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The opening two bouts of Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic were not kind to the Americans.
Germany's Arthur Abraham brutally knocked out Jermain Taylor in the 12th round, and England's Carl Froch took a split decision from Andre Dirrell to retain his 168-pound belt in the first two bouts of the six-man modified round-robin tournament Oct. 17.
Now the final bout of Group Stage 1 is at hand, the first bout of the tournament on American soil, and American Andre Ward aims not only to win his first world title but also to save face for the Americans. Ward meets tournament favorite and titleholder Mikkel Kessler at the Oracle Arena in Ward's hometown of Oakland, Calif., on Saturday (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/PT).
"Even though the Americans fought well, unfortunately we were unable to get a victory in the first two fights," Ward said. " I'm definitely inspired to bring America their first victory in the Super Six tournament.
"If I beat Mikkel Kessler it will send shock waves into the tournament and throughout the boxing world because it's just something they cannot fathom happening," Ward said. "They just don't see it happening. They won't believe it until it happens. I think people's minds will change after this for sure."
Some young fighters might feel double the pressure, but not Ward, who has been groomed for this moment since turning pro after winning a gold medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics. He is America's most recent boxing gold medalist.
"I don't look at it like pressure. I look at it like it's a privilege," Ward said. "I've been here before with the Olympics and it's something that I relish. There's always going to be pressure. It just depends on how you deal with the pressure. It was unfortunate that both Americans lost their fights but it's just added more motivation. I did take it personal because that's what everyone expected. Even Carl Froch said everything is going as scheduled. And I take that personal. I'm a proud American and it's time for the super middleweight champion to be an American.
"They've dominated over there for a long, long time, but I want to do my part to bring back the belt here on American soil."
Said Dan Goossen, Ward's promoter, "This is just like Andre's run to the gold medal, but in the pro ranks. On his path to gold, no one gave him a shot, everyone else was the favorite, and this is the same situation. They are all picking Kessler, and for good reason -- he's a great, experienced champion. We have all the confidence in the world that Saturday night we'll make history."
Ward (20-0, 13 KOs) has the opportunity to win his biggest pro fight at home. He's only fought once before in Oakland. In May, he earned a lopsided decision against Edison Miranda, and he's happy to be back.
"It's incredible to have this fight at home," Ward said. "A lot of people say that boxing is dead in Oakland. There used to be two or three gyms full of boxers here. Boxing was a huge thing, and to see the excitement for this fight here in Oakland and in the Bay Area and to give them something positive to support, I'm excited about that."
Said Goossen, "We'll see Andre bring the title not only home to Oakland but to American soil."
Kessler-Ward will the first world title bout in Oakland in 42 years. The last time it hosted one was Oct. 2, 1967, when Hall of Famer Curtis Cokes stopped Charlie Shipes in the eighth round to retain the welterweight title.
Denmark's Kessler (42-1, 32 KOs), however, has no intention of giving up his title. He's been training in Sacramento for three weeks to allow himself plenty of time to get accustomed to the climate and time change.
"I am ready to fight," said Kessler, whose lone loss was a decision to Joe Calzaghe in a 2007 unification bout. "I didn't come all the way from Denmark to lose, and I am fully prepared and 150 percent ready."
One of the many things in Kessler's favor is that that he's vastly more experienced than Ward against better opponents. Kessler, 30, has twice held a world title and owns notable victories against Librado Andrade and former titleholders Anthony Mundine, Markus Beyer and Eric Lucas.
Kessler has 12 more knockouts than Ward has fights.
"I think my strengths are also speed and my experience," Kessler said. "I have double the fights he has, and I have had a lot of big fights."
"We have a formidable task in front us," said Virgil Hunter, Ward's trainer. "Kessler's a real champion. All accolades he gets, he deserves. We know what's ahead of us. We know we got a real champ in our way."
Kessler, however, said he's not taking Ward lightly, having seen Ward fight several times.
"I see Ward as a very difficult fighter," Kessler said. "He doesn't know how it is to lose. But I have more experience than he does. I have seen many of his fights and I know he is desperate to win. He can change his style from right-handed to left-handed, so I have a lot of respect for him."
Despite his talent, Ward's résumé is thin on name opponents, but he said he's been training for this moment for years. He's moved steadily through the pro ranks, even though his rise was slower than other American Olympic gold medalists such as Oscar De La Hoya and Sugar Ray Leonard.
"It's something you dream about," Ward said. "The best words I can give you are I'm very impatient and I'm ready to fight. I've haven't been training for this for five or six weeks. I've been training for this for most of my life. I've been doing this since I was 9 years old and I'm 25 now so it's time. It's just time to go after this world championship."
"It's been a long road with Andre to get here," Goossen said. "[But] it's the perfect time."
