By Michael Klimes: When I read the first internet reports that the very fine super middleweight division will be having a tournament I was both shocked and elated: how did this come to pass? Sometimes, it is just important to believe in good fortune rather than engage in a philosophical dissection of reality as it is too difficult to bear most of if not all of it all the time yet I cannot let a few observations go unnoticed. Firstly, the super middleweight division has, since its inception, been regarded as a lesser sibling compared to its two older brothers, which are the middleweight and light-heavyweight divisions. The fact it has cemented an identity for itself among casual and hardcore fight fans is encouraging.
Secondly, I gasped in delight, like one gasps at a beautiful woman serenading down the street in the middle of summer that HBO is not in charge of this inspired event. Over the past few years, this company has found many inspired ways to prevent good fight cards from materialising and allowed Floyd Mayweather Jr to earn millions of dollars while fighting substandard opposition.. Competition is healthy for boxing, especially among the TV networks and Showtime has been producing a superior product while HBO has been bloated and autocratic. It has become mendacious and monotonous. They should make their boxing coverage more like the The Wire or The Sopranos.
Thirdly, this tournament could really be a business model for how boxing could be and should be managed in the future. The corrupt and vile culture of multiple world champions, sanctioning fees and title unifications has to be purged and let it start here.
The super middleweights are so rich at the moment that the talent which has been excluded from the party alone is worth mentioning. Lucien Bute, Sakio Bika, Librado Andrade, Allen Green and the departed Jean Pascal are all fighters of varying quality but what cannot be denied is that individually and collectively they are all dynamic. Even Edison Miranda should be given credit here although he has always come short at the world class level.
Now onto the fighters themselves who are participating: Mikkel Kessler, Carl Froch, Arthur Abraham, Andre Ward, Andre Direll and Jermain Taylor. What a group don’t you agree? What is striking here is the cosmopolitanism of the names – three Europeans and three Americans who will fight each other in different sites around the world. Kessler, Taylor and Abraham are the boxers who have the most experience and are seasoned professionals. Froch is the most recent world champion and Ward and Direll are the two American upstarts looking to establish their reputations.
As far as I am concerned, Kessler is the man to beat. In the past, the Dane has been criticised for his lack of imagination and robotic style but I think this is a little unfair. Thus far Kessler has not showed the adaptability of someone like Bernard Hopkins or Joe Calzaghe and vision is one virtue that separates great fighters from the rest. Kessler has not displayed vision in bouts yet his huge body frame, disciplined boxing and sturdy chin have brought him forty one victories in forty two fights. His jab is the best in the world: it is like an elegant sentence with an exclamation mark at the end repeated many times: it is very fast, precise, powerful, technically perfect and he throws it frequently. Similarly, I was startled in the fight with Calzaghe how quick Kessler was. He was not that much slower in hand speed and in the early rounds kept up with the Welshman. Combine that natural hand speed with his straight punching style and he is extremely formidable.
Another aspect which is underrated is his footwork and this is the area where he really proves he is not a cumbersome pensioner. Kessler outclassed Librado Andrade for over twelve rounds of hard fighting and won a wide points margin in 2007. Critics of Andrade are like those of Rocky Marciano, Antonio Margarito, George Chuvalo and Joe Frazier. The complaints against Andrade are the same as his predecessors: he is ponderous and lacks finesse. This caricature of Andrade has some truth but consider these uncomfortable facts: he is superhumanly tough, never stops punching over twelve rounds, is heavy handed and grinds the spirit out of fighters. It must be very disheartening for any fine boxer to be doing everything right from their perspective against Andrade – winning the contest cleanly on points, landing their best punches in combinations yet them not having any affect on him.
Andrade is that sort of uncompromising force and anyone who says it was easy for Kessler to outbox Andrade is ignorant about boxing. To outbox a fighter of Andrade’s hardness for a full thirty six minutes demands considerable mental toughness, focus, control, skill and spatial awareness. You have to manipulate the range in such a way that you keep the brawler away from you. Kessler revealed all these qualities. The downside to Kessler might be his inactivity combined with his age yet he is still is the deserved frontrunner in my opinion.
