Although WBA super middleweight champion Mikkel Kessler is the most popular fighter in his native Denmark, he now he wants to become one of the most popular and famous fighters in the world.
The 27-year-old Dane, 37-0 (28 KOS), will take the first step in that direction when he fights a unification bout against the 35-year-old WBC titlist Markus Beyer, 34-2-1 (13 KOS), of Germany at Copenhagen’s 42,000-seat Parken Stadium on October 14.
From the looks of things the stadium will be sold out, with nearly all of the fans rooting for the hometown hero. While the prospect of such a big turnout thrills Kessler, his long-term plan is to become as big in the United States—and beyond—as he is in Denmark right now.
He has already proven he has what it takes to be a world champion in more than name only.
In the first defense of the title he won in Copenhagen with an eighth round TKO of Puerto Rican Manny Siaca in November 2004, he traveled to Sydney, Australia, to defeat local hero Anthony Mundine by unanimous decision.
Mundine is as popular in Australia as Kessler is in Denmark, so the man known as the Viking Warrior is obviously adept at balancing the dual roles of hometown hero or conquering visitor.
With today’s super middleweight champions and top contenders hailing from around the globe, that adaptability and willingness to take his act on the road puts the seemingly unflappable 6’1” Kessler at a big advantage.
“I am the world champion, and I will fight anyone, anywhere,” said Kessler. “I was willing to go to Australia, so there is no reason not to go anywhere else.”
“Kessler is the real deal,” added Mike Marley, his United States publicist. “He has already beaten fighters from all over the world. He was calling out Jeff Lacy long before Joe Calzaghe beat him. He saw the same thing in Lacy that Calzaghe did, and would have liked to be the first person to beat him.”
Besides Mundine and Siaca, Kessler has also beaten such championship caliber opponents as Eric Lucas (TKO 10), Julio Cesar Green (KO 1), and Dingaan Thobela (W 12).
Marley believes that Kessler’s movie star looks and charmingly intelligent demeanor, which reportedly had a number of female television executives swooning when he recently passed through the United States on a business/pleasure trip with his promoter, Danish legend Mogens Palle, gives him superstar potential.
Marley recalls one such executive from the television show “The Contender,” where Kessler gave a pep talk to the participants, telling him, “This guy could be the David Beckham of boxing. Find out if he has an older brother.
“He’s ready to take the United States by storm,” continues Marley. “Once he’s on HBO or Showtime, he’ll be the new Oscar De La Hoya.”
Assuming that Kessler beats Beyer, he will be seeking lucrative, high-profile bouts with Calzaghe, a fellow super middleweight titlist with a record of 41-0 (31 KOS), or even the comebacking Roy Jones Jr.
Any of those fights, however, will only occur after he makes a mandatory defense against the very tough Librado Andrade, 23-0 (17 KOS), a transplanted Mexican who lives and fights out of northern California.
But as big of a fan of Kessler as Marley is, he says that Kessler is smart enough to not put the cart before the horse against Beyer.
“Beyer comes to fight and he knows this could be his last hurrah,” said Marley. “Even though the fight is going to be in Denmark, there will be German flags everywhere. Plus the fight will be on German TV, which is the only entity in the world that spends as much, if not more, money on boxing than HBO. Beyer is fighting for God and country, so Mikkel is expecting a big test from him.”
Kessler has made no secret his desire to fight Calzaghe. While numerous world titles would be on the line, the all-European appeal would make it one of the biggest fights in that continent’s history. According to Marley, the only thing preventing that fight from happening is Calzaghe.
“The Calzaghe fight will be made if Calzaghe wants it,” said Marley. “If he doesn’t there are other routes to go. Since Mikkel beat Mundine in Australia, Mundine went out and beat Danny Green in what was the biggest fight in Australian history.
“Now that Mundine has restored some of his credibility (by beating Green), he and Mikkel could probably draw 60,000 people outdoors in Sydney for a rematch.”
Marley says that between Kessler’s work ethic and his promoter’s acumen, the fighter couldn’t be in a better place.
“Mogens definitely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame,” said Marley. “Although Denmark is a country of only 5.2 million people, he has single-handedly kept boxing alive there for 50 years. The only people who are arguably more successful than him in Europe are Frank Warren and Mickey Duff. But they operated out of England, which was a much bigger country.”
When Kessler first began boxing as a teenager, he was studying to become a Mercedes Benz mechanic. He had tried his hand at soccer and martial arts, but says that those sports did not stimulate him in the least.
The first time he laced on boxing gloves, however, he was hooked. He began roaring through the amateur ranks and quickly won the Danish, Norwegian and Scandinavian championships.
When he turned pro at the age of 19, he was sparked not only by his success as an amateur but by an immeasurable belief in his own abilities.
Those beliefs were only enhanced when he spent time with boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard during his recent junket to the United States.
“He is a great fighter, a smart businessman, and a great host,” said the immensely likeable Kessler. “He gave me great advice, on fighting as well as conducting myself as a champion outside of the ring.”
Leonard, who is as good a judge of talent as he was a fighter, was also duly impressed with Kessler.
“He has good punching and boxing skills,” said Leonard. “He is also good looking and has a nice personality. He could really capture the imagination of the American public.”