By Cliff Rold
Horse racing hasn’t seen a triple-crown winner in decades. There have been those who got two legs of the honor, but they fell short of the glory. One argument made as to why it’s been so long, paraphrasing, is that horses aren’t run like they used to be. Today’s horses don’t have the stuff of the old, lay off too much, and are left more prone to injury.
As boxing heads towards the final leg of the Super Six Super Middleweight tournament, one wonders if there is an analogous argument to be made in the sweet science. In another era, twelve prizefights between six men, none of them required to fight more than five times, might have taken place in a year.
Year and a half tops.
Today, it’s astounding when a name brand pugilist makes it to scratch three times in a year.
The Super Six began on October 17, 2009. It finishes up exactly 26 months later having seen eight official competitors and one unofficial entrant. Former Middleweight champion Jermain Taylor exited after the first round following his third knockout loss in five fights. Former unified Super Middleweight titlist Mikkel Kessler and 2004 Olympic Bronze Medalist Andre Dirrell were gone after round two, both citing injuries.
Those stallions just couldn’t make turns.
WBA titlist Andre Ward (24-0, 13 KO) and WBC titlist Carl Froch (28-1, 20 KO) could. Down the stretch they come.
While the Super Six is open to criticisms, particularly because of its delays, the net gain for the sport has been a positive even before the final commences. It certainly could have been better. The winner, whether Ward or Froch, will not exit the tournament as the sort of big money superstar one might have hoped for. Neither will be a major pay-per-view draw.
They’ll at least have a leg up in hopes for it.
Kessler and Dirrell seeing things through would have helped. Taylor always looked like a threat to exit early; matching him with the most dangerous puncher in the field to start ensured it. The loss of the other two, particularly after having given inspired performances in second round wins, was a harsh blow.
And yet the positives still outweighed. Here are six of them to look back on as we look forward to the finish.
1) Structure = 12 Serious Fights
Including the unofficial third preliminary round contest between Ward and top ten contender Sakio Bika, fans got 12 serious prizefights over the last 26 months between legitimate divisional players plus a legitimate Light Heavyweight contender (and former champ) in late entrant Glen Johnson. Were all the fights good? No, but all fights aren’t good generally. There was enough good to maintain intrigue and nothing which on paper ever looked bad. Throw in some upsets, a couple knockouts, occasional controversies, a wild DQ, and two memorable brawls, and the tournament overall delivered when the lights were on. Look at an equally stacked division like Jr. Welterweight. It too has had a round robin of sorts in recent years but the obvious finale, Timothy Bradley-Amir Khan, fell apart because there was nothing forcing them together. 2011 ended instead with Bradley wasting time against Joel Casamayor’s ghost and Amir Khan being upset (albeit in an excellent fight). The tournament framework helped push some of that off. A key element in making the fighters conducive to the structure in the first place was…
2) Room for Defeat
The tournament didn’t structurally punish single losses in the way the sport too often can in the modern era. This scribe’s first piece authored after the tournament was announced predicted everyone would lose, and it was meant as a compliment. Losses happen when good fighters are consistently challenged. So far, only Ward has avoided the prediction; Abraham, Dirrell, and Froch all lost their 0’s. In a world where a single loss can result in lost TV time, all three of just the first round matches might have been tough to make. To be able to make those and feed them back into a strong second round loop, and to end with a Ward-Froch fight without mindless bitching in the press about who deserves more money, is its own minor miracle. One could make a case that, if their injuries were at all exaggerated, both Kessler and Dirrell exited to avoid a second loss. Dirrell was set to face Ward in round three. Kessler was likely heading to a rematch with Froch in the semifinals or Ward in the finals. They still made the tournament memorable in the first two rounds. To the tournament’s benefit, all of the exits resulted in…
3) Credible Replacements
Taylor’s exit was always shadowed by a ‘super seventh.’ Allan Green was assumed, and turned out to be, the player to be named later. When the third round came up two more short, a consensus top ten contender, Bika, was made for Ward and Glen Johnson provided the tournament a critic-proof boost to face a Green who had become open for criticism. It’s easy now, given his lack of fire against Ward in round two, to second-guess Green’s inclusion but, like Bika, he was seen as a real contender coming in. Green was proven otherwise, allowing more cream to rise in determining the best at 168 lbs. Wasn’t that the point? Arthur Abraham might have kept knocking out the second tier for years without anyone ever truly finding out how good he was and wasn’t. Ward might have waited another year or more for big name to face him. From a pool of contenders, we end with a better picture of who might truly be a champion in the best sense of the word. There is one exception to it all and his exclusion is, in the long term, a plus for the divisions. That exclusion allowed for…
