World Boxing Super Series: The Best Tournament in Recent Boxing History?
Published: September 08, 2017
The news world for the last few weeks has been primarily fixated on the massive hurricanes that hit Texas and will hit Florida this weekend. This week the boxing world begins its own storm of great fights in the month of September. In California, most of the boxing world will have its eyes set at the Stub Hub Center for the “SuperFly” super flyweight (115) card featuring five of the best super flyweights in the world. On the other side of the world in Germany, it will mark the beginning of an unprecedented boxing tournament highlighting two of boxing’s most overlooked divisions. It will feature the Cruiserweight (200) and Super Middleweight (168), divisions.
The World Boxing Super Series when first announced was dismissed by many in the boxing world. It was thought to be a cheap way for former Golden Boy Promotions’ figurehead Richard Schaeffer to make his way back into the sport after a hiatus. Then the fighters were announced that would be fighting in the tournament. Now the tournament would be taken seriously by fans and pundits specifically the cruiserweight portion. The winner of the tournament if all goes well will be crowned by May 2018 and be given a large cash prize along with a Muhammad Ali Trophy. The tournament being single elimination gives each fight more meaning and that much more pressure for each combatant.
At cruiserweight, you could not ask for a better list of fighters as it features all of the best fighters in the division sans Denis Lebedev (30-2, 22 KOs). On Saturday in Berlin, Germany the tournament favorite and current WBO cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk (12-0, 10 KOs) will take on former cruiserweight kingpin Marco Huck (40-4-1, 27 KOs). Usyk was a successful amateur having won multiple European and World tournaments including a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympic games.
The tournament in total has the potential to be the best tournament in the history of the sport of boxing. With the tournament featuring outstanding match ups in its first round alone, the winner will undoubtedly be crowned as the best in the division. The same may not be able to be said about the super middleweight portion of the tournament. However, the winner will certainly have the most momentum going against any other super middleweight. The tournaments biggest setback, however, has been its inability to get a consistent television provider for fans to watch in the United States.
No. 1: Oleksandr Usyk, WBO champion – 12-0 (10 KO) vs. Marco Huck, 40-4-1 (27)
No. 2: Murat Gassiev, IBF champion – 24-0 (17) vs. Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, 53-3-1 (37)
No. 3: Mairis Briedis, WBC champion – 22-0 (18) vs. Mike Perez, 22-2-1 (14)
No. 4: Yunier Dorticos, WBA “regular” champion – 21-0 (20) vs. Dmitry Kudrayshov, 21-1 (21)
No. 1: George Groves, WBA champion – 26-3 (19 KO) vs. Jamie Cox, 24-0 (13 KO)
No. 2: Chris Eubank Jr. – 25-1 (19) vs. AvniYildrim, 16-0 (10)
No. 3: Callum Smith – 22-0 (17) vs. Erik Skoglund, 26-0 (12)
No. 4: Jurgen Brahmer – 48-3 (35) vs. Rob Brant, 22-0 (15)
The World Boxing Super Series certainly has plenty of potential. Some of boxing's more recent tournaments featured the best a division had to offer. At the beginning of the century in a different era, there was Don King’s middleweight tournament. This tournament was also single elimination with the winner receiving a Sugar Ray Robinson Middleweight trophy along with three of the four major titles in the division.
The middleweight tournament was entirely put together as a way to promote one of boxing’s biggest stars at the time in Puerto Rico’s Felix “Tito” Trinidad (42-3, 35 KOs). Trinidad, at the time, was ranked as one of the best fighters in the world pound-for-pound having unified titles in two divisions (147,154) with 15 title defenses at welterweight. The middleweight division in 2001 was not one of boxing’s glamour divisions, and the tournament was used to spark more interest in the division and its fighters.
The tournament would feature WBA middleweight champion William Joppy (40-7-2, 30 KOs) taking on Trinidad in his first middleweight bout. IBF middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins (55-8-2, 32 KOs) would take on WBC middleweight champion Keith Holmes (41-5, 25 KOs). Hopkins-Holmes ended up being a one-sided uneventful victory for Hopkins. Trinidad-Joppy on the other end of the spectrum was more of a coronation for Trinidad as he pummeled Joppy in a spectacular fifth-round stoppage that shook Madison Square Garden to the rafters. The Puerto Rican became the first fighter since ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard to win a middleweight title in his first fight in the division. Tito mania was in full effect as the hype train behind Trinidad was unprecedented bringing, even more, anticipation for his fight with Hopkins in the tournament finals.
