"The Viking Warrior" Mikkel Kessler
Birthplace: Copenhagen, Denmark
Height: 6' 1"
Current World Titles Held: WBA Super Middleweight (168 lbs.)
Former World Titles Held: WBC Super Middleweight
Professional Record: 42-1, 32 KOs
Record in World Title Fights: 8-1, 6 KOs
Record in Fights Going 12 Rounds: 4-1
Record at 168 lbs.: 26-1, 22 KOs
Notable Wins: UD12 Librado Andrade, KO3 Markus Beyer, UD12 Anthony Mundine
Notable Loss: UD12 Joe Calzaghe
Andre "S.O.G." Ward
Birthplace: San Francisco, California
Resides: Oakland, California
Height: 6' 1"
Current World Titles Held: None
Former World Titles Held: None
Professional Record: 20-0, 13 KOs
Record in World Title Fights: First world title fight
Record in Fights Going 12 Rounds: 2-0
Record at 168 lbs.: 11-0, 7 KOs
Notable Wins: UD12 Edison Miranda , TKO7 Rubin Williams
It may not seem like it right now, but the boxing world isn't on hold while it waits for Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather to decide if and when they are going to fight each other. Hardcore enthusiasts know there are a number of intriguing fights in the next few months—and the final first stage fight in the Super Six World Boxing Classic definitely qualifies.
Though Mikkel Kessler has fought most of his career in his native Denmark, he isn't viewed with as much suspicion by American fans as some of his European contemporaries. That's because the hard-punching yet technically solid Viking Warrior has taken on some solid competition and come out on top. His lone loss came while giving a prime Joe Calzaghe a good battle, and that's no easy task.
Andre Ward isn't at the same virtuoso level of the sport as Mayweather, but he does possess a similar ability to make aspects of the game look smooth and effortless. He's got very fast hands and is comfortable fighting in either an orthodox or southpaw stance. Ward's undefeated record includes just one bout that seemed like a true test, when he easily outpointed slugger Edison Miranda earlier this year.
Both men are well-rounded, but that doesn't mean the shape of the fight won't favor one more than the other. If Kessler can use his experience to turn it into a slugfest, he looks to have the upper hand, as Ward has questions about his power and a sometimes unreliable chin. S.O.G. probably wouldn't mind 12 rounds of boxing, because his youth and athleticism would be bigger factors.
Even though his fellow Americans both fell to defeat, Ward can take some solace in the fact that the first two fights in the World Boxing Classic were won by the men fighting in front of their home fans, and he'll be right in his backyard in Oakland.
This will be Kessler's first appearance in the U.S., but he did face Calzaghe in Wales and has enough rounds under his belt that it's unlikely that he'll be rattled.
Kessler's Winning Strategy: Get Inside
Usually it's a size differential that makes it imperative for one fighter to close the range, but in this case Kessler and his opponent are almost identical in all areas of the tale of the tape. The Viking Warrior has a good jab and enough skill to box from the outside, yet staying in Ward's face still seems like the sounder plan.
Kessler throws great uppercuts and body shots, both of which are best utilized in tight. As mentioned above, Ward may not have enough pop to keep Kessler honest, and if that's the case, Mikkel should look to back his man up against the ropes and attack with impunity.
Logic suggests that if this fight ends in a knockout, it's going to be Kessler who has his hand raised. The chances of that happening are that much greater if Mikkel can keep the average distance closer than Andre would like.
Ward's Winning Strategy: Let Your Hands Go
Stylistically, Ward doesn't bear that much resemblance to Calzaghe. But the only man to beat Kessler did lay out a game plan that he can use to earn a victory, providing he has the heart to pull it off.
JoeCal flummoxed Kessler at times with combination punching when he didn't expect it, capitalizing on his ability to get off first. Ward should be able to do that comfortably from the outside, using his jab and firing immediate follow-up punches. He'll want to do the same on the inside even though there is some risk involved due to Kessler's heavy hands.
What he should try to avoid is holding as often as he did against Miranda, because that won't cut it against the Viking Warrior. Outworking the other man seems like the way to go here, and Ward has to have the conviction that a high activity level will pile up the points and have him ahead on the cards at the end of 12 rounds.
Nick Tylwalk is the editor and co-founder of BoxingWatchers.com , where this preview originally appeared.