To nobody's surprise, super middleweight titleholder Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler put on another dandy of a prizefight in their rematch on Saturday.
As in their first fight, an epic battle in April 2010 during the Super Six World Boxing Classic, it was another rock-'em, sock-'em affair in which they both showed heart, will and great chins.
The first time around, it was Kessler, fighting in his home country of Denmark, who won a tight unanimous decision to win one of the 168-pound world titles.
Three years later, with both holding alphabet belts this time, they met again. This time it was on Froch's British turf at the sold-out O2 Arena in London, which rocked with more than 18,000 as they battled once again.
But this time it was Froch, who despite being a year older than the 34-year-old Kessler, looked like the fresher fighter. He looked like the better fighter. He looked like the hungrier fighter. He was the more physical fighter. And he certainly was the far busier fighter.
It all added up to a unanimous decision victory for Froch, who unified two titles and avenged one of his two career defeats in a grueling fight waged in an electric atmosphere at the highest level of boxing. It's fights like this one that make boxing so enthralling to so many.
Although Froch was in command most of the way -- and his fans were going crazy most of the time -- Kessler had his moments, which made for another dramatic affair.
In the end, however, it was clear that Froch was the deserving winner, taking a decision by scores of 118-110, 116-112, 115-113. ESPN.com scored it 117-111 for Froch.
While Froch cleaned up one of the blemishes on his record, he and Kessler were fighting for second place at super middleweight and essentially auditioning for a rematch against the No. 1 man in the weight class, Andre Ward, the indisputable king of the division.
Ward easily defeated Kessler in his first bout of the Super Six to win a world title and rolled through the tournament untouched, including a dominant decision against Froch in the final to unify two belts (although boxing's unseemly politics left Ward stripped by one organization, with another organization creating a second title that Kessler picked up by beating the second-rate Brian Magee in December).
So how convenient was it that Ward, in his role as an analyst for HBO, the American broadcaster of the fight, was ringside? Yes, he was working as a commentator, but make no mistake, he was also scouting and selling a potential rematch.
And why not? He beat Froch with one hand the first time around -- cruised, in fact -- after fracturing his left hand in one of his final sparring sessions preparing for the fight.
"At this stage of my career I'm open for any fight that makes sense. A rematch makes sense," Ward said to HBO's Jim Lampley moments after the decision was announced. "I don't know if it would be in the U.K. or if it would be in the United States, but Froch's promoter [Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport] needs to show how bad he wants it here. They need to understand I don't have to come here. If I come, it's because I want to and I need a reward."
Ward is recovering from shoulder surgery and isn't expected to fight again until at least September, one year after he routed light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson in a 10th-round knockout.
Since Froch's loss to Ward, however, he has rebounded impressively. He knocked out then-undefeated favorite Lucian Bute in the fifth round to take his version of the world title last May, defended it with ease via third-round knockout of Yusaf Mack in November and then evened the score with Kessler.
"He's coming off two big victories since our fight, Lucian Bute and now Mikkel Kessler," Ward said. "It's not like he's been idle. ... It makes sense, and he seems to feel like there was some injustice the first time around, so maybe we need to correct that."
That was Ward being nice, because the only injustice in their fight was that two of the judges had it only a two-point win for Ward.
What he saw from Froch against Kessler should give him no fear if they meet again.
Froch's straight-ahead style is tailor-made for Ward's superb technical ability, although it was highly effective against Kessler. What Ward saw from the gritty Froch was a steady diet of jabs and powerful right hands landing on Kessler's face.
"My work rate, and I was rangy with my jab," Froch said in giving the reasons he was able to neutralize Kessler and win. "I was very, very effective with my jab. I was meeting him as he came in and I was being aggressive with the jab and I was looking him in the eye to let him know when he comes forward I was gonna meet him with punches, and that was discouraging him."
Froch (31-2, 22 KOs) began to bust up Kessler's face in the third round and opened a cut over his right eye. Kessler (46-3, 35 KOs) had his moments, to be sure, including when he wobbled Froch with a clean left hook in the fifth round. He buzzed Froch again with a right hand in the sixth round.
But Froch mostly had his way thanks to his granite chin, which sopped up everything, and his overwhelming punch output.
CompuBox credited Froch with landing 261 of 1,034 punches (25 percent) and had Kessler landing 194 of just 497 punches (39 percent). Kessler, accurate as he was, simply waited too long to throw what he thought were perfect punches. Froch, however, let it all hang out far more often, and he was rewarded for it.
He was hurting Kessler with right hands in the seventh round before they slugged toe-to-toe in the eighth round. But while Froch appeared to be cruising into the later rounds, Kessler came to life and wobbled him with a right hand in the 11th round, his biggest round of the fight.
When they met the first time, the fight built and built until it reached a crescendo in the fantastic 12th round, which was a round of the year candidate.
Although Saturday's fight wasn't building in the 12th round -- because Froch was so clearly ahead -- a desperate Kessler went all-in and they produced another classic three minutes of fury, closing out a tremendous fight in caveman style. Round 12 of the rematch will be another round of the year candidate.
Shortly after Froch had his hand raised against Kessler, that 12th round wasn't the topic of discussion. Instead, naturally, he was asked about Ward, who was standing just a few feet from Froch at ringside. "I'll happily do it again," Froch said of a potential Ward rematch. "That's the other target. I've got a 33-fight career and I've only ever lost twice -- once to Mikkel Kessler, and I set the record straight well and truly."
Then Froch dissed Ward's fighting style because he doesn't stand and trade, and said he didn't know whether there would be great interest in a rematch. He said he would be open to a rubber match with Kessler, but then he turned his attention back to Ward.
"He's the only other guy to beat me, so that's a fight I know I can win," Froch said. "Obviously, I don't think it's gonna be easy. I'm not saying if I fight Andre Ward next I'm gonna beat him, but I could beat him if I get it right. And in England, I get it right, so let's get him over to the United Kingdom and let's get the fight on next if he wants it. Let's do it."