by David P. Greisman
We began Showtime’s “Super Six” super middleweight tournament about a year and a half ago with six fighters and the promise of 12 fights between them.
Not everything went as planned.
Three of the original contestants dropped out. One fight got called off. We’ve now had eight fighters and a total of 10 fights, and we have one final bout left to go.
We are still where we wanted to be.
In Andre Ward and Carl Froch, the two finalists have earned recognition as two of the three best fighters in the 168-pound division. The winner of their fight will then be one of the two best, with a mandate to face the other, Lucian Bute, and momentum carrying them toward that very bout.
We’re not there yet – and lord knows Murphy’s Law could strike again – but we’re close enough to summarize the successes and lessons of the “Super Six.”
1. The tournament brought us fights we otherwise might never have seen.
Location. Money. Ego.
Those are three significant obstacles that can get in the way of the best fighting the best.
Boxers who have world titles and who pack in crowds at home often seem less willing to leave the comforts of home behind, whether they are heading to enemy territory or a neutral battleground.
They will bicker over who deserves the lion’s share of the money, and they will bristle over whether the prospective opponent deserves a shot.
There was still some bristling, but the Super Six brought us Mikkel Kessler and Arthur Abraham traveling to California to face Andre Ward; Andre Dirrell going to Nottingham in the United Kingdom to challenge Carl Froch; and Froch fighting Kessler in his native Denmark and meeting Abraham and Glen Johnson at neutral sites in Finland and the United States.
Andre Ward faced Kessler, Allan Green and Abraham and will now fight Froch. Kessler fought Ward and Froch. And Froch fought Dirrell, Kessler, Abraham and Glen Johnson en route to the final bout with Ward.
How often do top fighters face that many other top fighters in such a short span?
2. The “Super Six” format is better than a single-elimination tournament.
It took all sorts of logistical planning and massaging of egos and negotiating to make this tournament happen. The format of the “Super Six” helped make it happen.
The tournament promised a round-robin style opening, with three “group stage” fights. That way, fighters and promoters could compromise when it came to location, money and ego – there were at least three guaranteed paydays, and a loss wouldn’t necessarily derail a boxer’s career.
Andre Dirrell lost to Carl Froch in an aesthetically ugly and controversial fight, but he came back to impress against Arthur Abraham. Froch lost to Kessler but put together a string of victories afterward to prove that he belongs in the tournament final.
Dirrell might never have been seen on television again after the Froch travesty; this format allowed a chance to redeem himself. Froch’s close loss to Kessler generally would’ve sent him into a prolonged battle back into contention and the title picture. Instead, he has remained in the spotlight and quickly climbed back up the ladder.
We praise the unofficial round robin that we got in the ‘80s with the “Four Kings,” Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran. This tournament tightened up the timing and gave the super middleweight division a storyline, structure and direction.
3. A “Super Six”-style tournament probably won’t happen again.
All the planning and massaging and negotiating that proved so necessary could scare away potential sequels.
It’s a lot to ask fighters to tie up the next two years of their careers and to face potentially difficult challenges back to back to back (and, for those moving on past the group stage, up to five hard fights in a row).
It’s still cleaner to set up a tournament in the manner of Showtime’s recent bantamweight tournament: four fighters, single elimination. Though such a setup means first-round losers might unfairly be written off as not among the best in their weight class, the planning is admittedly easier and the tournament concludes quicker.
4. The tournament sorted the wheat from the chaff.
Arthur Abraham was considered an early a favorite but fizzled out after three straight losses. Jermain Taylor’s knockout loss to Abraham in the opening stage of the tournament sent him packing. Mikkel Kessler was the de facto number-one guy at super middleweight entering the tournament, only to lose to Andre Ward in his first bout. Though Kessler followed up with a victory in a battle against Carl Froch, he subsequently dropped out with an injury.
In Kessler’s absence, the man he beat, Froch, has leapfrogged ahead of him in the 168-pound rankings. Ward, who started as a prospect who still needed to prove himself as a professional, has gone undefeated and become the clear favorite to win the tournament.
