Mikkel Kessler is 34 and has been a professional for more than 15 years. He's got a Hall of Fame-worthy resume and has met some of the best fighters of his time.
And yet, outside of the most hardcore boxing fans, he's virtually anonymous in the U.S. and doesn't have a particularly solid following anywhere other than in Europe.
It's a tragedy, because Kessler has all the elements to be a superstar here, yet he's not even remotely close to one.
Today, he finds himself in a remarkably similar position to where he was nearly six years ago, when he traveled to Wales to meet Joe Calzaghe in a battle of unbeaten super middleweight champions.
Kessler was 28, owner of a 39-0 record and was believed by many to be one of the world's elite fighters. Yet, he was also seen as a protected, coddled fighter who fought primarily in the comfort of his home base in Denmark against good, but not great, opposition.
In a decision loss to Calzaghe, he not only left his comfort zone, but he dared to take on one of the sport's truly elite fighters, and on his turf.
On Saturday, he'll try the same thing when he meets British star Carl Froch at London's O2 Arena in a super middleweight title bout that will be broadcast in the U.S. on HBO.
Kessler won a unanimous decision from Froch in 2010, winning a wider-than-expected verdict in a bout that was held, not surprisingly, in Denmark. That probably accounted for the 117-111 and 116-112 scores in favor of Kessler in a match that seemed to be a toss-up when it ended.
Kessler has fought 41 of his 46 bouts to this point in the comfort of Denmark, where he has the crowd in his favor, the ability to stay in the same time zone and, of course, the inexplicable advantage judges so often seem to give a hometown hero.
Going to London to fight the highly regarded Froch gives Kessler an opportunity for another career-defining win in a hostile environment. It's the kind of bout that could help change the perception of his career.
If he beats Froch in the United Kingdom, it will be one of those gut-check wins under adverse circumstances he has yet to get. He did beat Anthony Mundine in front of more than 30,000 fans in Australia in 2005, but Mundine is no Froch.
"A lot of people said I am crazy to come to London and fight him in his hometown because I have already beaten him once," Kessler said. "But you know what, this is the fight I want to fight. I don't see any bigger fight in the world right now. I am a man of my word and I shook his hand and I said, 'I am going to fight you in your hometown,' and that is why I am here.
"I want to show him and all the fans that I am better than him in his hometown, too. And I want his belt, I have never had the IBF belt."
That's the kind of passion fans haven't seen often from Kessler. When he went to Wales to meet Calzaghe, he faded in the second half as Calzaghe made adjustments and picked up the pace.
When he met Andre Ward in Oakland, Calif., in 2009, he surrendered meekly when the fight wasn't going his way.
He needs to turn that impression around, and Froch is the perfect foil for him.
Froch has been much of what Kessler is not, willingly fighting the best in the world at any time in any venue. Going back to 2008, he's fought Jean Pascal in England, Jermain Taylor in Connecticut, Andre Dirrell in England, Kessler in Denmark, Glen Johnson and Ward in Atlantic City, N.J., and Lucian Bute and Yusaf Mack in England.
That's the cream of the crop at 168 pounds, and Froch never shied away once.
He's also eager to avenge his loss to Kessler and seemed to almost come unglued when he spoke directly to him at the final news conference.
"On Saturday night, if I have to, I will kill this [expletive]," Froch said. " ... I will kill him. It sounds brutal, it sounds horrible, but that is what this means to me."
Froch apologized later for his uncharacteristic abrasive comments, but it shows the intensity with which he's approaching the bout.
Kessler, though, comes across as far too cool and doesn't give the impression that it means the world to him.
This is a guy who is 46-2 with 35 knockouts but who has always seemed to be in the shadows. He couldn't have made a better choice to go on the road to meet the man many believe is the best 168-pounder in the world other than Ward.
A repeat win over Froch (30-2, 22 KOs) in front of Froch's raucous British fans may go a long way toward proving he is good enough to win even when everything isn't stacked in his favor.
- Sports & Recreation
- Mikkel Kessler
- Carl Froch
- Joe Calzaghe