The final bout of Group Stage 1 of the Super Six tournament saw Andre Ward score an upset over Mikkel Kessler, but the fight was overshadowed from beginning to end by the questionable performances of many involved in the event.
First, the incompetence of the Showtime broadcast team should be addressed. It was a bad night for all concerned. Jim Gray, never noted for his equanimity or his fine boxing mind, gave a taste of what was to come by invoking the shadow of nationalism during his interview with Andre Dirrell before the main event. The rest of the Showtime team picked up on that theme and ran with it throughout the evening. So what if American fighters were pointless going into the final bout of Group Stage 1? Boxing is an international sport and that kind of jingoism has no place on a respectable broadcast medium. It should remain the province of forum ranters, fan blogs, and third-rate websites.
Gus Johnson, whose histrionics are more suited to MMA than boxing, noted with incredulity that Kessler was “given” extra time in the corner between rounds. In California, if a doctor visits the corner during the rest period, the clock is stopped. This way, cutmen do not lose time treating injuries and the ringside physician is not pressured into rushing his examination. Perhaps Johnson should have been briefed about that.
Johnson also goes overboard at strange points during a fight and last night was no exception. When the bout was stopped in the 11th round due to one of the gashes Kessler suffered from headbutts, Johnson nearly suffered from spontaneous human combustion at the microphone, apparently confusing a technical decision with a TKO. Johnson is a fine basketball announcer, but he might want to pop a valium or two before sitting ringside for the next Showtime telecast.
Antonio Tarver, on the other hand, does not get overly excited, and his sense of humor is usually a nice change of pace, but on Saturday night Tarver seemed out of touch and at one point unnecessarily harsh. Tarver, who should know better, complained that Ward deserved a TKO victory when, in fact, he did not. There are enough headbutts in boxing these days without having Tarver endorse them as a means of procuring a TKO stoppage.
Tarver also claimed that Kessler was trying to find “a way out” because Kessler complained to his cornermen several times about being unable to see. Every few months a hardworking prizefighter is labeled a quitter by someone sitting behind a keyboard, a microphone, or a trough, but for Tarver, himself a professional fighter, to add to that kind of nonsense is inexcusable. Kessler continued to fight despite the dirty tactics of his opponent, two cuts, and the fact that he was hopelessly behind on the cards. Twice he was asked by his corner if he wanted the fight stopped and twice he said “No.” Tarver should think hard before labeling his peers quitters in the ring. After all, when Tarver had his jaw broken and the resistance beaten out of him by Eric Harding in 2000 in a fight where Tarver was so demoralized that he did not land a single blow in the final round, there were no ex-fighters at the broadcasting table questioning his heart.
Finally, Jack Reiss, who looked like he was missing his 3-D glasses on Saturday night, is the latest in a long line of referees who religiously invoke autopilot as their preferred method of officiating. Reiss, Eddie Cotton, Johnny Callas, Hector “SNAFU” Afu, and the despicable Ruben Carrion should all get UPS job applications in order to fulfill their moonlighting aspirations. Carrion, whose negligence left super bantamweight Al Seeger in the hospital with a brain bleed after taking foul upon foul upon foul from his opponent Victor Foncesca, should never be seen in a ring again, but, of course, referees who put the lives of fighters at risk retain an inexplicable tenure in a sport all too given to the inexplicable. Seeger had a titanium plate drilled into his forehead and his career is likely over.
Reiss, like Carrion during the Fonscesca-Seeger bout, was happy to ignore fouls all night and Ward was happy to get a free ride. Ignoring fouls gives one fighter an edge, deprives the other of a fair opportunity, and results in injuries, some of them, as noted, crippling and career-ending. Kessler left the ring resembling a man who had fallen face-first into a bear trap. For Reiss not to issue warnings or deduct points from Ward after a series of infractions is, simply put, a dereliction of duties. Between rounds four and five Reiss approached the Kessler corner and announced that the first cut Kessler received was also from a butt. This means that every wound on his face was incurred by headbutts. Why would Reiss—or anyone else for that matter—assume that a dozen or so headbutts were unintentional? Being a referee is not an easy job, so it makes sense to weed out those who fail to meet standards, and Reiss botched his assignment miserably last night.
The fight itself was not particularly memorable, but Andre Ward did show flashes of brilliance, while Kessler often resembled a wooden soldier. One of the notable aspects of this fight was just how poor Mikkel Kessler is at infighting. Inept is not a strong enough word for his lack of skills in close, but come to think of it, there is not a single able infighter in the entire Super Six. This will make it easier for junk artists like Ward and Andre Dirrell to thrive. Ward will be a difficult proposition for Froch, Taylor, and Abraham simply because they do not do enough work on the inside to slow him down or accumulate damage. Infighting is a lost art in boxing today, with fighters as accomplished as Oscar De La Hoya and Jermain Taylor clueless in the clinches. But Kessler looks like a man with a straitjacket on whenever he gets within inches of his opponent.
As for Ward, who earned by far the biggest victory of his young career, he showed his attributes as well as his drawbacks last night. No one in the tournament, not even Andre Dirrell, has faster hands than Ward, and his creativity in the ring will leave plenty of fighters flummoxed for years to come. He also has nifty footwork and fine counterpunching skills. As for shortcomings, Ward is sloppy, squares up with abandon on offense, and is not much fun to watch. In addition, another referee, one with two eyes open, might not let him get away with the low blows, excessive holding, and billygoat imitations that marred his performance. Still, he made Kessler, widely considered the best super middleweight in the world, look slow and clumsy. In addition, this is the second time Ward has drawn a big crowd in Oakland. He looks like he might be a real box office draw, which is why he is on Showtime, of course, and not on HBO.
Topics: Al Seeger, ANDRE DIRRELL, ANTONIO TARVER, Bear Traps, Boxing, Gus Johnson, HBO, Hector "SNAFU" Afu, Infighting, Jack Reiss, Jim Gray, Mikkel Kessler, Ruben Carrion, Super Middleweights, Super Six, UPS