Ward’s and Froch’s accomplishments have brought clarity where there could’ve been chaos. Each has earned his acclaim. The winner of their fight will stake his claim to the top spot at super middleweight, awaiting a bout with Bute to name the true champion.
This tournament could’ve been derailed with the withdrawals of Taylor, Kessler and Dirrell. The organizers planned for those contingencies, and the tournament continued.
And it helps that the conclusion will be Ward vs. Froch, a fight between two of the original contestants – and the two fighters with the most impressive accomplishments in the past year and a half.
The 10 Count
1. Not sure whether one thing is related to the other, but Oscar De La Hoya, who recently entered rehab, has issued two significant apologies.
He’d apologized to Bob Arum of Top Rank through a couple of posts on Twitter – though it’s not yet clear whether the “cold war” between the two promoters will thaw and lead to them working together again – and he’s also apologized to Manny Pacquiao for implying that Pacquiao has used performance-enhancing drugs.
Pacquiao settled his defamation lawsuit against Golden Boy Promotions executives De La Hoya and Richard Schaefer, according to a news release sent out last week. The terms of the settlement are confidential.
“Richard Schaefer and Oscar De La Hoya, on behalf of themselves and Golden Boy Promotions, wish to make it crystal clear that we never intended to claim that Manny Pacquiao has used or is using any performance enhancing drugs, and further state that we do not have any evidence whatsoever of such use,” read a statement in the news release.
“Manny Pacquiao is one of the greatest fighters of all time, and we apologize if anyone construed our prior remarks as in any way claiming or even suggesting that Manny uses or has used performance enhancing drugs.”
The defamation lawsuit against Floyd Mayweather Jr. is still active, however.
2. Does this settlement go down as a knockout victory for Pacquiao, or a decision?
3. Speaking of accusations and implications:
First Shane Mosley sets off a firestorm via Twitter by implying that he thinks Manny Pacquiao is on performance-enhancing drugs – and then denying that such an implication was ever his intention.
Now Andre Berto has followed suit. Not a good run for welterweights coming off losses.
Last week, Berto put up this string of tweets:
“Yo this is the main question I get from fans and boxing people. Did they drug test Ortiz? Let me clear the air now!! [You’re] right there is a reason why Ortiz had so much energy, a reason he could take my heavy shots and keep ticking.
“[And] there is a reason why he came into the ring [at] 165 pounds. I know people close to him and his camp and I know exactly [what] he was taking it wasn’t Flintstone vitamins!! But it is what it is. I should [have] beat him anyways but it wasn’t me that night. Ortiz wasn’t him either.”
After seven hours of being raked over the coals, he came back with this:
“Wow why does everyones mind go straight to PEDs. Calm down everyone I was just talking about Ortiz eating his spinach like popeye lol. He wanted to be strong on fight night. I know the lil dude at Whole Foods who hooks him up.”
BoxingScene’s own Lem Satterfield got Berto on the phone and sought an explanation. Here’s what Berto said:
“Man, there were no accusations at all, man. He came to fight and he was the better man that night. That's it. What did I say? Tell me what did I say? Did I say that this guy was on this or that? What did I say? I didn't say that.
“But like I said, it really doesn't matter. He came in there and he fought and he won, and I'm going to get back in there and it still looks like that there is a possibility of a rematch soon, so, we'll see what happens."
In other words: I’m not saying that Ortiz was on performance enhancing drugs, but I am bringing up drug tests and connecting that with Ortiz’s toughness and stamina. But I’m not saying anything…
You don’t get to hide behind semantics when making excuses and allegations.
4. April 16, 2011: Andre Berto loses to Victor Ortiz.
June 1, 2011: Berto implies that Ortiz had an illicit advantage for their fight.
Six weeks and four days between those. Forty-six days! What next?
July 10, 2011: Berto blames disgraced NBA ref Tim Donaghy for his loss to Ortiz.
Aug. 25, 2011: Berto blames the corrupt French figure skating judge from the 2002 Olympics for his loss to Ortiz.
Oct. 10, 2011: Berto blames a pre-fight meal of banku and beef stew for his loss to Ortiz.