Chico Sanchez - Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions
Former junior welterweight champ and lightweight champ Juan Manuel Marquez, both coming off one-sided losses but still with big names, likely will return against each other in a junior welterweight match in Hatton's native England, Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer told ESPN.com.
Hatton was blitzed in two rounds by Manny Pacquiao in May and hasn't fought since. Marquez, who moved up to welterweight to face unretiring Floyd Mayweather in September, dropped a lopsided decision.
Marquez would prefer a third fight with Manny Pacquiao, against whom he has a draw and a one-point split-decision loss, but since that bout is unlikely, he's after Hatton.
"Hatton wants to fight again, and Marquez is ready, willing and able to pack the bags and travel to Manchester," Schaefer said. "I saw him Monday and he said on top of his hit list is Pacquiao. He doesn't care what weight, he just knows he has the style to beat Pacquiao. He said try to get the fight done and I said I'm sure you know there's a tremendous interest in a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight and most likely that is what's going to happen and that the third fight with Pacquiao will always be there. The other offer we did get is if he would be interested to fight Hatton and he immediately said yes."
Schaefer said he talked to Hatton's attorney, Gareth Williams, about the fight for late spring or early summer. It would likely take place at the City of Manchester Stadium, where Hatton drew more than 50,000 for a 2008 win against Juan Lazcano.
"I've also had some discussions with HBO and they're interested," Schaefer said. "I will talk to HBO and see what kind of numbers they're thinking about. I think we can get this done."
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Junior welterweight titlist Amir Khan, who is trained by Freddie Roach and was in training camp with Manny Pacquiao, is inspired by the PacMan as he heads into his first defense against Dmitriy Salita on Dec. 5 in Newcastle, England.
"I've worked with Manny for the last year or so and I have learned so much from him," said Khan, who claimed the title in July with a decisive points victory against Andreas Kotelnik. "For me, he is definitely the best fighter in the world at the moment and just watching him in the gym, let alone when he is fighting, is an inspiration. I was ringside at the MGM Grand on Saturday, and seeing Pacquiao's performance up close makes me want to train even harder and get to the level he is at right now.
"[Miguel] Cotto is a tough, tough fighter but Manny made it look easy in there. He took everything that Miguel threw at him and came back with twice as many punches. He's at the very top right now, and I would like to congratulate him on all that he has achieved."
Roach didn't have a lot of time to celebrate Pacquiao's victory. He's headed to England with Khan this weekend for to finish training for the fight. Then Roach will return to America and finish training junior middleweight prospect Vanes Martirosyan for his Dec. 19 bout on the Kelly Pavlik-Miguel Espino undercard in Youngstown, Ohio.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
• Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer told ESPN.com that he's gotten the thumbs-up from Floyd Mayweather that he'll represent him in negotiating the fight against Manny Pacquiao. "They said I will be representing them, so I am going to give [Pacquiao promoter] Bob [Arum] a call [Friday] and see when we can meet," Schaefer said of the Top Rank boss, who was in New York on Thursday. "There are a whole list of things to discuss and then to take them back to Team Mayweather. I've had conversations with [Mayweather advisers] Al Haymon and Leonard Ellerbe. Floyd wants to see if the fight can be made, so that's what I am going to do. I am going to put my best effort forward to see that a fair deal can be structured so sports fans can get what they want. How often in any sport do you have the two best of an entire generation in their prime and able to challenge each other?"
• Although light heavyweight stars Roy Jones and Bernard Hopkins both have interim fights they need to win Dec. 2 (Versus), when Jones faces Danny Green in Australia and Hopkins meets Enrique Ornelas in Philadelphia, they have a date now for their expected meeting. Schaefer told ESPN.com that he has the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on hold for the fight, which would take place March 13.
• Junior lightweight titlist Robert Guerrero (25-1-1, 17 KOs), caught in a tug-of-war between promoters Golden Boy and Dan Goossen, will remain with Golden Boy after the sides came to a financial settlement following a second round of arbitration, made necessary when Goossen protested the original ruling in Golden Boy's favor because of irregularities in the initial proceeding. "It was amicably settled," Goossen told ESPN.com. Said Golden Boy's Schaefer, "It went through re-arbitration and the arbitrator suggested the sides talk. We came to a financial settlement. Guerrero is a Golden Boy fighter. Everything is settled. The lawyers are putting the paper work together, but everything was agreed upon in front of an arbitrator." Guerrero, a former two-time featherweight titlist, claimed a junior lightweight belt Aug. 22, easily outpointing South Africa's Malcolm Klassen on HBO.
