By: Oliver McManus
With the first incarnation of the World Boxing Super Series coming to a close in the near months, I thought it was only right to look back on the brain-child of Kalle Sauerland & Richard Schaefer but also to look forward at what could be for 2018/19.
To produce a real shake-up within the boxing industry, Sauerland and Schaefer (sounds like a nice German detective thriller) needed big names, big money, big arenas but, most importantly, big organization.
Now that last point may sound a bit weird but it’s arguably the most important because fans and fighters aren’t in the business of waiting for fights to be made and after a while the match-ups themselves lose their hype;
Take the Super Six World Boxing Classic which was rife with issues – I mean first up, that name is a mouthful – but the main issue was it’s confusing group stage format combined with the fact it took place over two years resulting in an unsaleable product.
I’m still struggling to work out how Artur Abraham lost two of his three bouts yet still made the semi-final AND how Glen Johnson only had one fight in the group stages… nine years on and I’m still confused!
Evidently, then, the WBSS needed to promise something far simpler and in a bracket-style format with 8 RANKED fighters per division taking place over 9 months – a simple, easy-to-follow format.
Therein lied the main attraction to this event and the fact that all four cruiserweight champions signed up made for mouth-watering encounters – the Super Middleweight tournament didn’t quite have the same level of razzmatazz with relative unknowns Avni Yildirim and Rob Brant signing up alongside, the only recognized world champion, George Groves with Jamie Cox, Chris Eubank Jr, Erik Skoglund, Callum Smith and Jurgen Brahmer making up the numbers.
Looking to innovate from the start the proceedings kicked off with a draw whereby the four seeded fighter got to pick from the four unseeded fighters to determine who would fight who – putting the power into the hands of the fighter. This produced a tasty clash between Groves and Cox whereas other fighters (Chris Eubank Jr, I’m looking at you) blatantly picked the easiest fight possible (against Avni Yilidirim) although to be fair that was Snr’s choice.
The fights throughout were of a high quality – especially in the cruiserweight division – but the promoters missed a trick in not having the defeated men fight on the following undercards. One of the most spectacular talking points of each fight night was, well, just how spectacular the Sauerland’s managed to make the arena’s and atmosphere’s through, mainly, just incredible lighting and packed crowds.
Unfortunately the whole series encountered the first snag when Brahmer withdrew from the semi-final against Callum Smith on the Monday fight night – too late to postpone the whole event, apparently – and unknown Dutchman Nieky Holzken stepped in to fight the British “Diamond” Champion.
Holzken put in a spirited performance and was far better than many expected in pushing Smith the full 12 rounds although, having said that, Smith was far from impressive but it reinforced the issue that if fighters got injured it through the whole tournament off course resulting in either heavy postponements or sub-par fights. Imagine if Holzken beat Smith – would he have gone on to face Groves (presumably, yes) or would Brahmer have been able to challenge him beforehand. Certainly from a legal perspective I’d suggest he’d have a solid case.
A questionable choice from the promoters was to hold the cruiserweight final between Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev – for ALL the belts – in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. By all accounts it’s set to be the first fight held in the Arab country but garners all sorts of controversy not least because it’s uncertain whether women will be allowed to attend but, also, it alienates much of the Usyk / Gassiev fan-based in addition to the main Western markets for ticket sales.
Let’s be clear though across the cruiser tournament we have been blessed with insane fights starting off with Mairis Briedis vs Mike Perez in the quarter-finals before two barnstormer semi-finals between Usyk-Briedis and Gassiev-Dorticos. You literally could not ask for more.
Rumours already abound the 2018-19 editions of the World Boxing Super Series with the main focus being on what weight division will be featured – it is my understanding that the Super Lightweight and Bantamweight categories will be the two picked by the Sauerland brothers.
Looking ahead at the 2018-19 version it’s unlikely the same level of prize money will be levied at the 16 fighters – a total of $50million was on offer for the two inaugural brackets – with the lower weight divisions seemingly courting less money but that’s not to say we will see any less superfluous action.
The WBSS have worked miracles already but should they managed to put together a Zolani Tete vs Ryan Burnett unification fight – who knows, maybe in Belfast – then they will have truly managed to pull off something special but it’s not just those two who could be in action, Jamie McDonnell, Paul Butler and Lee Haskins would all produce sumptuous match-ups.
Venturing into the super-lightweight division and it’s questionable whether all four champions would enter – far more likely to happen in the bantam division – but the likes of Terry Flanagan, Kiryl Relikh, Adrien Broner, Josh Taylor, Regis Prograis, Anthony Yigit, Jack Catterall and Julius Indongo are all realistic possibilities that would promise to entertain.
Speculation aside though there’s only two fights we need to focus on at the moment and that’s Usyk-Gassiev on the 11th May for the UNDISPUTED cruiserweight champion of the world and Groves-Smith in July, Manchester, for the WBA Super-Middleweight belt.
Let’s get it on.