When former super middleweight titlist Mikkel Kessler showed up ringside at Montreal's Bell Centre to watch titleholder Lucian Bute thrill his loyal fans with a dominant 10th-round knockout of Brian Magee on March 19, it was obvious the stage was being set for an eventual Bute-Kessler fight.
It was made even more obvious when Kessler was featured as a guest commentator on Showtime's broadcast and then interviewed about the possible matchup in the ring with Bute after the fight.
Showtime, of course, is nearing the end of the Super Six World Boxing Classic. Super middleweight titleholders Andre Ward and Carl Froch are due to meet in the final this fall.
But Bute (28-0, 23 KOs), who was not invited to join the Super Six, signed a deal with Showtime late last year and needs to stay active while waiting for a presumed fight with the tournament winner. He fights mandatory challenger Jean-Paul Mendy on July 9, a fight he is expected to cruise through, before an expected major fall fight. Then would come a bout with the Super Six winner, if all went well for Bute.
Kessler (44-2, 33 KOs) was in the Super Six, but he withdrew after beating Froch because of an eye injury. His eye healthy again, Kessler returned from a 14-month layoff June 4 (on Showtime) in his hometown of Copenhagen, Denmark, and looked sharp in dismantling Mehdi Bouadla in six lopsided rounds.
So now the Bute and Kessler camps are negotiating the fight. But it's not going well, according to Chris Meyer of Sauerland Event, Kessler's promoter.
If the fight is not made, it sets up a pair of interesting possible alternatives for Bute and Kessler in the fall.
Bute could wind up facing former middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik (37-2, 32 KOs) in November. Coming off a 13-month layoff, during which he was in rehab for an alcohol problem, Pavlik successfully moved up to super middleweight to outpoint Alfonso Lopez on May 7.
Kessler could find himself challenging Germany's Robert Stieglitz (40-2, 23 KOs) for his version of the 168-pound title.
"I am talking to Ulf Steinforth, the promoter of Stieglitz, about the Kessler fight," Meyer told ESPN.com. "No result yet, but we are in conversation, negotiations. Bute is still an option. However, Kessler makes very good money already for a fight against any other opponent, and the offer made by [Bute's promoter] InterBox for a match in Montreal wasn't that spectacular to compensate for a bout of that magnitude."
The Bell Centre holds about 18,000 for boxing, and Bute regularly draws large crowds. Kessler is a huge star in Denmark. His fight with the unknown Bouadla drew a raucous crowd of 12,500, and the television audience was a massive 1.13 million viewers in a country of about 5.5 million.
Meyer said if Kessler fights Bute in Montreal, the fighters will have to share the gate money, instead of each drawing huge gates on their own and keeping the majority of the money as the stars of the show. Meyer also said the Danish TV network that shows Kessler would not significantly raise its license fee for the bigger fight against Bute because it would not take place in Danish prime time.
"It is a lot of economics involved here," said Meyer, who added that he was told Bute was not willing to go to Denmark for the fight.
Top Rank's Bob Arum, who promotes Pavlik, said their side is very interested in facing Bute and that they have already had preliminary discussions about the fight.
"Bute's people are talking to us about Pavlik for November," Arum said. "That's the fight that Kelly wants, that's the fight that [manager] Cameron Dunkin wants and that's the fight we at Top Rank want. We can do it in Montreal or Atlantic City [N.J.], whichever makes the most sense. I would think Quebec makes the most sense."
Arum has done business with Jean Bedard of InterBox and said he believes they could easily make a deal.
"Pavlik against Bute is a much bigger fight than Bute-Kessler from the standpoint of attention in North America because Pavlik is the former middleweight champion and very well-known here. Kessler is a good fighter, but most people here don't know who Kessler is.
"We have a very good relationship with Bedard. He's a real gentleman, and in other deals we've done with him it's been relatively easy because he's a sensible guy."
Golden Boy is close to finalizing an Aug. 27 bout between interim junior welterweight titlist Marcos Maidana (30-2, 27 KOs) and lightweight contender Robert Guerrero, who would move up in weight.
Guerrero (29-1-1, 18 KOs) has signed a contract for the bout, which would take place in his home region at the HP Pavilion -- better known as the Shark Tank -- in San Jose, Calif.
"Robert has signed and the Maidana camp is working a few things out, but I anticipate it will be signed," Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer told ESPN.com. "The winner has huge upside potential. There are a lot of good matches for the winner and the loser. I think the winner would fit in great with the winner of [the June 25 HBO fight between] Devon Alexander and Lucas Matthysse. I just have a feeling that Guerrero and Maidana is one of those fights that could be fight of the year."
Schaefer said Seth Mitchell (22-0-1, 16 KOs), the top American heavyweight prospect, would likely open the HBO broadcast against Chazz Witherspoon (28-2, 20 KOs), who would represent a major step up in competition. Witherspoon, a cousin of former heavyweight champion Tim Witherspoon, has lost only to top contenders Tony Thompson and Cristobal Arreola.
Although HBO isn't planning to televise any undercard bouts from the July 23 Amir Khan-Zab Judah junior welterweight unification fight at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas -- although it might change its mind -- promoters Main Events and Golden Boy have finalized three notable fights.
Main Events matchmaker Jolene Mizzone told ESPN.com a fight between welterweight Joel "Love Child" Julio and Antwone Smith was set, as was one between Golden Boy-promoted middleweight contender Peter "Kid Chocolate" Quillin (24-0, 18 KOs) and Main Events-promoted Tarvis Simms (27-1-1, 11 KOs).
Julio and Smith were scheduled to headline a May 11 ESPN2/ESPN3 card, but Smith withdrew because of an injury and Julio went on to dominate Anges Adjaho in a decision win. Now that Smith, who is with promoter Lou DiBella, is ready to fight again, the bout with Julio was put back together.
Previously, Golden Boy finalized a junior welterweight title eliminator between Lamont Peterson (28-1-1, 14 KOs) and Victor Cayo (26-1, 18 KOs). The Peterson-Cayo winner becomes a mandatory challenger for the Khan-Judah winner.
Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer said there was also the possibility of former junior lightweight and featherweight titlist Jorge Linares fighting on the show.
"The reason they're only showing the one fight is because they didn't have the money and [HBO Sports] didn't have the network long enough that night to show another fight," Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer said.
Schaefer said he hopes to find an outlet for the strong undercard.
"I want to try find a solution to get the fights shown," he said. "If HBO doesn't want to do it, allow us to do it with somebody else. These are good fights and I want people to be able to see them."
Expect fireworks in Wolak-Rodriguez
Star Boxing promoter Joe DeGuardia formally announced the July 15 (ESPN2/ESPN3) fight between junior middleweight Pawel Wolak and Delvin Rodriguez, a former welterweight title challenger who is moving up in weight. Wolak (29-1, 19 KOs) and Rodriguez (25-5-2, 14 KOs) both have a history of action-packed fights, so DeGuardia is expecting another when they meet at the Roseland Ballroom in New York.
"This fight has all the makings to be a fight of the year candidate," DeGuardia said. "You have two guys who continuously produce fireworks each and every time they step into the ring going up against one another in what is arguably the most important fight of their respective careers."
Said Rodriguez, who usually calls ESPN's fights for ESPN Deportes but will instead be in the ring for this installment: "I'm excited to get back into the ring and show that I am a force to be reckoned with in the junior middleweight division. I have a new team behind me and I feel better than I ever have before. Pawel Wolak and the entire world will see a stronger, faster and more exciting Delvin Rodriguez."
Wolak is coming off a career-best victory March 12, when he forced former titlist Yuri Foreman to quit after six bruising rounds.
"It is going to be a hard fight with lots of action," said Wolak, who is promoted by Top Rank. "I expect Delvin will give me everything he's got, and I will be prepared. The fans will get their money's worth, like they do with every fight of mine. I am looking forward to continuing towards my goal of winning a world title by the end of 2011."
Murray-Mitchell winner and Rios?
Promoter Frank Warren said he hopes to talk to Top Rank's Bob Arum about matching lightweight titlist Brandon Rios with the winner of the showdown between Brits John Murray (31-0, 18 KOs) and Kevin Mitchell (31-1, 23 KOs).
Rios first defends his title against Urbano Antillon on July 9 (Showtime) in Carson, Calif., while Murray and Mitchell square off in a heavily hyped showdown that Warren is promoting the same day in London.
"I'd love to fight Rios," Murray said. "He's a class fighter and it would be fireworks between us. I've always wanted him. It wouldn't be an easy fight, but facing him for the world title would bring the best out of me, and I reckon I've got the style to beat him. I'm unbeaten. I've done everything asked of me on the domestic and European stage, so the next stop for me is the world title. Mitchell is in my way, so I've got to destroy him first before I can get to Rios."
Mitchell's only loss came in his last bout, in May 2011, when Michael Katsidis stopped him in the third round of an interim lightweight title bout.
"Smashing Murray up is the only thing on my mind at the moment, and once I've done that I'll talk about Rios," Mitchell said. "Frank is the man to produce the world title opportunities, as he proved by getting me Katsidis last year, so I've no doubts that he could get Rios, who's a great fighter. I let a lot of people down last year, so first I'm going to repay them by knocking Murray out. Then if a world title fight against Rios is next, then I'll do a job on him."
• Featherweight titlist Orlando Salido (35-11-2, 23 KOs) of Mexico pulled off a major upset when he went to Puerto Rico and stopped heavy favorite Juan Manuel Lopez (30-1, 27 KOs) in the eighth round to take his belt in April. Mexico's Jorge Arce (57-6-2, 44 KOs) was also a heavy underdog when he scored a dramatic 12th-round knockout against Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. (20-1-1, 17 KOs) of Puerto Rico to take his junior featherweight belt in Las Vegas on the May 7 Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley undercard. With both fights being action-packed, both being upsets and both featuring boxing's most glorious national rivalry -- Mexico versus Puerto Rico -- Top Rank's Bob Arum, who promotes all four fighters, told ESPN.com he is planning rematches of both fights in Puerto Rico on a Showtime card in the fall, perhaps in November. "Showtime [which handled both original bouts] wants to buy the fights, and we want to put on the rematches," Arum said. "These were two great fights, and the rematches could stand on their own as main events. We want to do it in the big arena in San Juan." Salido plans to make a defense July 23 in Mexico first; the other three fighters do not have plans for interim bouts.
• Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer told ESPN.com that he is in talks with HBO about a date for light heavyweight champ Bernard Hopkins' mandatory fight against Chad Dawson. In the first fight of a three-fight deal with the network, Hopkins dethroned Jean Pascal in Montreal on May 21 to become the oldest fighter in boxing history to win a world title. "Bernard's contract states that his next fight has to be before the end of November," Schaefer said. "We have two dates on hold with [Montreal promoter] Yvon Michel for Nov. 5 at the Bell Centre, or Oct. 15 either in Montreal or Atlantic City." HBO, however, is in a bit of a fourth-quarter budget crunch and may have to get creative with how it comes up with the money to honor Hopkins' contract.
• Featherweight Yuriorkis Gamboa, who was stripped of his title without explanation by the WBA, is due to return Sept. 10 on HBO from Atlantic City, Top Rank promoter Bob Arum told ESPN.com. Gamboa (20-0, 16 KOs), who is coming off a dominant fourth-round knockout of junior lightweight titlist Jorge Solis (who had dropped down in weight) on March 26, does not yet have an opponent. HBO is also airing heavyweight titlist Vitali Klitschko's defense against Tomasz Adamek live in the afternoon Sept. 10 from Poland. Arum said HBO plans to air Gamboa's bout live in prime time with a replay of the Klitschko-Adamek fight. Welterweight contender Mike Jones is also slated to fight on the Gamboa undercard. Arum said HBO would air only highlights of the Jones fight -- unless Klitschko-Adamek was a short fight and HBO had time in the live telecast to include Jones' bout.
• Arum also provided an update on the talks for which network -- HBO or Showtime -- would produce and distribute the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez III pay-per-view fight Nov. 12. "We're in the proposal stage, letting them each know what we are looking for," Arum said. "I'd say we'll know by the end of the month." HBO did all of Pacquiao's major pay-per-view fights until Arum took him to Showtime for his May 7 fight against Shane Mosley in exchange for exposure and marketing from CBS, Showtime's sister network. Arum said that if Showtime gets the fight, CBS would have to be involved again. If it goes to HBO, other Time Network platforms would also have to be involved, Arum said. "Both networks have tremendous assets to make available to us," Arum said. "We're beyond just promoting and marketing the fight on their premium networks. We need to know from HBO, where else will they show '24/7'? Will they show it on CNN? TBS? TNT? When will they show it? Whichever one we go with, we will get tremendous exposure for the fight." The negotiations with HBO are sensitive enough that Arum is not dealing with anyone at HBO Sports. Instead, he is dealing with the highest-level executives at the company.
• Giovani Segura, who has vacated the junior flyweight world championship, will make his move up to flyweight Saturday in Toluca, Mexico. Segura (27-1-1, 23 KOs), who was originally supposed to fight May 28 before the card was called off, will face Eddy Zuniga of Costa Rica in a scheduled 10-rounder. Segura is coming off a dominant third-round knockout of Ivan "Iron Boy" Calderon in their 108-pound championship rematch in April. Segura also knocked him out in the eighth round in their first fight -- a fight of the year candidate -- last August to claim division supremacy. Segura does not figure to be challenged by Zuniga (7-5-1, 1 KO), who has lost three in a row. Segura's bout will not be part of the American broadcast of the card, which is headlined by lightweight titlist Miguel Vazquez (28-3, 12 KOs) against Marlon Aguilar (25-10-1, 18 KOs) in a 10-round nontitle bout on "Top Rank Live" card (Fox Deportes).
• A couple of Top Rank announcements: Women's star Christy Martin (49-6-3, 31 KOs) had surgery in Los Angeles to repair her fractured right hand. She suffered multiple broken bones during her June 4 rematch against Dakota Stone, which was stopped in the sixth round because of the injury. Martin, who turned 43 on Monday, says she wants to continue boxing and resume her quest for a 50th professional victory when her hand is healed. Also, junior welterweight contender Mike Alvarado (30-0, 22 KOs) will return to his hometown of Denver to face Mexico's Gabriel Martinez (27-2-1, 14 KOs) in a scheduled 10-rounder on July in the main event of "Top Rank Live" (Fox Deportes/FSN). Alvarado is coming off an easy third-round TKO of Ray Narh on the May 7 Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley Showtime PPV undercard.
• When junior lightweight titlist Mzonke Fana recently pulled out of a scheduled June 11 mandatory defense against Argenis Mendez -- after a purse bid had been held and the fight arranged -- he was stripped of the title by the IBF. To fill the vacancy, Mendez (18-1, 9 KOs), a Dominican Republic native living in New York, has been ordered to face former titleholder Juan Carlos Salgado (23-1-1, 16 KOs) of Mexico. Salgado promoter Fernando Beltran has notified the IBF that he is not interested in negotiating a deal with Mendez promoter Lou DiBella and asked for an immediate purse bid.
• Cruiserweight contender B.J. Flores (24-1-1, 15 KOs) will return to his childhood home of Springfield, Mo., to face Nick Iannuzzi (16-2, 9 KOs) on July 23. Flores, who now lives in Las Vegas, hasn't fought in Springfield since 2007. "I love fighting here and know this is the place where my roots were planted, so it's always exciting to come back here," said Flores, who is coming off his first loss, a unanimous decision to Danny Green in Australia in November. Iannuzzi is coming off a debatable decision loss to Kayode on Showtime in February.
• Top Rank promoter Bob Arum told ESPN.com that featherweight contender Miguel Angel "Mikey" Garcia, who blew away Rafael Guzman in a fourth-round knockout June 4 on HBO, likely would fight on the undercard of the Nov. 12 Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez III pay-per-view undercard. Featherweight prospect Gary Russell Jr. (15-0, 9 KOs), a 23-year-old 2008 U.S. Olympian, is scheduled to face Antonio Meza (24-9-1, 16 KOs) on Friday night's "Solo Boxeo Tecate" undercard (Telefutura, 11:30 ET/PT) in Hidalgo, Texas. Strawweight titlist Hiroki Ioka (7-0, 5 KOs) of Japan makes his first defense against mandatory challenger Juan Hernandez (18-1, 13 KOs) of Mexico in Tokyo on Aug. 10. Ioka, 22, won a world title in only his seventh fight, stopping previously unbeaten Oleydong Sithsamerchai in the fifth round in February. Featherweight titleholder Jonathan Barros' defense against Celestino Caballero, scheduled for Saturday, was postponed until July 2 in Argentina, according to the WBA, because of volcanic activity that hampered Caballero's travel. Showtime's rescheduled bantamweight tournament final between titleholder Joseph Agbeko and Abner Mares on Aug. 13 will take place at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Golden Boy's Dave Itskowitch told ESPN.com.
"Zab's a tricky southpaw who's won many world titles, but I don't think this is his time. He doesn't have the hunger that I do. I don't think he can take the belt I have off of me." -- Junior welterweight titlist Amir Khan, speaking at the recent news conference to kick off the promotion for his unification fight against Zab Judah on July 23 (HBO) at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas
"I've beat a guy from Mexico, from Argentina, from Africa, and now I will beat a guy from the United Kingdom. Just call me the international assassin." -- Judah, on his bout with Khan
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.