more an arena will echo the sound of a fight which could leave only one warrior left standing.
British fans can order the fight live via Sky Sports Box Office (Channel 731) and Sky Sports Box Office HD (Channel 752) from 8.00pm, Saturday, May 25. The event is priced at £14.95 for UK customers, €21.95 for customers in the Republic of Ireland. In the US the bout will be screened live on HBO WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING (6:00 p.m. ET/3:00 p.m. PT)
Photos / Scott Heavey-Getty Images, Andrew Yates-AFP