BN: It’s been more than 10 years since your last fight – the rematch with Carl Froch in May 2013…

MK: Ten years is a long time, and people come up to me sometimes and they say, “Do you still fight?” Somebody asked me, “When is your next fight?” “Listen, my last fight was ten years ago.” “Ten years ago – it cannot be true.” The 10 years just run by fast and it’s crazy that it’s already 10 years since I fought in The O2 against [Carl] Froch. I can’t believe it myself but still the retirement – I’m happy. My wife [Lea] was pregnant at the time with my first child [Romeo] and he’s driving go-karts now. I’m training some fighters; I’m training myself, not so much boxing but weightlifting and running and all kinds of stuff that I want to do, and I’m in some companies now. Plumber companies, building construction companies and security companies.

It’s more businesses and I’m happy for that. But I’m training people – that’s my main thing. People who want to change their life totally, to a healthy lifestyle. People come with bad conditions, heart conditions. They are afraid they have high blood pressure – all of that – and I will take care of them, so they will change their life totally around. All kinds of training, but also boxing. I tell them how to eat – everything.

I don’t think it was planned [to retire when I did] but I had some hard fights in my career. I was overtraining for that fight. It was a difficult fight for me, because I actually trained too much. Two weeks before the fight I could only box six rounds, and I was so tired and they said. “Shit – your pulse is high, where you have to rest, relax and eat well”. So after that I thought maybe it’s time to take off the gloves. I was also tired of it at that time – to train, train, train, and the older you get, your body hurts more and more. You always have an injury – [but] not a big one.

I also talked to Froch about it – he had the same at the end. Sometimes I miss it – I almost had a comeback a few years ago. Froch doesn’t want to fight me again – I ask him sometimes. “Let’s have an exhibition fight.” He made his nose straight. “Come on, let’s have one more – it could be fun.” Before that I trained for a real fight and I got stung by a tick. I was 90 per cent ready. I thought it would take me like three months to get that shape. It took me eight months. I was sparring Erik Skoglund in Sweden – they have a lot of ticks. They have something called Borrelia, so I had to stop training for two months. I was actually on my way back to have one more fight. This happened and then I said to myself, “Okay, things happen for reasons sometimes, and maybe somebody says you shouldn’t fight anymore.”

We didn’t have pay-per-view at that time [as an active fighter]. We just started pay-per-view – me and Froch again. Still, we had money, so you can’t complain. [But] how is your lifestyle? What house do you live in? What kind of car do you drive? I [also, previously] didn’t want to lay down – there was managers and promoters in my career [not Sauerland] that cheat me a lot. I found out when I was older – I took a fight, and it cost me a lot.

Kessler and Froch trade during their fight on April 24, 2010 at MCH Messecenter Arena in Herning, Denmark (John Gichigi/Getty Images)

BN: Rumour has it you and Froch nearly fought for a third time, after his rematch with George Groves?

MK: We talked about it. He wanted a third fight right after, and I said, “I will take a break and see what’s happening”, and then I wanted it and he said, “Now I’m taking a break”. So, yeah, we didn’t meet in the middle. We need that third fight so I’m telling him today, “Come on, Carl, let’s have that third fight – let’s get it on”. He said, “We’ll have an exhibition and we will not hit each other too hard”, and I said, “You know that’s gonna be a lie [laughs]. You cannot do that. I cannot do that. It will never happen”.

Sometimes I miss it a lot, but I don’t miss the training up to the fight. A new life began for me when Romeo was born, and only 21 months after that I got a girl, Rosa-Lia – she’s seven years old. Now we’ve got a boy, again, named Helios, and he’s four years old. A lot of other things to attend to and to think of instead of boxing. I also train some boxers, [including] a guy called Oliver Zaren [a 23-year-old Danish super-middleweight].

I tried to speak to myself about, “Okay, I cannot only think about myself – I have a responsibility now [as a parent].” But if I’m going that way [to fight again], I have to only think about myself and nobody else. I was afraid of having a child in my boxing career because I was afraid that suddenly I’m stood in the ring and thinking, “What if something happened to me and I can’t see my children and blah, blah, blah…”.

