In Praise Of The World Boxing Super Series
By The Way - Weekly Columns
It still hasn't been 12 months since Comosa AG, a joint venture between boxing promoters Kalle and Nisse Sauerland and Richard Schaefer, announced the World Boxing Super Series. Yet, in that time, the inaugural tournament has already delivered some of the most eye-catching nights of boxing in recent memory. And before the highest profile match-up of the elimination contest so far on Saturday, it is time to give the competition the credit it deserves. When the competition was first mooted I was quite excited by the prospect, even before any details had come out. All I knew was that there would be an eight man, knockout competition, with a healthy prize fund and a Muhammad Ali trophy on the line. And that Comosa were looking at running the tournament in two weight classes. Terrific, I thought. By then the Joshua-Wilder-Klitschko-Fury-Parker chat had started. Throw in Ortiz, Povetkin and Pulev and we have the eight best heavyweights on the planet fighting for a prize named after the greatest heavyweight of all time. And down in the featherweight division were the likes of Carl Frampton, Leo Santa Cruz, Abner Mares, Gary Russell Jr, Oscar Valdez, Scott Quigg, Lee Selby, Josh Warrington, Joseph Diaz and Nonito Donaire, with unbeaten, world class performers like Jesse Magdaleno and Guillermo Rigondeaux only 4 pounds below in the ranks of the super-bantamweight class - ready to step up and join the competition. What a prospect. Alas, when the tournament details were released it was revealed that it would be contested at cruiserweight and super-middleweight. My hopes for blockbuster heavyweight and featherweight showdowns dashed. At least for now. But I need not have worried. Because the World Boxing Super Series has been absolutely terrific in the weight classes chosen, giving the spotlight (literally) to the under appreciated cruiserweight division in particular. Let's take a closer look at why. First of all, the cruiserweight tournament was able to add world champions from all four major governing bodies. WBC champion Mairis Briedis joined up, along with WBO king Oleksandr Usyk, IBF champ Murat Gassiev and the WBA strap wearer Yunier Dorticos. That meant that come the semi-finals both bouts would be more than just that: they'd be unified world title contests. And that the final wouldn't just crown the inaugural Muhammad Ali trophy winner, but would also crown an undisputed weight champion - and likely only the fifth person in history to hold all four major divisional belts. One world champion of a weight class. One undisputed best fighter. The way it should be. Then there was the unique draw process. Each weight class had four seeded fighters, and four unseeded contenders. At a glitzy draft gala in Monaco, the four seeded fighters hand picked their opponents from the unseeded challengers. And explained why. Oleksandr Usyk chose Marco Huck, a long-time cruiserweight champion, because he said this was the match-up the fans wanted to see. The #1 seed, the would-be-king, versus the one-time-king. On the other hand WBA super-middleweight champion George Groves picked fellow Englishman Jamie Cox, as this was "the easiest fight." A thinking man. But this was original. No numbered balls in a velvet bag in this tournament. A new approach. And I liked it. And before we even get to the match-ups that we've been provided with there is the events themselves. The main event is a production delight. Spotlights surround the ring and bathe the fighters as they approach. National flags of each fighter are in the ring and anthems are sung. Sure it might look a bit cheesy at times. Actually, that's not fair. It looks great. It sounds cheesy. We could do without the anthems, while in Jimmy Lennon Jr's absence the MCing of David Diamante can be quite annoying. But visually it is brilliant. This is a high-spec production that is meant to look spectacular on television. It has been carefully considered and well executed. It all adds to the drama and makes you stand up and take notice before the main event boxing has even begun. Well played. Very well played. And then there are the fights. Oh dear lord the fights! Okay so some of the quarter-finals were a little one sided. Gassiev and Dorticos blew away Krzysztof Wlodarczyk and Dmitry Kudryashov and Chris Eubank Jr and Groves did likewise to Avni Yildirim and Cox (despite having his moments) in the super-middleweight contest. But Usyk and Huck was a solid match, with Usyk taking 10 rounds to eventually break down the German, while Briedis advanced from a hard fought, rough and ready battle with Mike Perez. Callum Smith vs Erik Skoglund was a good back and forth, 12 round battle and Jurgen Braehmer and Rob Brant also went the distance. Then came the two semi-finals we've had to date. Usyk vs Briedis and Gassiev vs Dorticos. World title unification bouts that did not disappoint. Two absolutely