Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Super Six Aids Boxing's Continued Revitalization

Pictured in Germany are: Front (l to r) Mikkel Kessler, Carl Froch and Arthur Abraham. Back (l to r) is Andre Dirrell, Jermain Taylor and Andre Ward.

For too long in this game they call boxing – the best have not fought the best.

But the tide has slowly begun to change in the sweet science.

Everyone involved in the sport; from the television networks to the sanctioning organizations to the myriad of promoters, managers, booking agents and even the fighters themselves have come to the realization that in order for the sport to prosper – and survive – the best fighters on the planet need to fight one another.

This weekend will see another bout in Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic super middleweight tournament in which a couple of the sport's top fighters will square off. Tonight at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California has WBA titlist Mikkel Kessler facing off against 2004 Olympic gold medal winner Andre Ward.

Denmark's Kessler, who has a ledger of 42-1, 32 KOs, is the odds-on-favorite to be the last man standing when the dust settles and all of the fights in the six-man tournament have been completed. Ward, an improving and evolving young fighter with a record of 20-0, 13 KOs is the true wild card in the series. He has demonstrated flashes of possible brilliance, but questions linger regarding his ability and whether he can live up to his potential.

As Kessler and Ward prepare to duke it out, one fact is obvious - without this high-profile tournament - tonight's fight and others like it, are ones that likely would never have been made. Ward's promoter, the magnanimous Dan Goossen, agrees with that sentiment.

Promoter Dan Goossen is happy to be one of the promoters involved in the Super Six World Boxing Classic.

“It's always been the promoters that usually have caused big fights from being made,” Goossen declared. “Because they don't want to risk their titleholder against their competitor's titleholder and lose control, possibly, of that championship. That has definitely hurt our sport.”

The World Boxing Classic is an innovative (some say radical) idea within the sport. Its development helped to foster an environment which motivated all-involved to realize the long-term benefit of matching titleholders and contenders against one another in significant bouts. In the recent past, the notion of an undefeated fighter risking a pristine record in a match-up they were not guaranteed to win was considered heresy. A promoter or manager that would ever have advocated such a strategy was considered a misinformed miscreant.

It was protectionism at its worst.

“These are the best fighters at 168-pounds and the winner is just going to be the winner,” explained Goossen, who is taking a big risk tonight with Ward, whom he has promoted since he became a professional. “No matter who's the promoter, no matter who's the manager, no matter who's the trainer - it's going to be one single champion out of this World Boxing Classic - and that's the beauty of it.”

With so many competing self interests in the sport, it has been the fighters and boxing fans that have been ignored the most. By nature, most elite fighters have always desired the opportunity to match skills with their peers in an an effort to prove themselves. Boxing fans have always craved the mega-fights that involve the most well known stars.

Kessler and Ward weighed in on Friday afternoon and both were in tremendous physical condition.

But what became the norm in the sport of boxing is that the collective pleas of fighters and the fans often fell on deaf ears. For years, promoters and managers moved their fighters like pieces on a chess board – very carefully with much debate and anxiety. It created gridlock and essentially paralyzed the sport. It alienated those that were once mainstream followers. The toxic mess allowed the UFC to flourish and pretty soon when half empty arenas and casino ballrooms began to become routine, the boxing powers-that-be recognized they had a crisis on their hands.

There is no question that the five different promoters participating in the World Boxing Classic, especially Americans Lou DiBella, Gary Shaw and Goossen realized that their extremely conservative strategy of risk management was leading down a ruinous path. The sanctioning organizations reached the same conclusion and they also signed off on the idea and promised not to impede with the progression of the series of fights.

It is unprecedented that this many of the sport's top power brokers could come together in agreement. Quite simply, their egos are not accustomed to self-inflicted bruises and over the years they have always done everything in their power to ensure they emerge from any negotiation unscathed. But there is no question that in this tournament - one or more of them will advance their agenda while others will be relegated to the back of the line.

“Having these five promoters working together, having the fighters willing to move forward with this – there's no options, there's no gimmicks, there's no trick weights, there's no trick sizes. These are the best,” claims Goossen. “That's the beauty of it and that's what the fans are going to get behind.”

Goossen made a nice analogy when he compared the World Boxing Classic to the structure that exists in major league and college sports. The eventual outcome is such that the cream will rise to the top. Something akin to a Super Bowl champion or a World Series champion or a conference champion will be crowned. As a result, by the time the tournament concludes, the real winners will be the fans and the entire sport.

“You take a tournament like this and you've got that same type of set-up,” