Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Big Big Fight Everybody's Talking About Could Be A Scorcher

Finally. It's almost here. One of the biggest fights of the year. The most important super middleweight (168 lbs.) clash in more than a decade. A rare belt-unifying bout. The consensus champion against the consensus #1 contender. A rising star against boxing's longest-reigning champ. Neither has ever lost once. An event that will draw at least 40,000 fans to a stadium in England. Oh, and for the ladies: I understand that the two combatants are "hotties" who could also model if they wanted.

As close as this weekend is, I wish I could get in a time machine and travel forward to the exact moment this Saturday when the bell rings and Joe Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler square off. That's how good this could be.

Calzaghe, 35, is the one who comes into Saturday night on top. He's been there for a decade himself, never losing his championship strap once he won it in October of 1997. For every one of those years until 2006, hardly anyone outside of his home base of Wales thought much of Calzaghe, even when he won an 2003 exciting up-and-down slugfest against Byron Mitchell or defeated moderate-sized fish like Robin Reid or Omar Sheika. That's because for every Sheika, there were two fighters that no one ever heard of. But in 2006, he shed his "protected champion" label with a drubbing of Jeff Lacy, whose convincing knockouts and muscular build evoked a smaller Mike Tyson. Calzaghe did it by doing perfectly all the things that make him a great fighter: a pesky southpaw stance; underrated power; punches that come from unconventional directions and that are thrown strangely; blazing hand speed; an iron jaw that easily took what little Lacy could land; and a mastery of distance and pace. Sure, Calzaghe looked terrible against Sakio Bika in his very next fight. But if there's one thing we've learned about Calzaghe, it's that he fights to the level of his competition, and Bika, while no slouch, was an awkward rough-houser who made Calzaghe fight him ugly.

Lucky for us, Calzaghe's in against an excellent fighter this weekend, so he should be at his best. He'll need to be versus Kessler. The 28-year-old Dane has serious one-punch knockout capacity; is technically adept; is as accurate as a heat-seeking missile; and moves his head just enough to stay out of severe harm while he does his own damage. The same way Calzaghe bludgeoned Lacy in 2006, Kessler this year unloaded everything but the kitchen sink on tough contender Librado Andrade. (How Andrade, and Lacy, for that matter, ever made it to the final bell, I will never know.) Before that, he blew out fellow belt-holder Markus Beyer via third round knockout with dozens of simple one-two, left jab-straight right combos. Kessler arrived at his championship belt in just 2005, when he traveled to Australia to unseat Anthony Mundine. Compared to the veteran Calzaghe, then, Kessler is practically a rookie.

There are knocks on both men, though. Some -- not me -- think Calzaghe's shelling of Lacy only proved that Lacy was overrated. Calzaghe, Lacy said before their fight and Kessler is saying now, slaps with his punches, which means he's won by knockout on several occasions not because he hurt anyone but because he created the illusion of having his opponent in trouble with fast, meaningless flurries that forced the referee to step in and call it a night. He does have a disturbing tendency to fight at his best only occasionally, and he's injury-prone. Meanwhile, Kessler's critics see a fighter whose level of competition is just as dismal as Calzaghe's. They say, as does Calzaghe, that Kessler is "robotic," moving only in straight lines and landing only the most predictable punches.

But most of these criticisms are unfair. Between them, Calzaghe and Kessler have steadily been polishing off their division's best, whatever their respective flaws, and now they're fighting each other. Saturday night, we will see one fighter solidify his legacy, or we will see the birth of an international boxing superstar, and I say whoever wins will have his righteous just deserts.

MY PREDICTION: Calzaghe. He made a fool of me for predicting that not only would Lacy win, but it would be a great fight. The only thing great about it was Calzaghe's performance. There's no one quite like him, so you can't prepare all that well. I say he will outfox Kessler with his trickiness and lateral movement en route to a decision closer than the one over Lacy but fairly clear.
CONFIDENCE: 50%. What a cop-out, huh? After watching Kessler shut out Andrade, I was certain Kessler would manhandle Calzaghe. Then, even after I changed my mind and decided to pick Calzaghe, I began noticing a lot of "boxing people" -- the sport's most insidery insiders -- were saying the younger, straighter-punching Kessler would do to Calzaghe what the slugging, looping-punching Lacy could not: Knock him clean out. I still don't know, but at least I made a pick at all, right?
MY ALLEGIANCE: Kessler. A lot of boxing fans have "types," fighters whose styles are especially appealing for one reason or the other. Kessler is mine -- technically sound guys with power who have, as their main weapon, dazzling combinations. And, when in doubt, I go with the better nickname. That means Kessler, "The Viking Warrior," would win my allegiance over Calzaghe, "The Pride of Wales/The Italian Dragon." If I wasn't already committed, that is.

Don't let the smiles fool you; they just got a case of the giggles trying to muster a showbiz stare down. True story. But I'm also not kidding when I say this should be a truly great fight.


JimPanzee said...

I'm going with Kessler by KO. It's nothing at all against Calzaghe, I've seen less than a handful of his fights and I think he's a good fighter, maybe great. (I would say "great" if not for the teeming multitude of people who say "not even average.") He's quirky, smart, and adaptable. I don't care if you win because you're strong, fast, or weird; wins are wins.

I just think that Kessler has the ability to dominate the Pride of Wales. In that Beyers fight it wasn't just simple 1-2 combos. He repeatedly punched against Beyers' guard, wearing out the guy. By the end of Round 2 Beyer's had dispensed a gallon of sweat, Kessler looked like he was just getting started. At the beginning of Round 3 Beyers couldn't keep his hands up or together. That paved the way for the straight 1-2s that floored him.

That particular strategy won't work against Calzaghe but something will. Kessler is strong, stronger that Calzaghe, and younger. And I think he is technically better than Lacy.

But Calzaghe's angles could throw Kessler for a loop and give round after round to the welshman. Which means Kessler has to finish it early. He should know that. If he hurts Calzaghe early, Calzaghe's out for good.

Or Calzaghe by decision...but I don't think so. My allegiance is with with Calzaghe just because I would like all the Calzaghe dismissers to shut up and I like to see records broken like, like C's upcoming "most defended title."

BOB said...

I'm am going with Kessler by a split only reasoning is the bad ass tattoo

Tim -- said...

Bob: That tattoo IS badass.

Jimpanzee: I think Kessler showed a greater diversity of punches against Andrade, so I'm sure he has more. Can I switch my prediction? As for Calzaghe's legacy, I think he's done enough to have gotten beyond all these doubts by now. You can complain about his failure to do some things in his career that he could've and should've, but he's a legit fighter.

JimPanzee said...

I totally agree. Unfortunately I haven't seen the Andrade fight. But that was exactly what I was eluding to. He seems to be a fighter than can find the thing that matter how improbable. I mean, c'mon, relentless stiff jabbing the guard! And it also wasn't _that_ it worked; it was that it worked so well, and rapidly. Besides, the 1-2 is the seminal combo. It's not what's in your toolbox, it's how you use it.

BOB: That tattoo is pretty badass,

Tim, I am sorry, your decision is locked in eStone. You cannot change. But it's a safe bet. Most of the places I've peeked have a Calzaghe decision, so if you don't get this one, you'll be in good company. And as always, I think you will find that you've pointed out the salient points of the bout for both fighters.

Tim -- said...

Calzaghe's the betting favorite. So, sure, I'm in good company. People are putting their money on him. But man, I'm just leaning more toward Kessler the closer it gets. eStone! It's true, I'm stuck. Salient points (thank you) or not.