BN: How good was Froch?

MK: He was very good, Carl. One of the best. But it’s so difficult because I’m always asked, “Who was the hardest fight? The toughest opponent?”, and all that. The most difficult fight I had was Joe Calzaghe [in November 2007]. But the toughest was probably Froch. Froch was one of the best fighters at that time, and you had [Andre] Ward, who doesn’t want to come out of his own hometown. He was a great fighter too – he was a mad spoiler, but he was a great fighter. He was great at that – at spoiling you as a fighter. We had a lot of good fighters. We had Arthur Abraham; [Jermain] Taylor. There was a lot of good fighters at that time.

There was Markus Beyer, and also [Librado] Andrade was good. When I fought Froch the first time [in 2010] he was undefeated. All of them defined my career, but there was a lot of media attention on Froch, and we fought each other twice. I never got the chance to fight a second time against Joe and I’m telling him today, “Why didn’t you fight me, Joe?” He said, “No way. That was my night that night. No more [laughs]”. So we’re good friends today; I’m good friends with Carl and good friends with Joe today, so I’m happy about that and happy to share the ring with the two of the best fighters in the world. We can still talk today and laugh about it. Sometimes we call each other. Sometimes you can go a few years [without talking] and I can call Froch and tell him how I’m doing. Last year he called me, “Are you in Denmark? I’m coming to a Christmas vacation and maybe we can catch up”. I meet Joe maybe a little more than Froch because I’m going to England sometimes, and I actually met him in Dubai also. “I can see you’re in Dubai, where are you?” I see them once in a while. Talk to them.

[Froch] deserved [being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame]. He was a good fighter. He was a tough boxer; he’d take one [punch] and his eyes were like rolling around and he just kept on going.

BN: How good was Joe Calzaghe?

MK: Joe Calzaghe was very good. I had a very close fight with Joe Calzaghe. I was at my peak at that time; Joe was a little older than me, so he had a lot more experience than me at that time. I had him. I shook him up in the fourth round. He had a lot of small punches, Joe Calzaghe. He wasn’t a hard hitter. But he was a very difficult fighter. He was changing his styles. I thought I had him but he was changing. “What the fuck should I do now?” My trainer [Richard Olsen] said, “I don’t know what you should do, Mikkel, right now”, because [Calzaghe] was moving around and doing some other stuff. I had a very, very close fight with Joe.

At that time, I was at my peak. But I think he won the fight. But I would also say he had something maybe I didn’t have at that time. Maybe I would have had that maybe one or two years after. I had some hand injuries and all that, but no excuses for that, because it didn’t bother me in the fight. There was a lot of people; it was his hometown [the fight was staged at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium] and that was also a big pressure. I couldn’t hear when Michel Buffer said my name. It was so much shouting, so I couldn’t hear when to raise my hands. It was the craziest experience for me. I was in my best shape ever. I also won the 12th round, and I started well, but he was just difficult.

Kessler and Calzaghe go to war during their super-middleweight title fight at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales on November 3, 2007 (John Gichigi/Getty Images)

BN: How good was Andre Ward? 

MK: Ward was a very good fighter. He was a very good inside fighter. But I fought him and he headbutted me 52 times or something, and nothing. It was a big surprise for me to come over there [to Oakland, in 2009], and everything was turned upside down. I talked to the referee [Jack Reiss] between rounds. “No, it’s okay; you ran [into] each other; it wasn’t his fault.” It was a frustrating fight. So yes, Ward was very good. He was good at destroying you as a fighter – destroying your style – but they let him do that. If I fought him in England, if I fought him in Denmark, it wouldn’t be like that. He would have warnings; he’d probably get disqualified. But he was good. At the end when I opened up in the 11th round. “I’m just gonna fight everything I have,” and then the doctor, “Stop, stop, stop; we have to stop,” and then they look at my eye and it was closed. It wasn’t dangerous for my eye, and [yet] they stopped the fight. And I said, “Okay, they wanted him to win that day.”

