By Michael Norby: Undefeated former US Olympian Andre Ward made a stunning entrance into Showtime’s Super Six World Boxing Classic on Saturday night, after he chopped up Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler en route to a dominant technical decision victory his hometown Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, USA.
Ward 21-0 (13) was second favorite going into tonight’s hotly anticipated contest, the final match-up of stage one, but it was apparent from the early going that his speed, power and movement would be too much for a flat version of the usually sound Kessler 42-2 (32).
The American battered the big Dane throughout the fight – switching back and forth from lefty to orthodox and trumping anything that Kessler could throw at him by moving beautifully, employing a terrific jab, and plastering his opponent with right hands, left hooks and shattering combinations consistently throughout the fight.
Later in the boxing match, a desperate Kessler’s plight was made no easier as Ward, leading with his head all too often, opened a handful of cuts in and around both eye sockets; two of which were extremely bad. This led referee Jack Reiss to periodically summon the ringside physician from the eighth round onwards until midway through the eleventh, when he was instructed to stop the fight with Ward leading handily on the scorecards.
Both guys tried desperately hard to establish their respective jabs in the opening round as they prodded each other consistently to the body and head while circling each other in the center of the ring. Early on, Ward launched and landed a string of left hooks from the southpaw stance and supported that with a series of right hands later in the round. Although Kessler was able to set and maintain pressure behind his jab, he was unable to land anything of substance as the challenger moved effectively away from brewing trouble.
Ward emerged aggressively for the second and immediately showcased his superior speed by landing further left hooks against the head of the champion in the opening minute of the round. Kessler took the punches well and again forced Ward to retreat for prolonged periods but the challenger ended the round strongly after connecting with a collection of right hands upstairs as Kessler already began to show frustration.
Kessler, thus far, was having a torrid time finding a target for his right hand (or any hand for that matter) and Ward again landed the cleaner punches in round three. Clearly pocketing the early rounds, Ward thrust forward in the fourth and thumped Kessler with a barrage of powerful punches – one of which fashioned a welt under the right eye of the champion that was soon streaming blood after a head collision worsened the wound.
Kessler responded a little better in the middle rounds by landing several left hooks and single right hands to the head and body of his opponent. He enjoyed moments of success in the fifth and scored with his best punch of the fight a round later as an over aggressive Ward ate a terrific counter left hook early in the sixth.
Ward corrected his mistakes in the seventh, however, and largely dominated the three minutes with his jab and right hand as Kessler uncharacteristically swung wildly and inaccurately. After the round, Kessler told his team that he couldn’t see and Ward duly continued the thumping in the eighth as a seemingly beaten Kessler swung at air and caught a slew of hard combinations in return.
The culprit of Kessler’s vision problems was evident after the eighth as television cameras showed a severe gash, opened by another head butt, that screamed across the left eyelid of the Dane.
Still, though, the tough 30-year-old emerged for the ninth and fought gamely but without much success. Ward continued to control the action from distance, and on the inside, where Reiss allowed him to hold and refused to severely reprimand the 25-year-old for what looked like clear use of the head as a third weapon.
Kessler, with his face resembling a butcher’s apron, refused to give up but, after another unsuccessful campaign in the tenth, Reiss stopped the contest midway through the eleventh on advice from the ringside doctor. All three judges had Ward ahead by wide margins at the time of the stoppage.
Joining Carl Froch and tournament frontrunner Arthur Abraham in the win column in the round-robin event, Ward made a booming statement by defeating what many thought was the best 168lber in the world. The Californian, who now holds the WBA super middleweight championship, is scheduled to face Jermain Taylor in stage two of the tournament.
Taylor, after suffering two straight knockout defeats to Carl Froch and Arthur Abraham (in stage one of Super Six), is facing an uncertain future but may now be lured back into the fold with the world title up for grabs.
Time of stoppage: 1:42 RD11
Scores: 97-93; 98-92; 98-92