By Jake Donovan
At this point, all that the World Boxing Super Series event handlers can do is move forward with its original intention of providing the best possible ring action.
Saturday’s cruiserweight tournament semifinals clash between Mairis Briedis and Krzysztof Glowacki has taken a bizarre turn regarding the hardware at stake for the main event in Riga, Latvia. Both the World Boxing Organization (WBO) and World Boxing Council (WBC) have made their belts available for the bout, only for the WBC to since follow up on its promise to withdraw its sanction.
BoxingScene.com has since learned that the overnight drama stems from a dispute between the sanctioning bodies over the officials being assigned for the contest.
“The events taking place between the WBO and WBC taking place in the sanctioning of the great fight has taken a very complicated twist between the parties,” Kalle Sauerland, chief boxing officer for tournament promoter Comosa AG told BoxingScene.com on Saturday. “The argument is over who gets to provide what judges. They are trying to decide the judges and the referee - the three judges and the fourth in the event of a draw.
“The positions between the parties is currently trying to find a solution between them all. Really, this is a matter between the WBO and the WBC.”
With any given a title at stake comes the assignment of ring officials, be it from the presiding commission or sanctioning body. In the event of unification bouts, the alphabet organizations normally hash out whose officials are used, which in the past has led to complications but rarely to the point of a governing body threatening to withdraw its sanctioning from a fight.
As it relates to this fight, BoxingScene.com has learned that four of the five assigned officials were appointed by the WBO, including the referee. The WBC—who has since officially withdrawn its sanctioning from the fight—was afforded just one judge, with sources informing BoxingScene.com that the sanctioning body has only been afforded the opportunity for minimal input along the way.
“We are happy to serve as a mediator but I guess everyone is just stuck in the middle until this is sorted out,” notes Sauerland.
WBC representatives declined comment to BoxingScene.com other than to confirm its belt is no longer at stake, as the matter could ultimately result in legal action being taken.
Initially, the bout was to be contended for the interim WBO title which Glowacki (31-1, 19KOs) claimed in a 12-round win over Maksim Vlasov last October in the WBSS quarterfinal round. The Polish southpaw has since received an upgrade to full titlist once the belt was relinquished by lineal cruiserweight champion Aleksandr Usyk, whom dethroned Glowacki in Sept. 2016 and would later go on to claim top honors in the season one cruiserweight bracket of the WBSS tournament.
The WBO’s decision came shortly after the WBC had rendered Usyk its “Champion in Recess”, making its full title vacant and available for Saturday’s headliner. The move made sense as Briedis (25-1, 18KOs)—a former titlist who conceded his belt to Usyk in the season one semifinals—claimed the sanctioning body’s Diamond title, albeit in a controversial 12-round win over Noel Gevor last October, on the same show that saw Glowacki also advance to the semifinal round.
In announcing his intentions to compete at heavyweight, Usyk has since slowly severed ties with the cruiserweight division. His lone remaining title is the International Boxing Federation (IBF) crown, whose interim title is at stake in Saturday’s chief support between Yunier Dorticos and Andrew Tabiti.
The hope was for the tournament finals later this year to have as many belts as possible at stake. The trinkets come in addition to the ultimate prize of becoming the best cruiserweight in the world following Usyk’s divisional departure, with that recognition serving as the goal set forth all along by tournament organizers.
“It would be a shame if (Briedis-Glowacki) is not for both belts,” notes Sauerland, who is doing his best to mediate between the sanctioning bodies as to allow proper focus back on the fights and not what’s at stake. “In the end, though, the WBSS is about winning the Ali Trophy. We of course welcome the opportunity to work with all the federations and all the belts.
“It would be a shame, especially when we are trying to make things simple in boxing where there are too many world champions. It’s a shame when we have a fight which deserves both belts that something like this happens. We are hopeful that the WBO and WBC are able to find a solution… but ultimately it is a question of two federations which go under the unified rules of boxing.”
Season one of the WBSS only had to deal with a couple of late injuries but otherwise proceeded with all parties coexisting in perfect harmony. The cruiserweight bracket saw boxing at its absolute best, as the semifinals were contested between four unbeaten titlists with a guarantee of the finals producing an undisputed cruiserweight king.
Usyk stood tall in the end, handing both Briedis and Gassiev their first losses in collecting three more belts along the way. Gassiev advanced to the finals after becoming the first to defeat Dorticos, scoring a 12th round stoppage in their Fight of the Year contender last February.
The season two offering has been a far messier offering. The quarterfinals ended with financial disputes and at least one participant—now former super lightweight tilist Ivan Baranchyk—threatening to bolt. The cruiserweight division was problematic heading in, as Usyk was still the recognized divisional king at the time, though there remained hope of his vacating the titles as season two rolled along.
The process began earlier this year, only for the World Boxing Association (WBA) title to remain external to the tournament. Because Usyk was the sanctioning body’s recognized “Super” champ while three other versions—“Regular”, “Interim” and “Gold”—already existed, there was no grounds to make the title available for the tournament.
Instead, it was gifted to mandatory contender Denis Lebedev, a former titlist and “Champion in Recess”—the latter carrying the benefit of being permitted to call for a title fight at the claimant’s leisure. Usyk relinquished the title in lieu of the ordered mandatory defense, leaving Lebedev as titlist by default.
A title defense figures to come, as the Russian cruiserweight has been ordered to enter a title consolidation clash versus France’s Arsen Goulamiriam, who claims the “Regular” title.
Confusing? Sadly, it’s the boxing way—and everything the WBSS brass hoped to avoid in first putting together the groundbreaking tournament.
“Ultimately, the biggest loser is the sport of boxing,” Sauerland said of the sanctioning body mess. “It makes everything once again more complicated for the fans as the World Boxing Super Series is trying hard to provide clarity.”
That will still come by the time the tournament finals roll around. Whether the sanctioning bodies are on board shouldn’t come down to whose officials get to work the fights, as what takes place outside the ring should never trump the action provided between the ropes.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox