A little more than three years ago Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler produced the best action fight of the entire Super Six tournament. Forced to defend his WBC belt in Kessler's native Denmark because of contractual obligations regarding geographical balance, Froch groused and pouted beforehand but fought gallantly on fight night while Kessler, undefeated in his homeland, put forth an inspired effort down the stretch to win a wider-than-reality unanimous decision.
Much has changed since then but one thing remains the same -- they are still top-shelf 168-pounders. On Saturday Froch will defend his IBF strap against Kessler in the location he dearly wanted the first time around -- England. From Froch's perspective he would have rather had the fight in Nottingham but for his purposes London suffices nicely. Froch is a 2-1 favorite.
Statistical factors that may determine the outcome include:
Kessler-Froch I: Kessler's uncharacteristic pressure tactics and the home crowd advantage enabled the Dane to overcome Froch's statistical superiority. Not only did Froch average far more punches per round (80.1 to 56.8, both above the 54.4 super middleweight norm), but he landed more as well (224-193 total, 114-96 jabs, 110-97 power punches). Kessler, however, was more accurate across the board (28%-23% overall, 26%-20% jabs and 31%-28% power).
This bout was a jabbing contest, for Froch averaged 47.8 jab attempts and 9.5 jab connects each round while Kessler threw 30.9 and landed 8 each round, both above the 168-pound baselines of 23.7 attempts and 5.3 connects. Froch threw 77 jabs in round two- the most he's thrown 9 of his fights tracked by CompuBox. They also were aware of the contest's closeness entering the final round and both acted accordingly by registering their highest attempts (77 for Kessler, 102 for Froch) and connects (20 for Kessler, 26 for Froch). Froch's 102 thrown punches were also the most he's thrown in a round in 9 of his fights tracked by CompuBox.
Kessler's Road Since: After a 13-month hiatus to let his eye issues heal, Kessler returned to the ring by stopping Mehdi Bouadla in three rounds. There, he averaged 103.7 punches per round, of which 65.7 were jabs, nearly triple the 23.7 super middleweight average. Not surprisingly, Kessler out-landed Bouadla 165-79 (total), 70-55 (jabs) and 95-24 (power) and landed 42% of his power shots to Bouadla's 25%.
Eleven months after that, Kessler suffered a first round knockdown against Allan Green but rolled him after that en route to a one-punch fourth round KO, one of 2012's best.
Kessler's accuracy was off the charts (43% overall, 41% jabs and 48% power) while Green couldn't get untracked (20% overall, 19% jabs, 27% power, and out-landed 65-31 total, 43-24 jabs and 22-7 power).
An underused part of Kessler's game -- body punching -- was pivotal in his most recent bout against Brian Magee. Straight rights to the body registered two knockdowns in round one and another produced the 10-count stoppage in round three. Kessler enjoyed 47% power accuracy and out-landed the southpaw Magee 61-19 (total), 27-13 (jabs) and 34-6 (power).
If Kessler is to win, his jab must get going early and often. In his three fights since beating Froch, the jab made up 64% of his total offense and 48% of his total connects.
Froch's Road Since: Froch has fought five times since losing to Kessler and has gone 4-1 (2 KO). Known as a gritty slugger for most of his career, Froch turned supreme boxer/volume puncher since. In beating Arthur Abraham, Froch averaged 76.6 punches per round, of which 51.6 per round (67%) were jabs. His 11.7 jab connects per round doubled the 5.3 super middleweight norm and his long-range boxing combined with Abraham's reluctance to punch (28.5 per round) contributed to vast connect gaps (267-79 total, 140-52 jabs, 127-27 power) and a near shutout on the cards (120-108 twice, 119-109).
Froch tried to emulate that blueprint against 42-year-old Glen Johnson by averaging 77.2 per round and 41.4 jabs, but he landed at a much lower percentage (21% overall, 12% jabs, 31% power) than was the case against Abraham (29%, 23%, 42% respectively). Also, Johnson fought back by averaging 52.1 punches per round and was the more accurate man (plus-8 percentage points overall, plus-seven jabs, plus-11 power). The majority decision result was reflected in the CompuBox numbers as Froch led 196-181 (total) and 134-114 (power) but trailed 67-62 in jabs.
In the Super Six final, Andre Ward was Froch's master as his ring generalship and much better accuracy (42%-23% overall, 42%-19% jabs, 42%-25% power) held Froch to 56.9 punches per round and connect deficits of 243-156 (total), 107-47 (jabs) and 136-109 (power). Froch's jab was effectively neutralized (3.9 connects to 8.9 connects per round) and Kessler must do that if he is to win.
Froch's signature win of late was his overwhelming fifth-round stoppage of longtime IBF titlist Lucian Bute. Though the fight was in Froch's hometown of Nottingham he was somehow the betting underdog. He proved the doubters wrong in spectacular fashion, for in rounds three through five Froch out-landed Bute 78-18 (total) and 75-15 (power). Froch's 22.4 power connects per round nearly doubled the 11.7 super middleweight average and the ending couldn't have been more brutal.
Froch's most recent effort came against out-gunned Philadelphian Yusaf Mack, who was out-landed 61-19 (total) and 34-6 (power) before getting rolled in three rounds. Froch's jab made up 62% of his total offense and limited Mack to 100 punches in eight-and-a-half minutes.
Prediction: Froch and Kessler clearly feed off the energy of their local crowds and their records in their home countries reflect that: Kessler is 43-0 in Denmark while Froch is 26-0 in England. Froch will be as sky high for this fight as he was bitter before the first match and geography is THE reason for that. If there is a stoppage, it will likely be caused by Kessler's vulnerable tissue around the eyes but the guess here is that Froch will win by comfortable decision.