Seven days before the first Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler fight in 2010 the trouble started when the fight was postponed, Froch gained 7lb at a barbecue, his elbow was injured and his eardrum was damaged.
A few days later the fight was back on and Froch and Robert McCracken, his trainer, took a tiny plane – against their better judgement – that flew into Herning, a remote Danish town, under the potentially treacherous volcanic ash cloud, which had put the showdown in jeopardy. It was a hellish flight and the fight’s result completed the sickening feeling.
Froch, like all top professional boxers, has fought with a variety of serious and slight injuries but the combination of calamities before the Kessler fight was unique even by the measures of his suffering.
“I was close to pulling out, real close. It was a bloody nightmare,” Froch said. At the end of 12 furious rounds Froch lost for the first time; Kessler left the ring with a tight decision and the Nottingham man’s WBC super-middleweight title.
They meet again tonight at the O2 Arena with a world title each in their possession, too much pride and some developing bad blood shaping their rematch into boxing’s biggest fight so far this year. Froch is likely to be censured for some unnecessary comments – suggesting he would kill Kessler – and it is obvious that both men have made the fight personal.
“I got it wrong in Denmark,” admitted Froch. “I stood in front of Kessler and tried to take him out with every punch. I was flat-footed and the longer the fight went the more drained I felt. It was not ideal. This is different and I will make him quit in this fight.”
After their first fight Kessler was forced out of the game for 14 months because of an eye injury; his journey to the ring tonight has included just three relatively easy fights and 13 rounds of action. It could be that the break has helped his body recover from a decade of tough nights in the ring, but it could as easily mean that he has lost a bit of edge at the end of a long career.
Froch has fought five times since losing to Kessler, winning four; three fights went the full 12-round distance, including a second defeat on his record when he was troubled by the slick American Andre Ward.
Froch, who now holds the IBF title at super-middleweight, has only had one easy fight in the last five years and that was last time out against the veteran Yusuf Mack; he could so easily be close to a natural end to his days under the rich neon.
Kessler, who at 34 is eight months younger than Froch, first won a world title in 2004 and tonight, when he will be defending his WBA belt, will be his 13th championship fight, and the fourth on the road.
Kessler has taken crazy risks as a champion, making defences in Sydney against the local idol Anthony Mundine, fighting Joe Calzaghe in front of 50,000 in Cardiff and losing to Ward in the American’s hometown.
Froch has also been forced to go on the road and five of his nine world title fights have been away from home, but even he refused to fight Ward in his Oakland, California, stronghold. Ward, by the way, remains unbeaten and will be a ringside guest tonight.
“You don’t lose to Ward, you feel like you have been pickpocketed,” insists Froch, who wants a rematch.
However, first there is this rematch and during the last few weeks there have been several stories of truth, possible invention and pure fantasy from both camps regarding sparring sessions, fitness and the general state of mind of the boxers. It has been claimed that both have taken beatings in sparring, both are fighting secret injuries and that both are perilously close to cracking from the pressure.
I hope so, because there is nothing quite like a genuine crisis or two to help make a fight great. The sell-out crowd of 18,000, including about 4,000 travelling Danes in Viking clobber, will only add to the night.
Froch is correct when he talks about his boxing skills being underappreciated and that is because he likes to fight just a bit too much. In the first Kessler fight his desire for a scrap was, as he has acknowledged, his downfall. Tonight he needs to think, move and look for openings with a bit of brain behind his punches. Kessler will be dependent on Froch committing early and that will allow him to work with precision in the gaps left open by Froch’s wilder punches.
However, I think it will be slower and smarter at times than the previous meeting, but inevitably the weeks of meticulous planning will be abandoned and a mesmerising fight will break out at some point.
Froch will win a very hard night’s work, even if it ends before the final bell.
Froch v Kessler is on tonight, live on Sky Sports HD Box Office
How they compare
Carl Froch vs Mikkel Kessler
35 Age 34
Nottingham Residence Copenhagen
6’1 (185cm) Height 6’1 (185cm)
75” (191 cm) Reach 74” (188cm)
11st 13lb 9oz Weight 11st 12lb 7oz
2 World ranking 4
30 (22 KO) Won 46 (35 KO)
2 (0 KO) Lost 2 (0 KO)
0 Drawn 0
68.75 KO% 72.92
Yusaf Mack, third-round KO Last fight Brian Magee, third-round TKO
2002 Debut fight 1998
Robert McCracken Trainer Jimmy Montoya
IBF super middleweight Belt held WBA super middleweight