sensational contests. And in the end the #1 and #2 seeds did enough. Their final showdown promises to be ridiculously good. And then we come to Saturday. George Groves vs Chris Eubank Jr in Manchester. Another world title unification. This time Groves' WBA and the lesser recognised IBO belt of Eubank are the prizes. The cruiserweight contests gained plenty of attention, but possibly a lot of views came after when reports of just how good they had been were heard. I've not got any figures to back that up it's just a guess. You see, despite their class, the cruiserweights aren't huge names. Not the case for Groves and Eubank. This is a very high profile showdown that will pile eyes on the World Boxing Super Series' polished product. They have a lot to live up to after the cruiserweight semis, but this is a defining fight for both these men and it should be a great contest. The pressure will be well and truly on Smith and Braehmer when they match up in the final semi-final in Germany in a week and a half. And the contests have all been conducted in a good spirit. The respect between Usyk and Briedis and Gassiev and Dorticos in recent weeks, both before and after fights, has been very welcome. Their conduct has shown boxing in the very best of lights. I fear that may go out the window on Saturday as I'm not sure that Groves or Eubank will be so gracious in defeat. Especially if it goes to a close decision. The World Boxing Super Series has dealt with the boxing politics early. Prize funds agreed. Fighters signed up. Governing bodies giving clearance for their champions to avoid mandatory challengers and take their belt through the tournament. And that has allowed for the best to fight the best. Certainly in the cruiserweight tournament anyway. It is refreshing to see unification fights of real quality. What will happen with the championships after the tournament is another matter. But the winner will have earned the right to call themselves the division's finest. Even without the super-middleweight tourney actually crowning an undisputed champion. And from our point of view when it comes to covering the fights, the clockwork timing is the most welcome addition of all. It is brilliant to know exactly when the main event will start when we prepare to bring live coverage of an event. Being able to plan your day is a nice change to the usual norm of sitting about for hours wondering when the fights will start. There have been issues. Of course there have. The super-middleweight contest only attracted one major divisional champion. James DeGale, the IBF champion, was injured when the tournament began and was never going to make it, but WBO champ Gilberto Ramirez sat it out while David Benavidez and Ronald Gavril contested the vacant WBC title outwith the competition, on the same weekend that the WBSS kicked-off. Jesse Hart, Andre and Anthony Dirrell and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr were other contenders who might have brought more prestige to the quarter-final contests. Cox, Yildirim and Brant didn't really cut the mustard. And the decision to take the cruiserweight final to Jeddah in May smacks of big money trumping the interest of supporters. Yes it is good that the sport is going to a different part of the world. But I won't be convinced that this is a venture in growing the sport. The undercards haven't always been up to much either. Although this Saturday in Manchester seems the best yet, with a lot of good young, local fighters being exposed in genuine 50-50 match-ups with titles on the line. Perhaps they don't want to detract from the main event too much but a stacked card is always a pleasure to watch. Seeing a few women fighting on the cards would have been nice too. But these are minor quibbles. For a tournament that is not yet one year old the World Boxing Super Series has been fantastic. The eye-catching production is a welcome addition to boxing broadcast while the in-ring action has left nothing to be desired. It will soon be May and the tournaments will come to an end. As boxing fans we have to hope that elite fighters from another two weight-classes can be convinced to sign up for the World Boxing Super Series and bring us another nine months of world-class boxing action. Maybe my initial dream of heavyweight and featherweight tournaments will still come true.
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Have you been impressed by the World Boxing Super Series? Would you like to see it continue in 2018/19? And what weight classes would you like to see compete? Let us know using the comments section. Hit "be first/reply" to get in touch. The World Boxing Super Series continues on Saturday 17th February as George Groves and Chris Eubank Jr contest their super-middleweight semi-final in Manchester. You can keep up to date with all the fight action right here on ByTheMinute.co with updates from 21:45 GMT.
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