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Unbeatens Calzaghe, Kessler to unify super middleweight crowns

Joe Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler, undefeated super middleweight champions who have been on a collision course, will finally meet to unify their titles and answer the burning question: Who is the best 168-pound fighter in the world?


In perhaps the most significant bout in the 23-year history of the division, Calzaghe (43-0, 32 KOs) and Kessler (39-0, 29 KOs) will meet Nov. 3 at the 74,500-seat Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, promoter Frank Warren announced Wednesday.


Joe Calzaghe

Calzaghe


Mikkel Kessler

Kessler



"We have finally managed to put together this fight, which is a big unification fight," Warren said. "I'm absolutely thrilled that we managed to get this fight together. This is not a fight that needs a lot of selling. It's between the two best in the division. I just think it's a great fight for boxing fans. It's a fight that needed to be made for boxing."


Calzaghe, of Wales, drew a crowd of about 35,000 to his April 7 third-round TKO of American Peter Manfredo at the stadium. Kessler, of Denmark, drew a crowd of about 20,000 to his last fight, a shutout decision against top contender Librado Andrade on March 24 in Copenhagen, and he figures to have plenty of fans make the trip to Wales, where the showdown could draw more than 60,000.


"This is the only fight I want because a victory over Kessler will mean the most to my career at this point," Calzaghe said. "More than the beating I gave Jeff Lacy when we unified our titles, and even more than my win over Chris Eubank, which began my world title reign 10 years ago. I'm No. 1 in the division today and I'll be No. 1 in the division after we fight. Nov. 3 can't come quick enough."


A few weeks before the fight, Calzaghe, 35, boxing's longest-reigning champion, will celebrate the 10th anniversary of winning a vacant title against Eubank on Oct. 11, 1997. Calzaghe will be going for his 21st successful defense as he closes in on heavyweight legend Joe Louis' all-time title defense record of 25. A victory would tie Calzaghe with Sven Ottke for the super middleweight record for most defenses.


I'm No. 1 in the division today and I'll be No. 1 in the division after we fight. Nov. 3 can't come quick enough.

Joe Calzaghe



"It's a landmark occasion for Joe and the history of British boxing where he can tie the consecutive super middleweight title defense record by beating the most worthy opponent on the planet," Warren said. "This is a true world title fight."


Kessler, 28, who will be making his fifth defense, has traveled to his opponent's turf before. For his first defense, he went to Anthony Mundine's hometown of Sydney, Australia, and won a lopsided decision June 8, 2005.


Warren and Mogens Palle, Kessler's promoter, reached an agreement on the fight a few weeks ago, but didn't want to finalize it until it got an American broadcaster -- and the accompanying lucrative license fee -- on board.


Warren and HBO are completing their deal. According to a source involved in the negotiations, they have agreed to the key points, but a contract has not yet been signed.


"At the moment we are still working on that," said Warren, who didn't acknowledge that the HBO deal has been agreed to. "We've made the fight. I think [the U.S. TV deal] will be done. I do hope America will get to see the fight. I'm confident. We're very close to doing a deal and I am sure we will have it tied up in the next day or so."


HBO declined comment.


Showtime offered Calzaghe a two-fight deal, but the Kessler fight wouldn't take place until the second fight in early 2008 because of budget issues.


Warren said both fighters will earn the biggest purse of their careers, but terms were not disclosed.


HBO, which previously balked at the $5 million price tag, likely got Warren to reduce his asking price, which he was probably willing to do because he also announced Wednesday a lucrative deal under which his stable of fighters will box on Setanta Sports, a subscription digital sports network in the United Kingdom.


Setanta got into big-time boxing by offering last month's Ricky Hatton-Jose Luis Castillo bout on pay-per-view. Calzaghe-Kessler, however, will not be a pay-per-view event in the U.K.


"We took the bull by the horns. The new deal with Setanta was helpful in us getting it together," Warren said.


Warren also moved off his insistence that the fight take place Sept. 22, a date HBO didn't have available.


HBO was probably able to increase its initial offer to Warren, in part, because heavyweight titlist Wladimir Klitschko, under contract to HBO and owed another fight this year, likely will sit out the remainder of 2007. That will ease the network's budget crunch.


Warren has promoted many of Britain's biggest fights, including bouts involving Hatton, Naseem Hamed, Frank Bruno and the fights between popular super middleweights Nigel Benn and Eubank. Warren said he thinks Calzaghe-Kessler is the biggest bout he's ever been involved with.


"I think it's probably the best one," he said. "I was involved with Benn-Eubank. Benn had a loss on his record. These guys are undefeated champions. The venue will be jam-packed. It's the fight the fans have been waiting for. On paper, it has potential to be the best one I've ever done. I think Kessler is a really good fighter. Joe is the best fighter I have ever been involved with.


"Joe has a good chin, good hand speed and the better the opponent, the better he is."


The Kessler camp was unavailable for comment.


Calzaghe, the Ring magazine champion, will also defend his WBO belt. Kessler's WBC and WBA titles will also be at stake.


Perhaps the biggest previous super middleweight championship fight was Roy Jones' lopsided victory to win the title from James Toney in 1994.


"I think this is even [bigger] than Jones-Toney," Warren said. "At the time, that was a huge fight, but it was no secret that Toney struggled to make weight."


Toney's weight problems were the major factor in the fight not being competitive. Warren said that won't be a problem for Calzaghe and Kessler.


"These guys don't struggle with weight like Toney," Warren said. "There will be no excuses for the loser after the fight. I think this is without a doubt the marquee fight since the inception of the super middleweight division."


Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.