After the first two bouts in Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic, things were looking grim for the American participants.
Jermain Taylor was stopped in devastating fashion in the final seconds of his bout with Germany's "King" Arthur Abraham. Later in the day Nottingham's own WBC Super Middleweight king, Carl Froch, took a close and controversial decision over American prospect Andre Dirrell.
With Oakland, CA native Andre Ward (21-0,13 KOs) taking on whom many felt would be the favorite to win the whole tournament in WBA Super Middleweight Champion Mikkel Kessler, the gray cloud hovering over the American fighters wasn't going away any time soon.
Someone must have forgotten to tell that to Andre Ward.
From the second the bell rang in his Nov. 21 bout with Denmark's Mikkel Kessler (42-2, 32 KOs) it was clear that Ward's speed was going to give Kessler fits.
Early on Kessler was able to cut the ring off but it didn't do much good as Ward was able to effectively use his jab, pot shot from a variety of angles and smother any sort of offense from Kessler when they were in close. Unfortunately for Kessler, he was never able to figure out or adjust to the quicker and younger fighter.
A cut over the right eye of Kessler in the tenth round would lead to the eventual eleventh round stoppage. Referee Jack Reiss deemed the cut to be from an unintentional clash of heads and the fight would go to the scorecards.
Judge Mikael Hook scored the bout 97-93 while judges Steve Morrow and Stanley Christodoulou saw it 98-92 all in favor of Ward. As the scores were announced the crowd of over 10,000 raucous fans roared in approval of their hometown hero taking home the gold as a professional.
After the fight Ward was all smiles as he walked into the press conference with the WBA strap.
"Right now, I'm dreaming. I can't compare this to winning the gold medal because it's going to take a while for it all to sink in."
Conversations took a negative turn as Kessler and the rest of Team Sauerland crashed the post-fight party.
Their time was split between giving Ward credit for his big win and then complaining about rough-house tactics that were used.
"He threw a lot of elbows and there were a lot of butts, yet he never got any warnings," Kessler stated. "I don't want to sit here and complain all the time, but I wasn't happy with the referee."
The fact of the matter is that unintentional headbutts are a part of the sweet science. Especially when an orthodox fighter takes on a southpaw. It also remains that even before a cut opened up on the face of Kessler, the challenger was putting on a boxing clinic.
It doesn't matter where the fight was held or who judged it, the outcome would have been the same as Ward fought a career defining fight.
With his masterful performance Ward was not only able to claim the WBA Super Middleweight crown but he became the first American fighter in the tourney to put some points on the board.
After defeating Kessler with such ease he now climbs into a two-way tie with Carl Froch for the second spot. Only having Arthur Abraham ahead of them with three points awarded for his stoppage win.
All three fighters in Kessler, Taylor, and Dirrell leave the first stage with no points after their losing efforts.
The win has cast Ward in a whole new light. With this single performance he went from the underdog in his opening bout with Kessler to being perceived as one of the favorites to win the whole tournament.
His next challenge will be to defend his newly acquired title against former Middleweight Champion Jermain "Bad Intentions" Taylor in March of 2010. Although it has yet to be determined whether or not Taylor will remain active in the tournament after receiving his fourth loss in five fights with three of them ending in brutal fashion.
The likes of Jermain Taylor (if he so chooses to continue) and Andre Dirrell are expected to not make the cut as the tournament progresses. One must think that Ward carries the weight of a nation on his back in this tournament.
But if there were such a fighter in the Super Six World Boxing Classic that could handle it, Andre Ward would be him.
His ability to bring home Olympic gold as an amateur at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens proved that he can shine on an international stage.
On Saturday night he proved he can shine even brighter at the professional level as he brought home America's first win in the tournament as well as Kessler's WBA championship.
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Photo: Kevin Blake