Is the ‘World Boxing Super Series’ cruiserweight tourney too good to be true?
Over-promise and under-deliver: This is the unfortunate legacy of many boxing events (Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Conor McGregor seems destined for that distinction) but this is definitely not the case for the “World Boxing Super Series” cruiserweight tourney. It should be pointed out when a boxing entity goes beyond expectations in fulfilling its, and, by extension, our expectations. Not only has the tourney amassed the four reigning world titleholders, it incorporated the two most feared punchers in the division, as well. All eight boxers are or have been rated in THE RING Magazine Top 10, and a wild card was thrown in when former Top 10-rated Cuban heavyweight Mike Perez moved down in weight to participate in this one-of-a-kind tourney. Simply put, the WBSS has delivered in spectacular fashion.
After heaping all that praise in the outset, I will not overlook the one notable absentee in Russian destroyer Denis Lebedev. However, Lebedev was just unseated as IBF champion by Murat Gassiev, who is part of the competition. Other than that omission, it is hard to argue against any of the eight men included, plus the Gassiev-Lebedev bout could be seen as an elimination fight like the Chris Eubank Jr.-Arthur Abraham bout was for the WBSS’s super middleweight tourney. Importantly, at its conclusion, the WBSS tourney will deliver one true, unified world champion in an exciting single-elimination format. This was their stated goal at the outset but never a promise the Comosa AG (a company solely established to fund the first Muhammad Ali Trophy winner) made.
There were many skeptics who believe this tourney would fail or that the new company could not bring divergent interests and promoters together. Ringstar Sports founder and CEO Richard Schaefer (controversial former CEO of Golden Boy Promotions) was happy to silence the naysayers, telling England’s Boxing News magazine. “Initially fighters, their managers, their promoters are a bit skeptical about it as well. I think, as we moved forward, and we delivered what we said we would deliver, and the fighters and their managers saw the quality of the presentations and everything on offer – and let’s face it: The money involved as well – they embraced it quickly. I wouldn’t say it was easy. It was a lot of hard work getting these contracts signed. It was a long process but I wouldn’t say it was a very difficult process.”
The cruiserweight division can easily be called one of the most exciting and competitive weight classes for the last decade, stocked with ethnic and international diversity like few others. The only drawback for fans on this side of Atlantic is there is not an American participant but that is to be expected, since the cruiserweight division has been dominated by Europe over the past two decades. Besides, should the tournament deliberately weaken itself for a token American, who would have been eliminated after the first round? Miami-based Cuban Yunier Dorticos does have North American roots, and is a dark horse of whom few are aware except for his sparkling 21-0 record with 20 stoppages.
This tourney has the global appeal of resembling the knockout stage of a World Cup soccer event, if the organizers ensure the entire global market is represented. This is not a bad start for what the organization promises will be a yearly affair. In the future, whenever possible, they should guarantee a boxer from South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Mexico and the United States as part of the pool to stir interest in those regions. It is very good timing for this tourney in America, as the stigma of foreign-based boxers has reasonably lessened with personalities like WBO welterweight beltholder Manny Pacquiao, IBF/WBA/WBC middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin, IBF/WBA heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua and WBO junior lightweight titlist Vasyl Lomachenko emergent, as bona fide attractions of the sport in the U.S. of A.
The WBSS bracket-style elimination tourney is ideal: A knockout tournament in a knockout sport combines the theatric with the emphatic. The tourney also made itself unique by affording the Top 4 seeded boxers to choose their first foes, with the first two fights finding dates in Germany and Lativa, this September. At the tourney draft selection gala, televised and held in the glamour environs of a Monaco casino, the first four bouts were unveiled.
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)
Also present at the ceremony was the exquisite Muhammad Ali Trophy, which will be given to the winner of the competition and is already heralded as the greatest prize in boxing by the promoters. Truthfully, they might not be far off, in that estimation, given the beauty and value of the trophy.
The eight cruiserweights comprise the four reigning world champions, as well as two former champions and a strong challenger crop that is cemented by two knockout artists in Dorticos and Kudrayshov. They will face each other in what can only be called an impactful clash! Olympic gold medal winner Oleksandr Usyk, the first seed, chose a mouthwatering foe with Marco Huck (at the Max Schmeling Halle, Berlin on September 9). Unfortunately, second seed Murat Gassiev did not get to pick an opponent because he has to face mandatory IBF challenger Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, who is part of the competition, making it an easy match to arrange. Everyone exited the casino with as much money with which they came in, and happy about their opening bouts.
Schaefer, Chairman of the Americas portion for the tourney, made lavish comparisons. “I did a lot of big fights with Floyd Mayweather but I have never seen something like the World Boxing Super Series. The Muhammad Ali Trophy will elevate boxing to the next level and please fans around the world. The Draft Gala was a dramatic start and we really look forward to September, when the real action starts.” The two fighters who square off first are promising a thrilling start. Usyk said he picked Huck precisely because Huck has a hard-earned reputation for exciting fights. Huck was surprisingly happy as well, “This is my wish opponent. People say he is really good – an Olympic and world champion – but we will see when he gets in the ring with me.”
Even the moneymen who are funding the tourney were happy, Roberto Dalmiglio (Head of Management Board for this tourney) was euphoric on the buildup and outcome of the draft, “There could not have been a more exciting start to the World Boxing Super Series. This tournament will change the face of boxing because it pits the best against the best in a fan-friendly way. The fans will get to see a lot of exciting fights in a very short time. Something like this has never been done before. We promised the best fighters out there and, today, we brought them all together live on stage, in the stunning setting of the Grimaldi Forum.”
Elite European promoter Kalle Sauerland, Chief Boxing Officer of the tourney, echoed his partner’s assessment. “The last couple of days have been filled with intriguing discussions and speculations about the picks. The waiting is finally over and we are proud to present eight amazing fights. The inaugural season of the World Boxing Super Series will feature nine undefeated fighters, seven belts, five world champions and three former champions. To see all those stars on one stage was incredible, and it will be even more exciting to see all of them in the ring in September and October. There will not be a dull moment (for) the Muhammad Ali Trophy.”
Of course, the bottom line for the boxers (besides laurels and thrill of competition) is the potential of a very large winner’s purse. Schaefer addressed the obvious, “This is big money, a $50,000,000 pot for the boxers to fight over, and this is a big tournament. It is the greatest tournament.” Schaefer reiterated his belief in the style and scope of the tourney, “The cruiserweights have, time and time again, thrown up thrilling contests but nobody has ever pitted the top fighters against each other in a fan-friendly, easy-to-understand way, within a short period of time. Our revolutionary KO tournament will take less than a year and deliver the crème de la crème, with a blend of past, present and future from the world’s finest fighters.”