Ward and Kessler Face a World of Challenges
Story by Bob Hough
In preparing for his November 21 fight against Mikkel Kessler (42-1-0, 32 KOs) for the Dane’s WBA super-middleweight belt, Andre Ward (20-0-0, 13 KOs), faces a familiar scenario: international field, American boxers losing and a formidable fight in his future.
Ward went down that road in the 2004 Olympics and left Athens as the only American boxer to win gold. Now he wants Kessler’s title, and to be the first American to win in Showtime’s Super Six World Boxing Classic.
“I look at it like it’s a privilege,” Ward said in a recent teleconference. “I’ve been here before with the Olympics and it’s something that I relish. There’s always going to be pressure. It just depends on how you deal with the pressure.”
There will be plenty of it in the Oakland, Calif., fight, Ward readily acknowledged; Kessler will be the best boxer he’s faced.
“He’s the most skilled and the most tough,” Ward, 25, said. “Absolutely.”
Kessler, who faces the challenge of fighting about 6,000 miles and nine time-zones from his home in Monaco, has tried to address that by arriving in the Oakland area about three weeks before the bout.
He made those plans before the first Super Six fights, in which Americans Andre Dirrell and Jermain Taylor lost in Europe to Carl Froch and Arthur Abraham, respectively, after arriving one week before their fights.
“One week is not enough," Kessler said from Sacramento, Calif., about 80 miles from Oakland. "Our plan all along was to be here for about three weeks. You need that time to get used to the time change and everything else.”
The travel adjustment behind him, it’s all golden in the Golden State, said Kessler, who has fought abroad in England, Australia and Las Vegas.
“I’ve been here for two weeks now and everything is going good,” he said. “The climate and time change is very good. Of course it took me three or four days to get used to it, but my condition has never been better. I just sparred eight rounds today and it was one of the best eight rounds of my life.”
Warm sun and weather like a Danish summer are feeling good, Kessler said. Temperatures are about 25 degrees higher than they are in his homeland.
“It’s nice to be over here in the States,” said the 30-year-old. “The weather is great and I don’t think I’ve ever been in better shape. I’ve done a lot of sparring, good sparring.”
There’s at least one big upside to a big fight in the USA: It’s a sweet shot to shine on a big stage.
“I’m ready for that, to show the American fans how I fight,” Kessler said. “It’s difficult for me being a Danish guy to get known in the U.S., so here’s my big chance for it.”
Ward, meanwhile, is living and training a few minutes from the arena where he’ll fight. It’s time to get after it, he said.
“I’m getting very impatient,” said Ward, who took a break six days before the fight to go watch his beloved Oakland Raiders play the Kansas City Chiefs. “I’m ready to fight.”
Ward’s always quick to talk about preparation, at least as much about mental preparation as the physical side.
“Nazim Richardson, a decorated trainer, used to tell us that you may have what it takes to beat the champion but you have to be man enough to win a championship and also to keep it,” he said. “I’m man enough now.”
At the heart of it all, it’s simple, Ward believes.
“He’s fighting me to keep what he has and I’m fighting him to take it.”