Round 2 of Showtime's heavily promoted "Super Six" tournament is descending on Oakland, California this weekend. The last American Gold Medalist, Oakland's own, Andre Ward (20(13)-0) will square off against the current Super Middleweight champion, Mikkel Kessler (42(32)-1) at the Oracle Arena.
This should prove to be one of the most intriguing match-ups of the tournament. Ward is a very smart, fast and disciplined fighter who uses angles and ring savvy to confuse and bewilder his opponents. At only 25 years of age, his command of the ring belies his relative lack of experience. Despite his gaudy record, Mikkel Kessler's level of competition can be questioned, as he has faced quite a few limited fighters in his Denmark homeland. Still, the two best fighters Kessler has been in the ring with are much better than anyone Ward has fought thus far, including a 12 round decision loss to Joe Calzaghe and a unanimous decision victory over Librado Andrade.
Kessler is a very fundamentally sound and crisp boxer with good power in his orthodox jab and straight right hand. These two weapons are world-class, and are usually enough to beat his opponents with by themselves. What we haven't yet seen from Kessler is the ability to "go downstairs" and work the body well or consistently. He also rarely deviates from his tried and true, and well-loved combination of the left jab, followed by his right cross. He will have to vary his attack a bit more to get by Ward this Saturday night.
Ward does a little bit of everything. He has decent power, although he won't be scoring any single-punch knockouts. He has good speed, excellent ring generalship, good smarts, and is a disciplined fighter. Raised in the tough city of Oakland, Ward has been well-schooled by local trainer, Virgil Hunter out of the venerable Kings Gym. After winning gold in the Athens Olympics of 2004, many observers felt that the talented Ward was being pushed too slowly. Despite the criticism, it seems to have been a good decision. Ward stepped up the level of his competition this year to win a unanimous decision against the always-dangerous Edision Miranda, in a fight that saw the Puerto Rican-based brawler confused and sloppy in the face of a very composed Ward.
Andre Ward will need to use his superior movement and speed to throw Kessler off of his game-plan. Look for Andre to circle to Kessler's left, avoiding the dangerous right hand, and winning a tight but unanimous 12 round decision.
For fans in the Bay Area, make sure to check out Comcast's Bay Area Sports website and channel for interviews and discussion on the fighters, trainers and promoters. My buddy Rich is putting in some great work over there and we finally have combat sports getting some attention in the Bay Area again.