By Keith Idec
HOBOKEN, N.J. – Richard Schaefer can’t imagine many boxing fans would be excited about the cruiserweight division if it weren’t for the World Boxing Super Series.
Schaefer, one of the tournament’s promoters, thinks the WBSS’ talent pool and single-elimination format have drawn fans to the often-overlooked division between light heavyweight and heavyweight. The WBSS cruiserweight tournament thus far has produced Yuniel Dorticos’ spectacular second-round knockout of Dmitry Kudryashov, Oleksandr Usyk’s compelling 10th-round stoppage of Marco Huck and Mairis Briedis’ mostly unremarkable, unanimous-decision victory over Mike Perez.
The final quarterfinal fight of the cruiserweight tournament – IBF champion Murat Gassiev against former WBC and IBF champ Krzysztof Wlodarczyk – is scheduled for Saturday night at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey (DirecTV’s AUDIENCE Network; 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).
The winner between Russia’s Gassiev (24-0, 17 KOs, 1 NC) and Poland’s Wlodarczyk (53-3-1, 37 KOs) will advance to the semifinals for a showdown with Cuba’s Dorticos (22-0, 21 KOs), the WBA champion. Ukraine’s Usyk (13-0, 11 KOs), the WBO champion, and Latvia’s Briedis (23-0, 18 KOs), the WBC champion, will square off in the other semifinal.
“You just look at the facts,” Schaefer told BoxingScene.com. “The fact is if you go to any of the boxing websites, the blogs worldwide, you would have to look at today, right now, what is the most talked-about division in the sport? It’s the cruiserweights. And why is that? It’s because of this tournament. Everybody’s talking about the tournament, everybody’s talking about these cruiserweights.
“If we didn’t have these tournaments and the cruiserweights wouldn’t have been featured, do you think anybody would be talking about Gassiev or Dorticos? Maybe they would be talking about Usyk a little bit because he has had some exposure here in the U.S. But all the other guys, nobody would be talking about them. That’s what this tournament did. It elevated an entire division and put the spotlight on what I think is one of the most exciting divisions in boxing because I think these cruiserweights are really heavyweights in shape.”
Abel Sanchez, who trains Gassiev, has enjoyed the attention the tournament has brought to his powerful, previously underexposed cruiserweight champion.
“This tournament is really unbelievable for these kids,” Sanchez said. “They can really show their wares on a stage we’re not really used to having in the cruiserweight division. The cruiserweight division is like boxing’s red-headed stepchild. Nobody wanted to see it. They talk about the middleweight division being the glory division because of the speed and power.
“But all these fights, except for maybe Briedis-Perez being a bad matchup, all these guys are fast, all these guys are athletic … these are the old heavyweights. Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Evander Holyfield. These are the guys that’ll bring back that speed and power, and have people watching them. Like with Dorticos knocking out Kudryashov the way he did, that’s what people wanna see.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.