It was a regular routine afternoon at the La Habra Boxing Club with the regular guys doing regular training when Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler walked into the gym and was introduced to Librado Andrade and the gang.
“They asked me if I could spar with him so I said sure,” Andrade said.
At the time Kessler and Andrade were merely considered good prospects. Two years later, things have really changed.
On Saturday, in Copenhagen, Denmark, Kessler (38-0, 29 KOs) defends his WBA and WBC super middleweight titles against number one ranked Andrade (24-0, 18 KOs) in a match that pits the Dane’s boxing prowess against the Californian’s pressure style. The fight will be televised by HBO.
Kessler, 28, captured the WBA title in 2004 against Italy’s Manny Siaca. But at the time of his arrival in Southern California before that title fight, who could have foreseen that the Dane known as “The Viking Warrior” would suddenly erupt to the top of the super middleweight division?
In boxing, the 168-pound weight class possesses many elite-level prizefighters from around the world. Yet few boxing fans in America know more than three super middleweight contenders, almost none know about Andrade.
But that one afternoon, when Kessler walked into the gym along with Carlos “Famoso” Hernandez, no one realized that a couple of years later an eventual match up would evolve with Andrade and two super middleweight world titles at stake.
“I never really thought we would be fighting each other,” said Andrade, 28, who now lives and trains in Las Vegas. “He has a good style and has good power in his punches.”
The Dane was invited to stay in California by Hernandez, who had sparred with Johnny Bredahl the WBA bantamweight titleholder at the time. Kessler was part of the Danish boxing team and became friends with Hernandez who was living in the Los Angeles area.
“I invited them to call me if they wanted to come to California. One day Mikkel called me and he wanted to stay in shape and do some sparring,” said Hernandez, who is a former junior lightweight world champion from El Salvador. “We looked around for a gym with guys his size. The La Habra Gym had some guys so we drove over there.”
The three boxers of similar size who work out at La Habra Boxing Club are former WBO light heavyweight titleholder Julio Gonzalez, Andrade and his younger brother Enrique Ornelas. That day all three would get in the ring with Kessler.
Andrade had recently fought two weeks earlier so he wasn’t expecting to trade punches with anybody. But he agreed to go to the gym and lace up the gloves.
Will Trillo, a respected boxing journalist who regularly covers the La Habra Boxing Club, recalled seeing both fighters give 60 percent effort as they sparred with each other as a dozen people looked on.
“There was no war. Neither was trying to prove anything,” said Trillo, who is the senior writer for www.Pound4Pound.com. “They were just getting some easy work in.”
Hernandez also saw the sparring session and knows a thing or two about fighters.
“It was good work for both fighters. It wasn’t like anyone was dominating,” says Hernandez, who moved from California to San Antonio, Texas recently. “It was two guys getting in good work.”
During the last two years the result of their sparring session has escalated into a number of rumors including that Andrade suffered broken ribs.
“I heard some of the rumors,” Andrade says with a smile. “But we both know nothing happened.”
Wayne McCullough, a former bantamweight world champion from Ireland, who now trains Andrade and his brother, said he witnessed the sparring sessions on a videotape taken by one of the gym supervisors.
“From what I saw on the tape it was just easy sparring,” said McCullough. “I definitely know Librado did not suffer broken ribs.”
No matter, says Andrade, “He’s a good fighter and he’s the champion,” he says with sincerity.
A natural athlete
Trillo, who has known Andrade and his brother for more than 14 years, says the brothers began attending the local boxing club merely as a place to pass the time in the northern Orange County town.
“When I saw them back then, they were was always at the pool table or playing around,” Trillo said. “Librado was always a natural athlete who would climb the chain of the heavy boxing bags to the top of the roof. And that roof was pretty high. You could see he was a real good athlete.”
Trillo says he would see Andrade mimic Jorge Paez a former acrobat who trained at La Habra Gym frequently.
“Librado can do backward flips while standing still,” Trillo says.
Little by little Andrade seemed to gain interest in boxing, especially watching his close friend Gonzalez rocket up the standings in the light heavyweight division.
“Julio is my idol,” says Andrade. “Nobody is tougher.”
Andrade saw his good friend battle with Roy Jones Jr. at the Staples Center in 2001. And despite facing a fighter many considered at the time the very best in the world, Gonzalez survived several knockdowns and fought till the final bell in the 12th round.
“He never quits,” says Andrade of Gonzalez.
When Andrade was told his title fight with Kessler was finalized, he immediately sought his friend as a sparring partner.
“He’s the perfect sparring partner because he never goes easy, even if you’re only sparring,” Andrade says.
In the tiny gym located in McCullough’s Las Vegas residential garage, both Andrade and Gonzalez traded blows for several weeks. Now Andrade is ready.
Gonzalez is scheduled to meet Glen Johnson in May 2007, and Andrade is already in Denmark acclimating himself to the area.
“Mikkel is a very good boxer and he hits hard. If Librado Andrade is not in great condition then he won’t win this fight,” said Hernandez via telephone from his home in Texas. “But Librado is a bull and he’s always in great shape. It’s going to be a terrific fight.”
Though most professional prizefighters dread fighting in other countries, Andrade is ecstatic about traveling to Denmark to face Kessler for two world titles.
“I’d rather fight in another country than my own,” Andrade says. “The
people in other countries treat you very good. And I want to see and visit other places in the world.”
Now with the world title within his reach, Andrade expresses nervousness.
For the last three years he fought under the radar of the boxing world until renowned manager Al Haymon picked up his contract. And though Andrade was asked to step aside and allow Kessler to fight Germany’s Markus Beyer last year in a European showdown, he realizes his moment to win or lose is finally here.
“When I began all I wanted to do was win a California belt. That was my goal,” said Andrade. “Now I’m fighting for the world title. This is a blessing to me.”