5. It’s hard to blame a top fighter for looking for reasons why he lost. He thinks of himself as being among the best and, until then, hadn’t had anyone prove him otherwise. Following a defeat, he must reconcile himself with a new reality.
That should be done privately. And ultimately it should end with a conclusion of “I’m still real good, but there are improvements I can make.”
Berto started with that in his interview with Satterfield, noting that he’d gone out of the country to clear his head. “I’m my biggest critic,” Berto told Satterfield. “I’m just, you know, very disappointed in my performance and the fact that I didn’t really show up the way that I normally do.”
Berto will be criticized now, but he deserves another chance to prove himself. After all, there once was a time when Victor Ortiz was written off following his loss to Marcos Maidana.
6. The revelation in Showtime’s “Fight Camp 360” epilogue that Shane Mosley wanted to quit following the 10th round of his fight with Manny Pacquiao is an interesting piece of information, though not at all a devastating one.
Mosley has already been maligned by fans and pundits for his performance against Pacquiao, especially as it was a bout in which he seemed more intent on surviving and incapable of doing anything to bring himself to victory.
A quick teaser clip released last week didn’t help. It showed Mosley asking his trainer, Naazim Richardson, to stop the fight and telling Richardson that he couldn’t move. Richardson talked him through it and sent him back out.
A boxer wanting to quit isn’t the worst thing in the world, no matter how much we expect all boxers to be Arturo Gatti and take shot after shot and go out on their shields.
Sometimes it’s just not your night. Julio Cesar Chavez isn’t defined by his remaining on the stool against Oscar De La Hoya. Miguel Cotto didn’t deserve criticism for taking a knee against Antonio Margarito either.
If Mosley were running a marathon and had blisters on his feet, it’d be okay to quit then, too.
Did Arturo Gatti fight on with a broken hand? Yep. Same for Paulie Malignaggi. But in-fight woes should be judged case by case, fighter by fighter.
Of course, if Mosley had quit that night, it would’ve been reasonable for that to be fuel on the fire. His performance was a disappointment and deserved to be criticized; quitting would’ve fit that bill.
Still, one glance at the burst blister on Mosley’s foot showed how nasty and bothersome the injury was. Sometimes fighters just need to be talked through rough moments – as Gabriel Montoya of MaxBoxing.com referenced on Twitter, a blinded Muhammad Ali famously asked Angelo Dundee to cut his gloves off in the first Sonny Liston fight. Ali was sent back out, made it through the round, and soon was the king of the world.
Mosley’s blisters essentially broke out in mile 24 of his marathon. Richardson coaxed him through the final stretch.
7. Yonnhy Perez. Jhonny Gonzalez. Yudel Jhonson. Jhon Berrio.
What the H?
8. Boxers Behaving Badly: Famed British opponent Tony Booth – he of the 52-105-9 record – has been arrested and charged with two counts of conspiracy to supply cocaine and one count of possessing counterfeit notes, according to the Hull and East Riding Mail.
Nine other men have been arrested in the case.
Booth, 40, last fought in November 2008, leaving pro fighting with a win. He is better known, however, for his losses, including being the fall guy for a debuting David Haye.
9. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Andrey Nevksy, a Russian prospect who had been fighting out of New England, has been sentenced to three years in prison for his role in a drug distribution ring, according to the Associated Press.
“With that time served plus deductions for good behavior, Nevsky is expected to get out of prison within 10 months and will be deported,” the report said.
The 26-year-old was found guilty of drug trafficking; others who’d been arrested had testified that Nevsky loaded hockey bags full of marijuana. He was found not guilty, however, on charges of money laundering and smuggling.
According to past reports, police breaking up the ring had arrested more than 45 people and seized more than $5 million, 25 kilograms of cocaine and 4,000 pounds of marijuana.
Nevsky was 7-0 with four knockouts. His last fight came in June 2009.
10. I’d be a lot more dismayed at the reality of a world in which Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. holds a world title if not for the fact that this is a world in which Britney Spears has a Grammy…
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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Tags: Carl Froch , Andre Ward , Glen Johnson , Mikkel Kessler , Arthur Abraham