Great Dane

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

CARDIFF, Wales – Mikkel Kessler looks like he'd fit in better on the PGA Tour than in the WBA, the WBC or the WBO.

And, he is, after all, staying at a local golf resort while he awaits the most important night of his professional life.

For all he's done in his boxing career, Kessler is about as well-known in the fight game as, say, Neal Lancaster is in professional golf.

And even if he defeats Joe Calzaghe on Saturday before a throaty crowd of nearly 50,000 mostly Calzaghe rooters at Millennium Stadium and claims the WBA, WBC and WBO belts, it won't change much.

You don't become big in boxing by fighting 37 times in Denmark, no matter how beautiful the country may be. There are about, oh, three fighters who can actually fight there.

This fight is a big deal. Or, more properly, it should be.

You're talking about a match between men with a combined record of 82-0 with 61 knockouts.

The bout should be in New York or Las Vegas, where it would have commanded worldwide attention, but it's in Calzaghe's hometown largely because neither man has ever ventured far from home and thus have failed to build a fan base beyond their rabid local core.

Kessler has been so anonymous during the promotion that one of the fight's publicists has dubbed him "Where's Waldo?" Kessler.

Somehow, I get the feeling that his inaccessibility to the media is more a function of the dislike his promoter, Mogens Palle, has for Calzaghe promoter Frank Warren than anything else, but whatever the motives, it's nearly crippled a bout featuring two fighters who should be trumpeted around the world.

Kessler's combination of looks, personality and power are reminiscent of a guy named De La Hoya, but unlike the Golden Boy, Kessler's entire fan base could be locked in the back of a minivan.

"He's tremendous, a tremendous fighter," Calzaghe said of Kessler. "He's the real deal."

Kessler's as charismatic as he is talented, which is why his handlers' decision to keep him away from the media remains so puzzling.

Kessler was bemoaning rumors that began a few weeks ago that he had a bad hand and was considering pulling out of the fight.

"When those rumors begin, they gain momentum and you can't stop them," he said Thursday. "My hand is fine. I wish I had a bag here I could hit so you could see. I am fine. I am 100 percent healthy. I have no injuries and no excuses."

But had he opened his camp and held court with the media, he would not only have shown that his hands are fine but he would have revealed a charming and thoughtful personality that the British press would have eaten up.

Instead, he's doing the work in the promotion's final 48 hours that should have been done months ago.

Palle has apparently never heard of the saying, "If you've got it, flaunt it." Kessler has plenty to flaunt, but he's been hidden away as if keeping secrets is the best way to sell tickets and build a star.

There is little in the ring Kessler, 28, can't do. He's not blazing fast, and much has been made of Calzaghe's quick hands. Kessler, 39-0 with 29 knockouts, has already proven he can deal with that. He made the first defense of his WBA belt by routing Australian Anthony Mundine, who may have the fastest hands of anyone in the division.

He's got power, as he proved in his last outing against the iron-chinned Librado Andrade, when he won every round in a performance so dominating he made Andrade look like a beginner.

"Librado is a strong fighter who can bully you around and he has a great chin, but Kessler picked him apart," De La Hoya said. "That really impressed me. He's a strong guy, but I never thought he could do that to Andrade. That showed me he's on a different level than most of the guys out there."

Kessler came in 12th in the October voting in the Yahoo! Sports Top 10 poll. I voted for him seventh, but only two others of our elite panel even included him on their ballots.

The November poll – which will come out sometime after the Shane Mosley-Miguel Cotto fight on Nov. 10 in New York – will likely include Kessler if he defeats Calzaghe and may do so even if he doesn't.

It's amazing what a little exposure will do for a guy.

Kessler, though, is hardly complaining about his relative anonymity.

"Nobody would care if I'd complain anyway," Kessler said, "so why do it? I fight who they put in front of me."

He had been chasing a fight with Calzaghe for more than three years before Warren and Palle finally came to terms in July. His manager, Bettina Palle, said Warren told her repeatedly that no one knew Kessler and so it made no sense for Calzaghe to fight him. And Calzaghe conceded Thursday that the timing wasn't right until now.

"This is a business, too," he snapped. "I wasn't going to go to Denmark to fight him for no money."

They'll both get plenty of money for Saturday's showdown. Kessler, though, will have the tougher task, in that he'll not only have to overcome Calzaghe (43-0, 32 KOs), but a crowd that will be decidedly against him.

That shouldn't have an impact upon the judges, but it frequently does. The British Boxing Board of Control has named Americans Raul Caiz Sr. and John Stewart and Italian Massimo Barravecchio as the judges for the bout, with Michael Ortega as the referee.

"We would have been happy with you as the judge," Michael Marley, the former Don King flack who is now advising Team Kessler, said to a reporter. "Mikkel doesn't intend for the judges to have to do a lot of work."

Team Kessler, though, does have a lot of work ahead of it.

Because if their man wins, which is a distinct possibility, he'll clearly be one of the elite boxers in the world.

Even if most of the sport's fans have no idea who he is.

Stars stoked for Calzaghe-Kessler.

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