Thursday November 1st, 2007

He is one of the most successful fighters of his generation but he is as anonymous as Waldo.

He is one of the most dominating pugilists in his division but to hear his opponent tell it his skills rival those of a club fighter.

He is the WBC and WBA super middleweight champion but he is traveling thousands of miles into his opponents backyard to attempt to unify the titles.

So who exactly is Mikkel Kessler?

Kessler's anonymity is, in part, a product of his own doing. While Joe Calzaghe, who Kessler will challenge in a super middleweight unification fight in Wales on Saturday night (HBO, 9 p.m.), has been a media darling the last few weeks, granting interviews to anyone with a tape recorder, Kessler has remained curiously silent. Conference calls have been ignored. Interview requests, while not exactly being ignored, have been difficult to accommodate. Even in this mass media age, the 28-year-old Kessler has remained an international man of mystery.

"I'm not a bad guy," Kessler (39-0) said in a telephone interview from Wales. "I do like to talk about the fight. I'm just not much of a trash talker."

Not a problem that plagues his opponent.

"I'm glad Kessler showed up," said Calzaghe (42-0). "I was afraid I was going to have to place a missing fighters report with Scotland Yard."

Here's what we do know about Kessler: For most of the last decade the 6-1 Dane has molded himself into one of Europe's most accomplished fighters. Growing up in a working class neighborhood in Copenhagen ("it's much fancier today than when I was a boy," says Kessler), he was introduced to boxing by a friend of his father. At 13, Kessler and his friends joined a local boxing club.

By the time he was 16 Kessler had collected five Danish titles and a European youth championship. He turned pro at 18. A wave of destruction soon followed as Kessler, a self-described "technically sound fighter" rang up 33 straight wins. His 34th, an eighth round TKO of Manny Siaca in '04, earned Kessler the WBA title. His 37th, a third round knockout of Markus Beyer, earned him the WBC belt and the coveted "super champion" status.

Meanwhile, across the English Channel, the 35-year old Calzaghe was putting together an impressive run of his own. After claiming the WBO title in 1997, the quick-handed Calzaghe (think Sugar Ray Leonard) successfully defended his title 20 times, making him the longest reigning title holder in the sport.

Two undefeated fighters. One division. So why is this fight only happening now?

According to Kessler, you can put the blame squarely on Calzaghe's shoulders. "I've wanted this fight for two years," Kessler said. "But Joe won't come out of his country."

True enough. Calzaghe's idea of travel involves bouncing from Cardiff to Lancashire. In fact, just two of Calzaghe's 42 professional fights have come outside the United Kingdom. It's a heck of a home-field advantage: Saturday night's fight is expected to draw a crowd of 50,000 fans to Millennium Stadium.

"This fight would only take place if it was here," said Kessler promoter Mogans Pelle. "We realized that quickly. Calzaghe won't leave. Who has he beaten? Peter Manfredo [who Calzaghe TKO'd last April] is a clown. He's not a fighter. He should find another sport. Jeff Lacy [who Calzaghe beat in a unanimous decision in '06] is another pathetic American fighter. In the ring he was pathetic and slow as a turtle."

Kessler himself rarely ventures out of Denmark, which may explain why he is admittedly nervous before what he calls "the biggest fight of my career."

"You have to be nervous," said Kessler. "But I couldn't be stronger than I am now. I had no injuries, no sick days for five months. I'm ready."

And Calzaghe's trash talk, which includes referring to Kessler as "one-dimensional."

"He didn't say that to my face," Kessler said. "He didn't say a word. I've always been a nice guy. But I always tell people a nice guy is the baddest guy."

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