• Former junior middleweight titlist Sergio Mora (21-1-1, 5 KOs), who won the first season of "The Contender," has agreed to terms on a promotional contract, Schaefer said. "We're going to sign Sergio" he said. "If you look at his weight class, he's certainly one of the biggest names. I think there are some interesting fights for him. He went through a bit of a dry spell so I think he's hungry and motivated. He knows he has to prove himself and that's the kind of fighter I like. I think he fits in perfectly. I think we can give him the opportunities." Schaefer said Mora -- who hasn't fought since September 2008 when he lost his title via decision in a rematch with the late Vernon Forrest -- could make his Golden Boy debut Jan. 30 on the Shane Mosley-Andre Berto undercard. The deal hasn't been signed but manager Cameron Dunkin said they've accepted the three-year deal with an option for a fourth year plus an undisclosed signing bonus. Dunkin, who signed Mora in September, said they also had an offer from Top Rank, but Golden Boy's was better. "Sergio wants to be with Golden Boy, and I'm fine with that. That's what we're going to do," Dunkin said. "Everybody is happy. I think it's a good deal. He got a bonus and will get paid well."
• The final live boxing show on the Versus network under its deal with Tournament of Contenders -- the company responsible for "The Contender" reality series -- will take place Dec. 3 in New York after promoter Joe DeGuardia bought the date from TOC. In the main event, junior welterweight Mike Arnaoutis (22-3-2, 10 KOs) faces Tim Coleman (16-1-1, 4 KOs) in a 12-rounder. Also on the card, welterweight prospects Ray Robinson (11-0, 4 KOs) and Brad Solomon (8-0, 3 KOs) meet in a six-rounder. Former heavyweight titlist Shannon Briggs (48-5-1), idle since losing his belt to Sultan Ibragimov in June 2007, likely also going to be on the card, DeGuardia told ESPN.com. DeGuardia said he is finalizing a promotional agreement with Briggs and, if completed, his first bout of the deal would be on the card. Briggs had been scheduled for his comeback in October, but the fight was called off when his opponent failed a pre-fight medical exam.
• Ex-welterweight titlist Carlos Quintana (26-2, 20 KOs) -- who had his Dec. 5 HBO fight with Joshua Clottey canceled when the Kelly Pavlik-Paul Williams main event was canceled and the card turned over to Williams promoter Dan Goossen -- will still fight on that date, albeit off television in a far lower-profile bout. Williams will meet Lou DiBella-promoted Sergio Martinez in the main event and DiBella secured some undercard slots, one of which went to Quintana for a junior middleweight bout. Williams, whose only loss is to Quintana, has been sparring with him in preparation for the Martinez fight. Quintana has also been using the sessions to get ready for his fight against tough guy Jesse Feliciano (15-7-3, 5 KOs), who has lost two in a row by knockout and been idle since April 2008. Quintana hasn't fought since a fourth-round knockout of Joshua Onyango in October 2008, his only fight since Williams knocked him out in the first round of their rematch. "Carlos has to get back in there. He's had his share of cancelations and injuries," DiBella said. "Between 147 and 154, he's one of the elite guys, so this is an effort to get him busy. This is a great opportunity. I think the reason he took the opportunity to spar with Williams is because he hasn't been in with a world-class guy since he fought Williams and it ain't a first-round knockout in sparring. He feels like he's getting back on his game, and we'll see in the fight."
• Heavyweight Kevin Johnson, who challenges titleholder Vitali Klitschko (38-2, 37KO) on Dec. 12 (HBO, same-day tape) in Bern, Switzerland, is determined to bring the title back to the United States, which has not boasted a heavyweight beltholder since Shannon Briggs held a slice of the title in 2007. "Bringing the heavyweight championship back to America is more important to me than anything," Johnson said. "For the entire 20th century there wasn't a bigger prize in all of sports than being the heavyweight champion of the world. Since the Europeans took over the heavyweight division, boxing lost some of its appeal. The average American walking down the street couldn't tell you who the champ is. When I think of great fighters I think of Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson. When these guys were champs, they were icons in this great nation. The Klitschkos are a temporary mistake, and I'm going to fix that mistake for good."
"I'm not going to dwell on the past. The past is the past. This time around, it's a different city and a new and different game plan. To be honest, fighting Paulie after coming off fighting future Hall of Famer Juan Manuel Marquez, I was not taking Paulie seriously and thought it was just another fight. This time, it's personal, and on Dec. 12, the whole world will feel my anger." -- former lightweight titlist Juan Diaz, on fighting Paulie Malignaggi in a rematch on neutral territory in Chicago after Diaz's controversial decision win in his hometown of Houston in August
"I'm really happy I got the rematch. I made enough of a stink after the first fight to help get me the rematch. We are going to clear everything up on Dec. 12." -- former junior welterweight titlist Malignaggi, on fighting Diaz again
"Just like Columbus discovered Puerto Rico hundreds of years ago, Dec. 11 will be the day that I discover victory once again and show the world that I am still one of the best fighters in the sport." -- middleweight Winky Wright, who is preparing to face Grady Brewer on Dec. 11 (PPV) in Puerto Rico