WBA super middleweight champion Mikkel Kessler's camp is unhappy about the assignment of local judges and a California referee to his Super Six tournament bout against Andre Ward in Oakland on Saturday.
The WBA might refuse to sanction the bout as a title fight unless the California State Athletic Commission finds judges and a referee who aren't from Ward's native state, Kessler's representatives told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Kessler (42-1, 32 KOs) agreed to travel from his native Denmark to the hometown of Ward (20-0, 13 KOs), the undefeated Olympic gold medalist, for a lucrative payday in their first bout in the high-profile 168-pound tournament.
The contracts signed by each of the tournament's six fighters set out very specific requirements for the nationality of the officials, requiring two judges and the referee to be "from a neutral territory."
Wilfried Sauerland, Kessler's promoter, was told a referee and two judges from California have been assigned to the fight, along with well-known South African judge Stanley Christodoulou.
"Not all the judges can be from California," Sauerland said after a news conference in downtown Oakland. "If it stays like this, definitely there won't be a world championship on Saturday. We have a really serious problem."
Neutrality in boxing officiating has been a popular topic in recent months, particularly after Paulie Malignaggi's loss to Juan Diaz in August in a 140-pound fight that ended with at least one baffling scorecard favoring Diaz in his native Houston, Texas.
The first two bouts in the Super Six tournament adhered to the contracts; requirements of no more than one judge from each fighter's "home territory," along with a neutral judge and a neutral referee, said Sauerland Event attorney Scott Shaffer.
On Oct. 17, Arthur Abraham stopped Jermain Taylor in Germany, Abraham's adopted homeland. Later that night, two non-British judges awarded a split decision to Carl Froch over Andre Dirrell in Froch's native Nottingham, England.
"It's just very frustrating, because we put this in the contract, and everyone agreed to it up front," Shaffer said, noting that Sauerland fighter Abraham didn't have German judges at ringside. "Mikkel Kessler is a huge star in Denmark, and we're taking a huge risk bringing him to fight an Olympic gold medalist in his own backyard. We thought we protected him in the contract, and now we find out it's just being ignored."
Shaffer stressed that Sauerland has no grudges or suspicions about any of the officials assigned to the fight, but merely wanted its contract stipulations honored.
"If it's a close fight, we don't want there to even be the appearance of somebody getting a hometown decision," Shaffer said.
Sauerland's protests have reached the California commission, which is addressing them.
"We are aware of the concerns of the promoter, and so we have been working with both the promoter and the sanctioning body to address those concerns, and that process is ongoing," Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the athletic commission, told the AP.
Heimerich said the commission hopes to "come to an understanding" with Sauerland by Thursday.
Kessler has been the WBA 168-pound champion for most of the past five years. He lost the belt to Wales' Joe Calzaghe in March 2007, but reclaimed it last year and made two title defenses before agreeing to meet Ward at Oracle Arena.
Ward is about to get his first major title shot after a deliberate five-year climb from the amateur ranks. He is the only American gold medal-winning boxer to come out of the past three Olympics.