BN: So, that familiar question, who was the best you fought? 

MK: Joe, because he was so difficult. I cannot say Ward because it was frustrating – and Froch was the toughest fighter I ever had.

BN: Who would have won if Calzaghe had fought Ward?

MK: [Exhales] I think Joe Calzaghe would have won. He was fast, Joe, and he was good at inside fighting too. But if he fought Ward in the States, Ward would have won. It really depends where the fight is located. Three times after I tried to offer Ward a lot of money to come to Denmark, and he didn’t want to fight me again. He didn’t want to come out of the States.

Kessler and Ward fought at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on November 21, 2009 in Oakland, California (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

BN: How painful was it for you to have to withdraw from the Super Six?

MK: It was not good. It wasn’t good. I wanted so bad to be in that tournament, even though I lost [to Ward], but my eyes – I couldn’t see. We went to a lot of doctors in Europe, and they said there was a nerve that was broken, and it should repair itself inside a year.

It was frustrating [watching the final between Froch and the winner, Ward]. He was dancing with Froch. Playing with Froch that night. Froch wasn’t ready for that kind of fighter. He was too slow for him. He’s tough, Froch, but Ward’s fighting at home. Froch read Ward the wrong way. He should have a plan B and plan C for that. After I fought [Ward] I started training on how to fight him the next time. I was just hoping Froch could win, but he was not ahead on points at any time. It was a great tournament.

BN: Since the eras of Calzaghe and Ward, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez has been largely recognised as the world’s finest super-middleweight… 

MK: Canelo’s very good. He’s very strong; he’s very good. When you see a fighter, you always say, “Okay, if I had to fight this guy, what would I do?” He is so strong, so I’d have to keep my distance. [Dmitrii] Bivol done a great job [to beat Alvarez last year]. Bivol’s skills were good but I didn’t think they were that good. He was a fighter, and he was smart. Bivol was doing the right thing. I would have fought him the same way. Not the same as him, but that kind of strategy.

No, I don’t think [Alvarez is a natural 168lbs fighter]. He should be lower. He should be a super-welterweight. Yeah [he could have competed with Calzaghe and Ward]. He’s taken on muscle but he’s still fast and he’s still strong. He could be in many weight classes.

BN: How much, as a trainer, do you use what you learned from Richard Olsen and Jimmy Montoya?

MK: I have a lot of Richard Olsen and I’ve a lot of Jimmy Montoya. Richard Olsen was like a second dad for me sometimes. I could talk about things I couldn’t tell my dad. He learned me a lot of good fighting. He was also always ready to learn from other trainers, and I liked that about him. He was not, “This I say, this you will do and that’s just how it is”, like all the other boxing trainers are. He was open for new stuff, and so if I had been on a training camp with Jimmy Montoya, “Okay, what did he learn you?” “He learned me this and this and this.” “Okay, let’s do that.”

After the Joe Calzaghe fight I could see I had to change trainer, because I was stuck – I couldn’t learn anymore. I could see Richard – he was always a very tough guy, and actually he died a few years ago. He had dementia, and I could see that already in the Joe Calzaghe fight. “I really don’t know what you have to do.” I said, “What?” So I had to change him after the Ward fight. He was a little scared, and I think the dementia started there, really. Jimmy Montoya, I took a lot from him; he was good.

I have high hopes for Oliver Zaren. I hope he will do good. But the one thing that’s a big problem for them [young fighters] is their mentality. I can see it in so many. They are so afraid of this and afraid of that. “I’m so nervous.” I tell them, “You have to be nervous – no fighter will ever go into that ring not being nervous. If people are saying they’re not nervous, they’re lying. You have to be nervous and you have to use it in the right way”. Instead of throwing too many punches and then being tired after two rounds – Oliver did that. That’s a big problem for the young guys today. They see too much [of Floyd] Mayweather fight, and they want to be like that, but when the bell rings it’s different for them. Promoters don’t want to invest in them too much. They want to match big fights too early. [Young fighters] are so nervous and you have to be a psychologist before they fight.

Interview: Declan Warrington