Andre Ward showed everyone that he belongs in the ranks of the boxing elite with a convincing and at times dominating victory over former champion and heavily favored Mikkel Kessler.
From the onset Ward was able to slip and slide and stay away from Kessler’s powerful right hand and sting the Dane with a variety of combinations. In the early rounds Ward seemed content to jab and move, always a little faster then Kessler and a little more accurate. Kessler stalked but found it very hard to land anything on the slippery Ward. He tried to use his stinging jab but found air more then Ward. Kessler might have won the 2nd round with his aggressiveness but Ward continued to nail him with some straight rights.
Rounds three and four were more of the same as Ward continued to switch back and forth from orthodox to southpaw, staying low and firing his right hand. Kessler had said before the fight that he knew “just what to expect from Ward” but at times he seemed confused by Ward’s use of angles. Near the end of the round Ward opened up a bit more landing a left hook to the body and two hard rights.
Ward had found his rhythm and continued to use it, out boxing and out punching Kessler from inside and out. Kessler was reduced to trying to time Ward and nail him with his right hand. As the fight progressed he flailed at times, missing badly. His left eye was swollen and he had a cut on his right eye. Ward continued to burst from clinches and land combinations that always seemed to shock Kessler.
Ward was feeling it and his hometown crowd was rocking. In the eighth round he went toe to toe with Kessler beating him to the punch and even absorbing a few right hands. Kessler had another cut over his right eye and talked about quitting after the eighth round. He couldn’t see, his corner told him to go out there and knock Ward out.
He tried in the ninth round, backing Ward up to the ropes but was still unable to land anything to hurt Ward who continued to be the sharper and more accurate puncher. The desperation was obvious now as Kessler became more aggressive, but Ward like the matador deflected his shots and moved away.
Ward was the boss again in the tenth and eleventh round, boxing smartly and circling and then popping Kessler. The stoppage was sudden as the referee called in the ring doctor to take a look at the worst of Kessler’s cuts above his right eye. The cut had happened after an accidental butt in the eighth round so as the rules indicate the fight went to the scorecards.
All three judges had it unanimous, 98-92, 98-92 and 97-93, for the winner and new champion Andre Ward.
After the fight Ward appeared a little stunned by his own achievement.
“Right now, I'm dreaming," Ward said after celebrating with his trainer Virgil Hunter and the raucous Oakland crowd. "I don't know what I'm feeling. I can't compare this to winning the gold medal, because it's going to take a while for it all to sink in. Everyone said we got the bad draw, but we just beat the toughest guy."
Kessler was respectful of Ward but also had a complaint or two. ”He was the better man tonight. I could have continued but the cuts weren’t that bad. He hit me some elbows and head butts, he never got a warning.”
Ward shrugged at hearing Kessler’s comments “Everybody knows I’m not a dirty fighter. I just felt going in that it was my time.”
In the preliminaries junior lightweight Mel Crossty won a unanimous decision over Carlos Herrera. Crossty controlled the fight from the onset landing the straighter and more effective blows then the aggressive but wild Herrera.
Scores were 40-36, 40-35 and 40-35.
Stan Martyniouk showed off some real boxing skills in out punching Anthony Martinez over four fast rounds. Martyniouk had way to much speed for Martinez.
Scores were 40-36, 40-36 and again 40-36 all for the slick Martyniouk whose record is now 8-0.
In a rematch local favorite Karim Mayfield took his time with Francisco Santana until the middle of the fifth round when he suddenly opened up and floored the backpedaling Santana. The youngster from Santa Barbara was up at the count of seven, but not for long as the referee wisely stopped the contest after Santana absorbed some more punishment. Mayfield improved his record to 11-0.
Another local fighter Tony Hirsh took on former contender Jose Celaya who entered the fight with a pretty impressive record of 31 wins and 5 loses. When it was all over he had his 6th loss as the unheralded Hirsh won easily by firing over hand rights that rarely missed.
Scores were 40-36, 40-36 and 40-36 all for Hirsh.
This night clearly belonged to Andre Ward, who showed a determination and skill level that most boxing experts didn’t believe he possessed. To say he showed them would be a bit of an understatement.