By David Robinett
On a clear, brisk afternoon in downtown Oakland, California, WBA super middleweight champion Mikkel Kessler and 2004 U.S. Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward held court before an international press corp and a smattering of fans to announce their Super Six World Boxing Classic Group Stage 1 bout this Saturday at Oracle Arena in Oakland. But all was not well as the participants took their turns at the dais. Prior to the press conference, word had broken that Kessler’s promoter Sauerland Event was objecting to the selection of the referee and judges for Saturday’s championship fight. Promoter Wilfried Sauerland used his opportunity to speak to address the issue. “The one thick cloud hanging over us in this beautiful blue sky is the referee and judges,” said Sauerland. “Andre has the home advantage and Dan Goossen has done a great job of securing home advantage for all three fights while all the other guys have to travel around the world. But one thing we do not accept is that the referee and all the judges come from California.”
Photos: Tom Casino/SHOWTIME
Click the photo to go to the next photo
“The WBA has written a strong letter to the California commission that the choice of judges is unacceptable but the California commission has been somewhat hard to reach,” Sauerland continued. “The WBA has been trying to contact them, sending faxes and everything. If this issue is not sorted, we can have a Super Six fight, but Mikkel’s world title will not be on the line.”
Ward’s promoter Dan Goossen, of Goossen-Tutor Promotions, seemed somewhat taken aback by Sauerland’s comments but assured those in attendance that he was committed to resolving any disputes prior to Saturday night.
“Our company has nothing to do with picking officials,” said Goossen. “Whatever the WBA and the [California] Commission agree upon we will abide by also. But one thing I want to make clear is that the only man I want to see walking out of the ring Saturday night is the man who won the fight. I don’t want any judging to interfere with the outcome.”
While the referee and judges were the main topic of the day, the fighters themselves seemed unfazed, focusing instead on the title belt presumably at stake and with advancing through the Super Six tournament. Andre Ward, (20-0, 13 KOs), was the first of the two combatants to take the stage.
“To see this kind of turnout today and the tremendous support I am getting only confirms what I know, that Saturday will be a special night for me and the city of Oakland,” proclaimed Ward. “I’m in tremendous shape and I don’t have much to say, I feel like a quiet storm right now. I’ve been doing everything I need to do, not just for the last 6 to 8 weeks, but I’ve been preparing for this night since I was 9 years old.”
Ward also acknowledged carrying a chip on his shoulder as the last American with a chance to win a Group Stage 1 bout. “Nobody is giving the Americans any chance to win. I take that personal,” admitted Ward. “[Super Six participant] Carl Froch summed it up after the last fight when he said, ‘Everything is going just as planned.’ The plan is for all the Europeans to sweep us and then they move on to the second round. I take that personal too.”
Ward continued, “You know I always seem to be the underdog but I embrace that. Even fighting in my own hometown against Edison Miranda, they said ‘He’s good, but let’s see what happens when he gets hit.” Even at the Olympics where they said ‘He’ll do well, but he won’t medal.’ I love to embrace the underdog role. I understand Mikkel wants to keep his belt, but I want that belt really, really, really bad.”
In contrast to the visible intensity of Ward, Kessler, (42-1, 32 KOs), appeared more laid back, although ironically the Dane also took cover under a blanket for most of the press conference, belying his Scandinavian roots.
“I’ve come all the way over here to Oakland and I’m 150 percent ready for the fight,” announced Kessler during his brief comments. “I’ve had good preparation and I am in unbelievable shape. Me and my coach were talking about it earlier and he said he has never seen me better than I am right now. I am training in Sacramento and everything is going the way I want it to so far.”
Kessler also responded to Ward’s trainer Virgil Hunter, who earlier during the press conference praised Kessler but was also critical of the Dane’s effort in his only loss, against Joe Calzaghe.
“I have had only one defeat and that was to Joe Calzaghe and it still tears at me today, so I’m not thinking about losing anymore.” Kessler continued, “I may be 30 but I have a lot of fight left. Saturday night can’t come soon enough.”
The controversy over the referee and judges notwithstanding, the press conference was a cordial affair with both camps praising the other and acknowledging that their respective fighters will be facing stiff competition in an evenly matched contest. Nevertheless while this bout and the Super Six tournament has received widespread praise in the boxing community, the public at large still appears to be unconvinced, as the crowd in attendance at the outdoor press conference was no larger than for Ward’s lower profile bout against Edison Miranda this past May. Further, Goossen acknowledged that Oracle Arena may be only half-filled for Saturday night’s card, with the upper bowl of the arena still not confirmed to be open, a disappointing revelation considering Kessler is very popular in Europe and Ward is fighting in his hometown. Perhaps an exciting performance by these two fighters will spark more interest stateside as the Super Six tournament progresses into its later stages.
The November 21, 2009, Super Six World Boxing Classic Group Stage 1 bout between Mikkel Kessler and Andre Ward is presented by Goossen-Tutor Promotions and Sauerland Event and will be televised on Showtime Championship Boxing at 10:00pm ET/PT (tape delayed on the West Coast).