World Boxing Super Series Soldiers On, Even If You’re Not Watching
By Jake Donovan
One week after Emmanuel Rodriguez and Yunier Dorticos were both dragged through hell in order to secure well-deserved victories in Orlando, Regis Prograis and Ivan Baranchyk found new ways to take their respective careers to new heights in separate dominant wins Saturday evening in New Orleans.
The boxing world should be talking loud and proud about each of these four boxers, all of whom have advanced to the next round of the latest edition of World Boxing Super Series. Instead, all were forced to ply their trade in front of near-empty venues and with little outside fanfare beyond the sport’s hardcore due to their events playing second fiddle on their own platform.
So continues the struggles of rallying the U.S. boxing audience around the WBSS brand, a sad commentary as the series as a whole deserves a far more resounding response.
Photo Credit: World Boxing Super Series Twitter Account
Whereas its overseas offerings have little difficulty commanding attention, the four stateside shows to date between the WBSS’ two seasons have featured little in the way of full-scale promotion, which has been reflected at the box office and in TV interest. Tournament handlers appeared to have learned from mistakes made in Season One, with this year’s offering featuring six WBSS doubleheaders rather than each bout topping its own card.
It meant a stacked card in Japan to kick off the series, with regional hero and rising bantamweight superstar Naoya Inoue destroying former champ Juan Carlos Payano in barely over a minute. The show aired on Sunday afternoon in Japan, which meant early Sunday morning for stateside viewers who were able to view on DAZN-USA which has picked up the U.S. broadcasts rights for the entire WBSS tournament spanning three weight divisions.
Despite the odd time slot for a typical boxing broadcast airing stateside, the event was able to command attention thanks to a big splash from DAZN USA presenting its first-ever US-based card barely eight hours prior in Chicago. Through cross-promotion came the extra push the event deserved, and fans willing to wake up a little earlier than normal in this corner of the world in order to catch Inoue and Kiryl Relikh (whom bested Eduard Troyanovsky in a 140-pound title defense) advance to the WBSS semifinal round of their respective weight divisions.
A similarly less distracting atmosphere came of the October 13 WBSS doubleheader from Russia. While wins posted by visiting cruiserweight Andrew Tabiti and well traveled bantamweight tiitlist Zolani Tete over house favorites Ruslan Fayfer and two-time Olympian Mikhail Aloyan lacked action, the advancement in their respective careers received deserved attention due to not having to compete for coverage.
The most significant boxing card of the day would come hours later on ESPN, with Terence Crawford stopping Jose Benavidez in the 12th round of the most watched U.S. televised boxing match of 2018. The spacing out between events meant most in the boxing industry were able to give their undivided attention to both shows.
That has simply not at all been the case for the past two WBSS offerings.
Conflicting telecasts is hardly anything new in boxing culture, but normally coming from rival networks or promoters. In each of the past two weeks, WBSS coverage was trumped by more high profile events offered by promoter Eddie Hearn, the primary boxing content provider for DAZN-USA.
Everything about Rodriguez’ gutsy win over Jason Moloney should’ve commanded boxing headlines. Their 12-round war is among the short list of viable Fight of the Year candidates, and Rodriguez’ eventual well-earned split decision victory setting up a mouthwatering bantamweight semifinal matchup with Inoue, a bout that is rumored to land stateside.
The perfect primer to the Rodriguez-Moloney slugfest came in the form of Dorticos’ brave stand versus a tough-as-nails challenger in Poland’s Mateusz Masternak. Dorticos is never in a bad fight—his TKO loss to Murat Gassiev in the Season One WBSS cruiserweight semifinals earlier this year also garnering Fight of the Year consideration—and his latest feat was no exception.
Unfortunately, the event came in front of a sparse Orlando crowd devoid of atmosphere, and playing second fiddle among the U.S. boxing audience to Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing USA-promoted event in Boston, headlined by Demetrius Andrade’s vacant middleweight title-winning shutout effort over Namibia’s Walter Kautondokwa. DAZN-USA’s core boxing crew was on hand for the latter event, with the WBSS offering on the same streaming platform carrying that DAZN brand only in televised rights but without any of the production value or promotion.
Prograis’ latest hometown headliner on Saturday suffered the same fate.
The unbeaten New Orleans native showed new elements to his game, offering a complete performance through a more subdued attack in dominating former lightweight titlist and still highly credible Terry Flanagan. The virtual shutout win included a knockdown of Flanagan, who’d previously never been down as a pro, as Prograis—in going 12 rounds for the first time in his career—showed that his boxing ability is just as strong as his explosive knockout game.
Much like the forthcoming November 10 WBSS cruiserweight doubleheader airing live from Chicago, Saturday’s show was intriguing in that both legs of the telecast featured bouts in the same weight class. While the winners won’t face off next—Prograis will next face Relikh, while Bananchyk awaits the winner of next week’s clash between Josh Taylor and Ryan Martin—Saturday night’s show very well could have provided a glimpse into the super lightweight finals.
That’s how dominant was Ivan Baranchyk’s performance, completely shutting the left eye of Anthony Yigit who bravely fought on to the point of even protesting the mandated stoppage by the ringside physician after seven physical rounds. Baranchyk picked up a vacant title for his effort, but seemed secondary to his not only remaining unbeaten but posing as a deep threat to Prograis and the rest of the bantamweight field.
Prograis and Baranchyk have plenty for which to be proud, but their moments of glory came in front of a near-empty room in a New Orleans venue that featured a much healthier crowd when Prograis performed just four months prior. This time around, it was DAZN-USA’s only boxing show on the night but from a notoriety perspective paled in comparison to a Hearn-promoted HBO triple header featuring storylines galore—including Daniel Jacobs re-emerging toward the top of the middleweight division following a hard-fought win over unbeaten and longtime training stablemate Sergiy Derevyanchenko to win a vacant title.
The WBSS tournament drifts back overseas to Glasgow, Scotland this weekend. Taylor and Martin will compete in a battle of unbeaten super lightweights looking to land a semifinal date with Baranchyk, while Ryan Burnett and former four-division champ Nonito Donaire meet with the winner to face Tete in the bantamweight semifinals.
One week later will come the cruiserweight doubleheader at UIC Pavilion in Chicago, where the winners between Mairis Breidis-Noel Gevor and Krzysztof Glowacki-Maksim Vlasov will collide early next year in the cruiserweight semifinals. A swarm of tickets still remain for the show, with barely a ripple of news having come of the event since the batch of stories that followed its initial announcement more than a month ago.
The good news for stateside viewers is that the November 10 cruiserweight show doesn’t have any competition on the dial. However, the most significant show of the day—and even of the division, for that matter—will come earlier from London.
That’s when World cruiserweight king and WBSS Season One winner Oleksandr Usyk will face Tony Bellew, also to be carried on DAZN, and to feature the platform’s primary crew and leading promoter. Their event—which in fairness is a massive one—has already benefited from live cross-promotion in each of the first two DAZN-USA live streams.
Nothing even remotely close has been afforded to any of the six Season Two WBSS telecasts. Suffering the most has been the (lack of) promotion for the five past and forthcoming stateside shows between the two seasons, all of which deserve a much better fate.