Wednesday April 21st, 2010

Here is the unspoken beauty of Showtime's Super Six tournament: a world-class champion can have an off night, get absolutely pounded and in his next fight get a shot at another title -- and a chance for redemption.

Meet Mikkel Kessler. When the tournament was first announced, Kessler was quickly tabbed as the favorite. For the better part of the last decade the muscular Dane was boxing's No. 2 super middleweight, ranked just behind Joe Calzaghe in the division. He won the WBA version of the title in 2004 and picked up the WBC belt two years later. He held the titles until 2007, when Calzaghe took them in an entertaining unification bout. When Calzaghe moved up to light heavyweight in 2008, Kessler regained the WBA title and defended it twice before entering the tournament.

Kessler's reign was interrupted again, however, last November when he faced Andre Ward in the opening stage. With a hostile crowd as the backdrop and a fighter with blinding speed in front of him, Kessler wilted, losing a technical decision after the ringside doctor ruled that a cut caused by a clash of heads was too deep for the fight to continue.

"I had to go back to boxing school," Kessler said in a conference call. "I'm so happy to be in this tournament with another chance to show all my boxing fans that I am the best."

Indeed, the Super Six's modified round-robin format gives Kessler an opportunity he otherwise may have had to wait months, if not years for. On Saturday night Kessler will challenge Carl Froch (9 p.m. ET, Showtime) for Froch's WBC title. While he faces a stiff test in Froch (26-0, 20 KOs), a loudmouth Brit with a Floyd Mayweather-ian view of his undefeated record, Kessler will have a home-ring advantage with the fight taking place in his backyard.

"This will be the biggest fight ever in Denmark," said Kessler's promoter, Kalle Sauerland. "We had 26,000 tickets and we were completely sold out of our allocation of tickets in about three hours. We think we may get about 1,000 back to be put on sale so there may actually still be a chance for people to see this fight live. It's beyond anything we've ever seen. It's beyond the [Mike] Tyson-[Brian] Nielsen fight that was here (in 2001). I think it may go down as one of the top five moments in sports history in Denmark."

None of that is relevant to Kessler (42-2, 32 KOs), who is at a career crossroads. A win elevates him back among the division's elite. A loss would likely knock him out of the tournament. Understanding this, Kessler has re-tooled his game plan -- I have changed a lot of tactics," Kessler said, "but I can't reveal [them] right now" -- and claims he's in his "best shape ever" for this fight.

"I learned from my mistakes after the Ward fight," Kessler said. "I learned I made mistakes outside the ring. I had to pick my sparring partners better three or four weeks out of the fight. I just feel I'm better than ever now. I'm ready to fight this fight. I really can't wait. I hope Carl is ready because I've trained very hard the last three months."

Shifting roles from favorite to underdog, Kessler says, is a good thing. Kessler admits he didn't respond well to the pressure of being No. 1.

"It's nice not to be the favorite in this tournament," Kessler said. "I'm like a young warrior again. And I'm super hungry again. I'm back and I'm very sharp at this time. I made my mistake and I just want to get back up and show all my boxing fans from around the world that I am the best super middleweight in the world."

No doubt, the tournament needs a competitive Kessler. Injuries, postponements and Jermain Taylor's withdrawal have taken some of the steam out of the Super Six. Tack on the meteoric rise of Lucian Bute -- whose presence threatens to make the winner of the tournament as irrelevant as the NIT champion -- and Showtime needs a big-time fight. Drawing a large American audience, however, will be difficult: not only will this be the first all-European matchup in Showtime's made-for-TV tournament, but Kessler-Froch will be going up against the NBA playoffs and HBO's Chris Arreola-Tomasz Adamek heavyweight tilt.

The tournament needs an entertaining fight to regain some of the public spotlight. And Kessler needs a win to step back into the light with it.

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