His first fight is against the undefeated Andre Ward. Ward is a stylish and fast fighter who reminds me of Miguel Cotto. He won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics is obviously a figure of maturity as he has adapted to the professional ranks well. His win over Edison Miranda announced his transition from a prospect to a genuine contender. He boxed very well over the twelve rounds and negotiated between fighting on the outside and inside competently. He will need this elusive industriousness to beat Kessler and slip the Dane’s jab. He can alternate between the head and body well, has decent reflexes and has a little trickiness in his ability to alter between the orthodox and southpaw stances. He is undefeated in nineteen fights. Although he has not had half the fights of Kessler and is younger, he cannot be dismissed.
Andre Direll is an Olympian like Ward and won a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics. He is tall, athletic and fights from a southpaw stance. He has quick hands, power and is capable of releasing neat clusters of punches. He is a trickster in that he can alternate to an orthodox stance and back again very fluidly. The difference with Ward is that he is more of a head hunter and he fights more on the outside yet Direll, like Ward has a penchant for holding his jabbing hand low and is very adept at positing himself to get off his punches effectively. He also likes to talk and is the loud personality in the division along with Carl Froch. They will be confronting each other in their opening fights.
Froch has tremendous firepower and is arguably the biggest puncher in the division with the ability to carry his artillery right into the twelfth round, is undefeated in twenty five fights and has an eighty per cent knockout rate. His stoppage of Jermain Taylor in April was very impressive in that he was outworked for much of the bout and knocked down yet managed to maintain his composure. This also happened in America and Froch went for the difficult option of not making his first title defence at home in Nottingham. A similar brawl unfolded in his previous fight with Jean Pascal in December. Nevertheless, what concerns me in both of these fights is that even though Froch revealed his grittiness he has deserted his head movement and punching angles he demonstrated earlier in his career.
The angles Froch used to get on some of his punches were excellent and if he wants to overcome Direll’s better speed and athleticism, it will make sense for him to employ more than just his superior power and determination to win him the fight. These attributes will take him far but it would be wise to be smart and preserve his energy for this long tournament.
Potentially, the fight could be a mess as both have poor defences and neither likes to back down. Still, it is probable that if Direll gets into trouble, he has more of the option to fight on the back foot and box at range and steal rounds with flurries while Froch would then, in this scenario, need to brawl anyway.
The final contest is between Jermain Taylor and Arthur Abraham. Taylor is thirty one and has lost three of his last four fights and might be past his prime. Paradoxically, he has the best fighters on his record and has been very competitive in his three loses, one of them to Froch and two of them to Kelly Pavlik. He has also seemed to improve technically as a fighter with the increasing use of a considerable jab, clever footwork, adept counter-punching and has brought intelligence to his natural athletic ability. One could argue he was unlucky against Froch and he is still a very dangerous commodity.
Abraham is untested at the super middleweight limit and faces his best challenge thus far in Taylor. It was unfortunate he never fought Felix Sturm or Kelly Pavlik in a title unification but made ten defences of his IBF title at middleweight. I feel Abraham is the most balanced fighter in the division. His compact frame, terrifying toughness, concussive power and strength has made him undefeated in thirty fights and he has a knockout percentage of eighty per cent. There is also something that reminds me of Marvin Hagler in Abraham: he does not talk much being the strong and silent type, is always calm and extremely methodical. He has a peculiar muscle density and that impenetrable, high glove defence that reminds me of Joshua Clottey and the African lineage of fighters. Dick Tiger was similar in that regard as well.
Abraham, apart from his defensive style also possesses proficient technique, hand speed and is a very economical puncher who can shorten punches extremely well. He really does not waste any energy and is reminiscent of Joe Louis in his devastating patience. He gives away physical advantages in height and reach but at his age of twenty nine, versatility and level of talent, he just might have the right combination of factors to win this tournament.
Mikkel Kessler is the man to beat but Abraham has the aura of a powerful dark horse to me while Ward and Direll, although very gifted, might be a bit too young. Froch, if we go by his last two fights, is too one dimensional and Taylor could be on a downward trajectory. Whatever happens, may there be some classic clashes in the spirit of Arturo Gatti, Vernon Forrest, Alexis Arguello and Joey Roach. This tournament should be a valedictory salutation for four men that gave so much to boxing, us and life – they deserve that much and their friends and families should say with pride of each of them – “There went a man”.
Article posted on 01.09.2009