Carl Froch won his rematch with Mikkel Kessler in a rousing 12-round super middleweight bout that produced fireworks in and out of the ring.
If you didn’t watch this fight live, then this reporter certainly hopes you have a worthy excuse.
Amidst an atmosphere not seen in the UK since Ricky Hatton dethroned Kostya Tszyu in 2005, Carl Froch (31-2, 22 knockouts) exacted revenge on arch rival Mikkel Kessler (46-3, 35 KOs) via unanimous decision in one of the best super middleweight encounters money could buy.
Scores were 118-110, 116-112 and 115-113.
The fans and critics expected blood and guts; the UK needed a dynamite fight and this one delivered first class. With the victory Froch, retained his IBF title and must surely be recognized as one of the best fighters Britain has ever produced.
“You always hope that a fight lives up to expectations but that one exceeded them,” said Eddie Hearn, Froch’s promoter.
The fighter agreed but having earned so many quality victories in tough fights, it was difficult for Froch to rate the Kessler rematch immediately after the heated 12-round bout.
“It was difficult to recap on this fight,” Froch said during the post-fight press conference. “It’s up there with (Jermain) Taylor, (Jean) Pascal and (Lucian) Bute, it’s got to be. Kessler caught me with some big shots and it made for a great fight.
“Stylistically we make for great fights.”
In a tense round one, both men entered a battle of the jab but Froch, THE RING’s No. 1 contender under champion Andre Ward, was far more consistent with the shot. The Brit attempted a combination but Kessler side-stepped neatly and let the punches fly through the night air.
Froch appeared bigger and stronger than Kessler, THE RING’s No. 2-rated super middleweight, and brushed off the Dane’s assaults with ease before firing back with accurate work in the second. “The Cobra” was anxious to mix it up but Kessler looked nervous and seemed content to see out of the early stages.per
In round three, Kessler’s legs stiffened on the end of a combination and Froch continued to control the action, working wonders with a sharp jab. The Dane was not impressing to this point and grabbed his rival as soon as they got in close.
Both warriors traded strong jabs in the fourth and their respective minds were whirring to locate that vital opening. Froch was far more ambitious whereas the Dane remained economical, a tactic which was putting him further and further behind in the scoring.
Things turned in the fifth when Kessler followed an accurate sequence of jabs with a highlight reel right hand. The Cobra sensed urgency and, determined not to give away a second of the contest, attacked with fury but Kessler was nowhere to be found.
It was about to get better.
A low blow at the start of round six led to a brief delay as Froch rested. When action resumed “The Viking Warrior” stepped forward and landed two shattering blows to the head. The right hand and left hook would have ended most super middleweights but they merely annoyed Froch, who flew at the target with abandon.
Round seven consisted mostly of left-hand fencing but the two evenly matched thoroughbreds exploded into action towards the end of the session. They each took turns at bashing their prey as blood and sweat sparkled and danced under the arc lights.
The atmosphere was red hot and the crowd was in a frenzy.
In the eighth, both men beat their respective chests and invited a slugfest. Froch drew first blood, nailing Kessler with a vicious combination before taking another blockbuster right hand to the head. This was the best round of the fight and perhaps one of the finest ever waged at 168 pounds on British soil.
Mouths were agape in every direction.
The action slowed in the ninth but Kessler again took the initiative with a jab, right hand and left hook to the skull. A check hook landed brilliantly for the Dane as he countered a crude assault and continued to outbox his man through the session.
Both traded fire and technique in the 10th but Kessler was cuter and Froch was falling short or cuffing his opponent with loose work.
The 11th was simply spectacular and both men were just about overcoming the limitations of the human body. Kessler smashed Froch with an atomic right hand and the follow up assault came close to decking the iron chinned warrior. Unbowed, The Cobra attacked but he was missing and it was all to play for coming into the final round.
“I was buzzed a few times in the 11th but you can’t put The Cobra down,” Froch said. “If you do get me down I’ll be coming right back at you. I have great powers of recovery and I’m fit.”
The three minutes which followed is what makes Froch.
Looking to close the show and leave no doubt the British star went for broke. Kessler seemed shocked by the comeback and caught a bursting combination in the closing seconds which robbed him of his equilibrium. Froch followed and landed heavily and the referee was an eye blink from halting the action.
It would have been a shame to see Kessler stopped and he deserved to hear the final bell.
The crowd, the media, the ring girls, the promoters, Michael Buffer and anyone else in the arena rose as one and applauded at the final bell.
The fight was brilliant.
In the three years since their epic first encounter both fighters have travelled vastly different paths. Froch rebounded from his first professional defeat to produce signature wins whereas a dark cloud hung over Kessler.
Following the glorious win over Froch the brave heart Dane took 14 months off when doctors diagnosed significant eye damage and his career hung in the balance. He returned to the ring and remained unbeaten but there were fears that The Viking Warrior would never be the same again.
Throw that idea out the window.
For Froch this revenge victory sees yet another service medal pinned on the chest of a quality world champion. It will sit parallel with accolades received following wins over Pascal, Taylor, Andre Dirrell, Glen Johnson, Arthur Abraham and Bute.
Given these credentials it is almost miraculous that The Cobra cannot lay claim to being the best super middleweight on the planet but he has the misfortune of competing in the same era as Ward. The tactically sublime Oakland star is unbeaten as a professional and holds solid wins over both Froch and Kessler.
Froch is interested in a rematch with the ultra-talented American.
“The only man I have to defeat is Andre Ward, so let’s see if he is keen to fight in the UK,” said Froch. “I’ve set the record straight with Kessler and I would love to do so against Ward.
“No disrespect to Andre Ward but he would put a glass eye to sleep. He is brilliant at what he does but he excites nobody. I could potentially stop Andre Ward. It is a difficult fight but my trainer has told me how I can win that fight and if I listen to him I will.
“I’ve been to the U.S. to fight him so come over here and fight in the UK.”
Overcoming the self-proclaimed “Son of God” in a rematch will be a different mission altogether but don’t be too surprised if Froch now demands it. Then again, who wouldn’t want to see Froch and Kessler go at it one more time?
The sequel may well have surpassed the original, a rubbermatch could be the best of a great trilogy.
Photos / Scott Heavey-Getty Images
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and contributes to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing