Judging shift saves Ward-Kessler title fight
Kessler's camp was unhappy this week about the assignment of two judges and a referee from California to the Super Six tournament bout in Oakland, Ward's hometown. The WBA might not have sanctioned the bout for Kessler's 168-pound title if the California commission hadn't addressed the fight's contract stipulations regarding the nationalities of its officials.
The commission replaced one of the California-based judges with Sweden's Mikael Hook. South Africa's Stanley Christodoulou and California's Steve Morrow will remain the other judges, and California-based Jack Reiss is still the referee.
Commission spokesman Russ Heimerich described the change as "a compromise" to address Kessler's concerns, and Kessler promoter Wilfried Sauerland was satisfied.
"The situation is now OK with us," Sauerland told The Associated Press in an e-mail. "We checked the background of the ref, and he seems to be a fair and competitive ref. The fight will now go ahead as planned."
The contracts for the Super Six bouts require no more than one judge from each fighter's "home territory," along with a judge and a referee from a "neutral territory."
The tournament's first two fights last month met those requirements. 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.
Ward promoter Dan Goossen was pleased to iron out the final wrinkle in the biggest fight of his Olympic gold medalist's career. Ward will get his first major title shot in front of his home fans after a deliberate five-year climb from the amateur ranks.
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 in both fighters' first bout of the Super Six tournament.
Goossen still wasn't entirely thrilled with the commission's choice, noting Hook was a judge in Kessler's last fight in his native Denmark.
Goossen claimed the commission attempted to speak with the WBA for several months about the requirements for the fight's officials, but got no response. Goossen also said the officials were assigned nearly two weeks ago, but the commission heard no complaints until the last two days from Sauerland.