According to ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael, as Andre Ward and his team look to complete negotiations with Kelly Pavlik for a fight in January, the upcoming bout between WBA “regular” titlist Brian Magee and former champion Mikkel Kessler could decide Ward’s next opponent—at least according to the WBA:
At this week's WBA convention in Jakarta, Ward (26-0, 14 KOs) was ordered to face the winner of the Dec. 8 fight between Brian Magee (36-4-1, 25 KOs), the organization's "regular" titlist, and former titleholder Mikkel Kessler (45-2, 34 KOs).
Ward, who hasn't made a mandatory defense, would have to fight the winner by June 8, six months after the Magee-Kessler bout.
Given Ward’s recent string of victories dating back to his first title-winning effort against Kessler in the Super Six World Boxing Classic, it would appear that Ward has transcended the restriction of pointless mandatory defenses.
The problem for Ward, however, is that he has yet to establish himself as a marquee pay-per-view attraction. Furthermore, Ward already dominated his seemingly toughest and most significant opponent when he scored a 10th-round stoppage of lineal light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, who moved down to 168 pounds to challenge Ward.
At 28 and in his prime, Ward’s biggest issue, at the moment, seems to be his own success.
The prospect of fighting Pavlik (40-2, 34 KO) is an intriguing one, even if the former middleweight champion hasn’t scored a truly significant victory during his comeback. Still, Pavlik has been gradually working through his ring rust, and in terms of providing a competitive fight with mainstream name-recognition, he might be Ward’s best immediate option.
Assuming Ward fights and defeats Pavlik, there remains uncertainty as to who is left for the lineal super middleweight champion to face at 168 pounds. Should Ward elect to stay at super middleweight, two names that come to mind are fighters he has already dominated: Carl Froch and the aforementioned Kessler.
Ward bookended his astonishing run in the Super Six with victories over Kessler and Froch (29-2, 21 KO), respectively, and it is somewhat disconcerting that Ward might already be at the stage of having to recycle past opponents.
At the same time, Kessler and Froch are both excellent fighters who have lengthy and accomplished resumes. Without intending any disrespect toward Magee and his recent run of good wins, the only way Ward will conceivably make a WBA mandatory defense is if it is against Kessler.
Naturally, “The Viking Warrior,” as reported by Rafael, is pleased with the prospect of getting another crack at Ward:
“I did not think it was possible to be more motivated to beat Magee and become world champion again on Dec. 8, but now I have found a reason,” Kessler said. “Andre Ward knows that he owes me a rematch. That was not the real ‘Viking Warrior’ in the ring on that night. I was at my best against [Carl] Froch and Allan Green, and I will be at my best against Magee. Now I just have to regain my title on Dec. 8, and then we will have the rematch. Ward had better get ready.”
In the same article, Kessler’s promoter, Kalle Sauerland, still claims that Kessler’s fight against Ward in Oakland was “dubious” and that the cuts Kessler suffered that forced the bout to the scorecards early—Ward won by 11-round technical decision—were “only from elbows and head-butts,” clearly insinuating that Ward got away with questionable maneuvers.
Whether one agrees with Sauerland’s assessment or not, the fact remains that Ward still cleanly dominated most of the fight and deserved to win by lopsided scores. Ward has put to rest any notion that he is a dirty fighter, and his body of work has shown that he has an uncanny ability to adapt to any style he is pitted against.
While Ward-Kessler II does have some appeal, Ward-Froch II might have more. Assuming Froch defeats Yusaf Mack in an upcoming IBF title defense—and it would be shocking if he didn’t—Froch will have to face Lucian Bute in a rematch in Montreal, which could solidify his stock as Ward’s best available super middleweight opponent.
Of course, the assumption here is that Froch will defeat Bute as impressively as he did the first time they fought in Nottingham (no guarantee). If Froch can stop Mack and then dominate Bute in a hostile environment, he could enter a rematch with Ward riding a sensational three-fight winning streak.
Heading into his bout against Magee, Kessler is also coming off of a gruesome, one-punch knockout victory over Green. If he can carry this momentum into his fight against Magee and score another knockout, Kessler would also enter a Ward rematch with positive momentum; that said, Bute is clearly better than both Green and Magee, which gives Froch the slight edge in terms of recent opposition.
Both Kessler and Froch need to look sensational in their upcoming fights if they want to justify rematches against Ward. While Kessler might officially have an inside track, there is no telling what Ward will do next if he fights and defeats Pavlik.
Maybe Ward will opt to move up to light heavyweight, or perhaps, in what would set an unusual precedent, Ward will decide that he needs to clean out the super middleweight division for a second time.
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