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“The Cobra” Strikes Back

If you look at the result, history reversed itself. If you look at everything else, history repeated itself.

Carl Froch-Mikkel Kessler II, fought before a crowd of 19,000-plus frothing Brits at the O2 Arena in London, was another energetic, engaging, occasionally sloppy, never dull, and highly competitive delight. Again, the home-country fighter got his hand raised. We were just in a different country this time.

The script was only flipped when it came time for the ending, as scores of 118-110 from Adalaide Byrd, 116-112 for Carlos Sucre, and 115-113 from Jean-Francois Tupin were announced as being all in Froch's favor. This pulls Nottingham's "Cobra" even in the rivalry, with Kessler having won by nearly identical scores (117-111, 116-112, and 115-113) in Herning, Denmark, in their first fight in April 2010.

In the intervening years, the two elite super middleweights developed a friendship--even conducting some of the negotiations for this rematch themselves via cell phone. Apparently they remain fighters first, friends second. And that's exactly how it appeared once the bell rang.

After Froch entered to Guns N' Roses' "Welcome To The Jungle" and Kessler entered to, uh, some rock song that was mostly drown out by the sound of 19,000 people booing, it quickly took on the look of the proverbial Round 13. Conventional wisdom said Froch, despite being one year older at 35, had aged much better than Kessler since their first go-round, and for the first three rounds, conventional wisdom was mostly proven correct. Froch was significantly outworking "The Viking Warrior," particularly with his busy left jab, and generally controlling the range. By the third round, the Englishman looked downright comfortable, like he was out for a leisurely evening stroll that happened to include the occasional extension of his arms.

But perhaps he got too comfortable, or perhaps pride kicked in for Kessler, or maybe it was a bit of both. Over the next three rounds, the Dane upped his aggression and worked his way back into the fight. He seemed less concerned with finding the perfect spots to punch and more willing to just let his hands go, and Kessler was rewarded in Round 5 when he cracked Froch with a sizzling right-left combination. Against many opponents, it would have produced a knockdown. But Froch's chin is quickly becoming the stuff of legend, so instead he came back and won the rest of the round. Still, Kessler probably edged Round 6, a round that both men landed flush right hands, Froch's prompting Kessler's legs to perform a brief jig.

In the fight's second half, Froch's edges in energy and versatility were key, but perhaps most important of all was that jaw, which enabled him to stifle Kessler's frequent attempts to rally. The seventh and eighth rounds offered some of the best action of the fight, with Froch particularly dominant in the latter round. But it was a testament to Kessler's will that he never let himself slip out of the fight, and in Round 11 he produced a memorable last stand, freezing Froch momentarily with a right hand to the chin. It was another one of those sequences that, against many opponents, would have ended the fight.

Instead Froch came back and made a statement of his own in the gripping 12th round. After Kessler showed perhaps his finest defense of the bout for the first two-thirds of the stanza, Froch caught up with him late, and had him badly hurt along the ropes. Referee Pete Podgorski moved in for a closer look, but Kessler (46-3, 35 KOs) survived and Froch was content to let his friend hold on as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

The CompuBox numbers told a couple of interesting tales. First, Froch threw more than twice as many punches as Kessler, 1,034 to 497. And second, Kessler landed a whopping 55 percent of power shots. The problem was he only threw about 14 power punches per round. He may have displayed superior accuracy, but he was outworked, outhustled, and ultimately outfought in another fierce affair.

"I was using my jab a lot. I was very, very effective with it," Froch (31-2, 22 KOs) said afterward, admitting that he watched tape of lineal super middleweight champion Andre Ward building his 2009 defeat of Kessler around the jab. "In the first fight, I was backing up. [This time] I was discouraging him and I was putting him on his back foot."

Conversation quickly turned away from Kessler (though nobody seems to be ruling out a rubber match) and toward Ward, the only man other than Kessler to pin a loss on Froch. The Cobra seemed to waffle back and forth from one sentence to the next as he discussed his interest in a second shot at the only man in the division who is rated above him:

"I've always said I'd like to fight Andre Ward again ... No disrespect, but he's not an entertaining fighter, he doesn't get the crowd out of its seats ... But he's the only guy to beat me ... Let's get the fight on next if he wants it."

Froch just reversed one of his two defeats. The other will be considerably more difficult. Froch has some thinking to do. But first he has a hard-earned victory to enjoy.

Posted 12:00 AM | May 25, 2013

Carl Froch vs. Mikkel Kessler II

HBO WCB: May 25, 2013 at 6pm ET / 3pm PT

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