By Matt Richardson
The worst kept secret in boxing was officially revealed on Monday afternoon at Madison Square Garden in New York City when Showtime announced plans for an unprecedented six man super middleweight tournament to crown one universally recognized champion and, hopefully, build a few stars in the process.
Photos: Ed Mulholland
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“To me, this is what boxing is all about,” said Ken Hershman, the senior vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports. “This is what sport is about.”
The tournament will feature six of the best super middleweights in the world: current WBA title-holder Mikkel Kessler (41-1, 31 KO’s), current WBC title-holder Carl Froch (25-0, 20 KO’s), Arthur Abraham (30-0, 24 KO’s), who relinquished his IBF middleweight title to participate in the tournament, former undisputed middleweight champion Jermain Taylor (28-3-1, 17 KO’s) and a pair of unbeaten former Olympians, Andre Dirrell (18-0, 13 KO’s) and Andre Ward (19-0, 12 KO’s).
There will be three stages of fights: group stage one, semi-finals and then the finals. Each fight will be scheduled for 12 rounds, regardless if a sanctioning organizations title is on the line or not. Points will be awarded after each bout with two points for a win (with a one point bonus for a KO or TKO), one point for a draw and zero points for a loss. According to the press release issued at the press conference, following the group stage, the top four point scorers qualify for the semi-finals with the bottom two eliminated. Semi-finals will then match the point leader against the fourth place fighter and the second place fighter versus the third place fighter in single-elimination bouts with the two leaders from those bouts then going on to box one another in the final round.
The tournament, should it come to complete fruition, is expected to last 18 to 24 months, approximately, with the first round of fights to take place this fall with Froch facing Dirrell, Taylor fighting Abraham and Kessler fighting Ward. No dates or venues have yet to be announced for what everyone in attendance agreed is an ambitious and exciting endeavor.
“I will remain WBC champion throughout this tournament no matter what anybody thinks,” said Froch. “When you’re a world champion, you’ve got an extra edge in your heart, mind and soul and every fight is a defining fight for me,” he said. “Right now,” Dirrell said, “my heart is beating 100 miles per hour. It’s because I know I’m in a blessed position to become the greatest of all time. I’m just ecstatic. I’m happy. I can’t wait. I just know that it’s my time.” Dirrell’s promoter, Gary Shaw, read aloud a letter he received from WBC president Jose Sulaiman insuring the organizations cooperation with the tournament rules, essentially bypassing the need for Froch or anyone who beats from having to defend the belt against a mandatory challenger during the process of the tournament.
“I came here to win and to participate in this tournament,” said Abraham. “Of course, my target is to win it. These are all exceptional fighters, one is better than the other.” Taylor, who was recently stopped by Froch, appeared eager for redemption. “I made a lot of mistakes in my career,” he said. “But I’m going to take it back to the drawing board and rededicate myself to boxing.”
“The past few years have been difficult,” said Taylor promoter Lou DiBella. “But everyone in this tournament starts off with a clean slate. And believe me; Jermain Taylor is going to take advantage of that clean slate.”
“This tournament is a big opportunity to test myself as a world champion,” Kessler stated. “A big thank you to everyone who put it together and may the best man win.” Ward was the only fighter of the “super six” who did not attend. According to Dan Goosen, Ward’s promoter, the fighter came down with the flu while on vacation in Mexico and was advised not to fly for the time being. “He’s very, very excited to be in this tournament,” Goosen said on behalf of his fighter. “This is probably one of the more exciting moments of not only our fighters’ careers, but our careers as promoters. I believe very sincerely that is going to create two or three stars in boxing.”
Naturally, boxing being boxing, there is some skepticism that all of the fights will come off as planned. But noting the cooperation and coordination of today’s event, the people who put it together deserve the benefit of the doubt.
“This is the only way to catapult us back to the success of boxing at the heights we enjoyed for so many years before,” said Goosen. He said none of what hurt boxing in the past would be present in the tournament. “This eliminates all that: no options, no mandatories and no rematch clauses.”
“Everybody’s commitment makes it clear that it will go on as planned,” said the normally skeptical DiBella. “I’m confident this is going thru. This sport needs a shot of adrenaline. This is that shot. This kind of event is what’s going to save boxing.”