Hopkins-Trinidad took place on September 29, 2001, in Madison Square Garden, a few weeks after the attacks in New York on September 11th. It was the first major boxing event to take place since the attacks, and those circumstances made the fight that much more memorable. Even with Hopkins being the bigger man and the longstanding champion in the division with only one defense away from tying the middleweight record of 14 held by Carlos Monzon, Trinidad was the heavy favorite. That night in front of a packed crowd with almost exclusively Puerto Rican Trinidad fans, Hopkins put on one of the best performances of the era as he out boxed and stopped Trinidad in the 12th round. The victory for Hopkins’ is arguably still the best of his career and certainly his most important. To this day Hopkins has not received his trophy as it is rumored to have been inscribed with Trinidad’s name by Don King.
Almost a decade after Hopkins’ proved to be the best middleweight of his era; the famed “Super Six World Boxing Classic” tournament took place. It featured the best super middleweights from all over the world. Unlike Don King’s middleweight tournament the ‘Super Six’ would not be single elimination and ultimately take over two years to crown a winner. The tournament would feature Andre Ward (32-0, 16 KOs), Carl Froch (33-2, 24 KOs), Andre Dirrell (26-2, 16 KOs), Jermain Taylor (33-4-1, 20 KOs), Mikkel Kessler (46-3, 35 KOs) and Arthur Abraham (46-5, 30 KOs).
It may be hard to imagine now, but when the tournament started in 2009, Kessler and Abraham were the favorites to win. Ward was widely dismissed as having bitten off more than he can chew. During the tournament, Taylor and Dirrell were replaced with Allen Green (32-5, 22 KOs) and Glen Johnson (54-21-2, 37 KOs) due to injuries sustained in tournament bouts. Due to the tournament having replacements and using a round-robin points system the tournament seemed to drag.
By the tournament’s end in December 2011 it had been over two years since it started. The finals of the tournament felt unexpected taking place in Atlantic City where Ward won a clear decision over Froch. The positive coming out of the tournament was the crowning of Ward who won each of his fights decisively after starting off as an afterthought. Froch had the most exciting fight of the “Super Six” against Kessler and would keep his momentum and popularity growing. The “Super Six” was an excellent concept put together by multiple promoters on the Showtime network. It was an event that could be used in many weight classes to crown an undisputed champion. However, the overall length of the tournament would need to be adjusted for today’s generation.
Showtime followed up the “Super Six” tournament by featuring another often-overlooked weight-class. This time they went down the weight scale to the Bantamweight (118) division. The tournament featured four of the best bantamweights in the world in Abner Mares (30-2-1, 15 KOs), Vic Darchinyan (43-9-1, 32 KOs), Yonnhy Perez (20-2-1, 14 KOs) and Joseph Agbeko (31-5, 23 KOs). The only bantamweights missing were Nonito Donaire (37-4, 24 KOs) and Anselmo Moreno (36-6-1, 12 KOs). Moreno would go on to face Darchinyan and Mares after the tournament was over. Unlike the “Super Six,” the bantamweight tournament would follow Don King’s tournament format by being single elimination with three bouts. The bantamweight tournament started in December 2010 and ended at the end of 2011. Perez came into the tournament with the most familiarity with the other combatants as he had defeated Agbeko by decision in 2009 and fought to a draw against Mares in May 2010. The bantamweight tournament had no real favorite when it started as all four men had the capability of pulling off a victory against one another.
The tournament started with Mares taking on Darchinyan and Perez facing Agbeko in a rematch. Mares-Darchinyan was an ugly bout filled with low blows and head butts that was as close as can be. Mares was down in the first round and was deducted a point in the fourth round. Darchinyan went down in the seventh round to tighten up the scorecards. In the end, Mares received a close split decision victory that could have been scored for either man.
The rematch between Perez and Agbeko was completely different to their first bout where both men set records for punches thrown in the division as Agbeko out boxed Perez and won a clear unanimous decision. Unfortunately, the finals of the tournament between Mares and Agebko that took place in August 2010 almost became null and void because of a number of low blows thrown by Mares and the atrocious referring of Russell Mora. Even with Agbeko having to fight two men he did enough work for the bout to be scored a majority decision in favor of Mares. The tournament now had a winner and in winning Mares became a world champion for the first time in his career.
However, little to no praise was heaped on him due to the controversial nature of the bout. Mares was able to rectify the fight in a rematch with Agebko in December 2011 where he won a wide unanimous decision in a bout where he decided to box from the outside. After the tournament, Mares was seen as one of the ten best fighters in the world. A big fight with Donaire never came to fruition. Mares would go on to have ups and downs in his career with fights against Jhonny Gonzalez (64-10, 54 KOs) and Leo Santa Cruz (33-1-1, 18 KOs).
As the World Boxing Super Series is set to begin some television deal hopefully in the U.S. can be made. By the end of the tournament, there should be an undisputed cruiserweight champion and a new star in the super middleweight division. The tournament will be unique with the winner potentially being able to earn at least $10 million. Whether it becomes the best tournament boxing has ever seen will be decided by what happens inside the ring.
(Feature Photo: Mark Hermenau/World Boxing Super Series)