4) The Rise of Lucian Bute
When the Super Six was born, the IBF titlist Bute was missing. There has never been a great explanation as to why more was not done to include him. He was easily already one of the division’s top three. His performances outside the Super Six raised his esteem with Bute going 5-0 while the tournament unfolded. His rematch win over Librado Andrade, knockout of Edison Miranda, and lopsided decision over Glen Johnson following Johnson’s semi-final loss to Froch make him the shadow over the field. No matter who wins Ward-Froch, Bute looms. His exclusion ultimately gives the division its future. If Ward-Froch is a great fight, there could be a call for a rematch along with a call to see the winner face Bute. The round robin need not be over and the massive crowds Bute pulls in Montreal play into a selling point the Super Six has had all along. The Super Six has given us…
5) Boxing as Global Theatre
The tournament fights have taken place in the U.S., England, Germany, Denmark, and Finland. Ward’s fights in Oakland, and Dirrell-Abraham in Detroit, all did sound business. Fans have seen so many divisions plagued by regional separation. Look at Middleweight where Sergio Martinez and Felix Sturm have been 1-2 for a while and the fight is a non-factor. Think back to the 90’s and recall the great matches between James Toney, Roy Jones, Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn and Steve Collins; now recall which matches never happened and, largely, why. Fans get excited when regional or national stars can collide every once in a while. The Super Six gave two years worth of it. In the end, it whittled down to just two. And those two meet this Saturday in…
6) Andre Ward versus Carl Froch
The finale is worthy of the tournament. Ward was brilliant in defeating Kessler and has ridden the wave through wins over Green, Bika and then Abraham. Questions about his chin and toughness before the tournament have largely been answered. He took some big shots against Abraham. He went inside and beat up, outmuscled, his draw. Froch, prior to the tournament, bested an undefeated Jean Pascal to win a belt and came from behind to stop a game Taylor. In the field, he narrowly handed Dirrell his first loss, narrowly lost on the road to a Kessler with his back to the wall, and then exploded through Abraham and Johnson for decisive points wins. His last six fights represent the strongest run of consecutive competition of anyone going in the game. While Bute looms based on talent and performance, Ward and Froch have built the resumes that mark them the two best in class for the moment.
Sunday morning, one will awake as the legitimate champion of his domain, already with a hot number one contender breathing down their neck. Without the Super Six, it’s hard to imagine things ending up as strong, as clean, or as enjoyable.
It’s fair to lament what the tournament was not.
With Ward-Froch looming, it’s also fair to celebrate everything it was and, with twelve scheduled rounds to go, still can be. The Super Middleweight world would have been the worse without it.
The Weekly Ledger
But wait, there’s more…
Bantam Goodness: http://www.boxingscene.com/abner-mares-shines-anselmo-moreno-steals-show--46802
Cotto’s Revenge: http://www.boxingscene.com/revenge-revelation-weekend-review-ratings-update--46858
New Ratings: http://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=boxing-ratings
Picks of the Week: http://www.boxingscene.com/boxingscenecoms-television-picks-week--46949
Cliff’s Notes…Watching Lamont Peterson-Amir Khan on television, after originally scoring from ringside, was somewhat eye opening. The referee, pilloried in the press, can be heard warning Khan repeatedly and even loudly said ‘last warning’ at one point prior to round seven’s first deduction. Both guys had their rough moments but Khan leaned on the neck, shoved, headlocked, and clinched while complaining to the referee constantly. Peterson? If he had a complaint all night, it was hard to find. While the point deductions were still questionable, particularly in the 12th, they are at least more justifiable when Cooper’s in-ring instructions are audible. Ultimately, Peterson still led on this card 113-112. A rematch is in order…The California State Athletic Commission has overruled the official verdict of Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson. Hopkins officially resumes his reign as Light Heavyweight champion without dispute. No rematch is really desired but the WBC has ordered one. We’ll see if Hopkins cares to keep his waist green…President por vida Jose Sulaiman wondered at the WBC convention this week why the U.S. won’t use open scoring. Here’s one answer: because it sucks. Consistent judges, not the chance to run out leads, is what boxing needs.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org