- Carl Froch v Mikkel Kessler
Froch gains revenge in thrilling war with Kessler
Carl Froch overcame Mikkel Kessler on a career-elevating night, one that saw him become a unified world champion for the first time in his career - while also gaining revenge for his first professional defeat.
The 35-year-old, looking to avenge one of just two defeats in his pro career, showed both his prodigious punching power and his granite chin to defeat the Dane by unanimous decision in the early hours in London. As a result, he added the WBA title to the IBF strap he successfully defended.
On the biggest domestic stage of his career, the Nottingham fighter was a deserved victor on the judges' scorecards - with the three verdicts reading 118-110, 116-112 and 115-113 in his favour.
More importantly, on a night where Tony Bellew and George Groves picked up important career victories, 'The Cobra' gave the 18,000 fans inside the O2 Arena the home win they really came to see.
Three years on from the painful defeat in Denmark, Froch was glad to draw a line under that disappointment - while setting up the tantalising possibility of a third meeting between the pair.
"It feels really good," Froch said afterwards. "The only thing that feels bad is that I had to beat such a nice gentleman. A real warrior.
"It's one [win] apiece. Who knows - you fancy a third one?"
It was Froch who showed the greater intent in the opening round, although both men exchanged formidable punches that promised greater damage to come. But the Englishman's jab allowed him to just edge into the ascendancy, finding the target with far greater frequency than his opponent.
If the opening round saw both fighters feeling each other out, than the second saw Froch beginning to assess where he might find a concluding punch. A couple of clipped combinations really seemed to rock Kessler, forcing the Dane into the fight's first clench - before looking somewhat unsteady on his feet as he tried to dance away from danger.
The third round did not see the same fireworks, but Froch did bloody up Kessler's nose as his jab continued to bring impressive returns. The Dane is no novice, however - six years ago, he fought Joe Calzaghe in Wales in front of crowd nearly three times the size of that at the O2 - and he showed his experience by the fourth, adapting his style to evade Froch's jab and land a few telling shots of his own.
That trend continued in the fifth, Kessler rocking the crowd favourite with a beautiful left hook that made anyone still in doubt firmly aware that this was a real contest. Froch then attempted to make his own adjustments in the next, but it was still Kessler with the real eye-catching shots - testing the strength of Froch's jaw with a blistering right-left combination, moments after being warned for a low blow.
The halfway stage having passed, observers may have been forgiven for expecting a downturn in intensity and quality - but that was far from the case, as the seventh round offered perhaps the most excitement of any so far. Froch got the front rows on their feet for the first time in the closing stages with some crisp blows.
Back in something approaching control, Froch took that momentum into the eighth, shaking off an early stunner from Kessler to land a series of knee-wobbling strikes. It felt like the decisive moment in the contest, especially after he also edged the ninth - likely securing an insurmountable lead on the judges' scorecards.
In truth both fighters looked capable of landing a knockout with one perfect punch, however - so that advantage was no guarantee of victory. Perhaps that was why both men still went toe-to-toe in the tenth; Froch seemingly relishing the chance to keep trading blows. It looked a somewhat risky strategy when a left hook left him scrambling to regain his footing, though.
As the twelfth round began, the consensus was that Froch had a slender advantage on the scorecards. Perhaps cautioned by that warning shot in the 11th he took no real risks over the final three minutes, hiding behind his guard when needed - before bursting into action in the final 60 seconds to deliver a truly barnstorming finish to a great contest.
The final statistics told the story - Froch throwing 998 punches and landing 272 of them, with Kessler mustering just 567 and 178.
"He was there to hurt me on a couple of occasions he did hurt me," Froch added. "But I hit him with the bigger shots and I was close to the knockout in the end. I'm really, really happy.
"I kept at range with the jab all night long. I think the difference was the workrate. I was light on my feet."
"It was really tough," Kessler added. "It's not nice to come into such an arena when you know it's not your people. I gave it my all. It was a very tough fight."
Revenge for one defeat secured, now the talk will be about setting the record straight for the other.
Andre Ward, watching the fight from ringside, may prove an entirely different prospect, however.