By Cliff Rold
Can it start tomorrow?
The answer is no. If one is looking for something to complain about, the wait for this thing to start would be it. Like Christmas presents just sitting there waiting to be opened, the possibilities for the World Boxing Super Series are thrilling.
Beginning in the fall, there will also be a super middleweight tournament. The lighter class is interesting but nowhere near as stacked relative to its division. The cruiserweight field features six of the top ten in the current TBRB ratings and beltholders from each of the four major sanctioning bodies.
Most importantly, the men rated #1 and #2 by this site, TBRB, Ring, and ESPN make up the top two seeds in the field. Ukrainian WBO titlist Oleksandr Usyk (12-0, 10 KO) and Russian IBF titlist Murat Gassiev (24-0, 17 KO) could be on a collision course.
Assuming they are joined in the semi-finals by the Latvian #3 seed, WBC titlist Mairis Briedis (22-0, 18 KO) and the Cuban #4 seed, WBA regular titlist Yunier Dorticos (21-0, 20 KO), we could have a dramatic setup. That’s a combined record of 79-0. At least three of them will feel the sting of defeat for the first time, barring a draw.
The organizers would probably be happier if it wasn’t all four of them. The chance for one man to emerge from this field a genuine star, with a shiny “0” still intact, is the best case scenario.
The field isn’t perfect but that’s still not worthy of complaint. WBA super titlist Denis Lebedev (29-2, 27 KO) was absurdly allowed to keep, not even defend, that belt in a losing effort to Gassiev last year. The first alternate, Krzysztof Glowacki (27-1, 17 KO), holds a 2015 knockout win over field entrant Marco Huck (40-4-1, 27 KO). Huck also lost his last fight, and looked old and shopworn doing so, to Breidis.
No need to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Glowacki lost his title to Usyk. Gassiev holds the win over Lebedev. Consider them pre-conception eliminators. The most important thing is we have all four of the undefeated beltholders and a clear path to a rare four-belt coronation.
It’s the sort of thing boxing fans propose all the time and almost never see happen. The biggest question mark is whether they can hold this thing together to the end. In recent vintage, the only major tournaments able to unfold as designed came at middleweight and bantamweight. In 2001, Bernard Hopkins unified the middleweight division in a field with Keith Holmes, William Joppy, and Felix Trinidad. In 2010 and 11, Abner Mares topped a field featuring Vic Darchinyan, Joseph Agbeko, and Yonnhy Perez.
More than four combatants has had issues in the past. The heavyweight tournament in the 1980s saw the lineal champion of the class, Michael Spinks, exit early and cash in against a winning Mike Tyson later. It was good business but left the tournament incomplete. The Super Six super middleweight tournament a few years back ultimately featured eight official entrants and an unofficial ninth (Sakio Bika). Only three men (Andre Ward, Carl Froch, and Arthur Abraham) made each designed date.
A bad injury or other impediment to any of the winners in the quarter or semifinal rounds would prevent this Cruiserweight configuration from hitting the heights in reach. We can only hope for the best.
The best is everybody has something to lose and a few guys have more to gain than they could have expected a year ago. Along with Huck, who was wisely selected by Usyk, all of the unseeded fighters are intriguing stories in the quarterfinals.
For Huck, who once tied the record for consecutive title defenses in the class, this feels like a last stop. Another defeat would be hard to rebound from. Mike Perez (22-2-1, 14 KO) was almost a serious contender at heavyweight and the Cuban has whipped himself into fantastic shape to get to 200 lbs. Briedis selected him for the first round and the fight is an opening for relevance.
The only one of the top four seeds who didn’t select his foe was Gassiev. He will fulfill a mandatory against two-time former titlist Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (53-3-1, 37 KO) of Poland. Wlodarcyzk has won four straight after not fighting for over a year between 2014 and 2016. The challenger has never been stopped and Gassiev has the sort of power to fell anyone.
Perhaps the most fun fight of the opening stanza is the one left to Dorticos. He will face Russian Dmitry Kudryashov (21-1, 21 KO). Both men can punch and aren’t shy about getting their face in the way of punches. Dorticos hasn’t fought since a blistering war with Youri Kalenga in May 2016. Kudryashov has won three straight since a second round loss to Olanrewaju Durodola in 2015. He avenged that loss in five rounds last month.
Will there be any upsets in the early going? Dorticos-Kudryashov feels the ripest place to look. If there are no upsets, then the round of eight is a hell of a beak wetting for what would then be an 83-0 final four.
Go ahead. Look for a reason to complain. It’s hard, even in a sport whose fans can always find a gripe, to feel anything but positive heading into this one.
The cruiserweight tournament would be better if it could start tomorrow. Everything about the wait looks worth it.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]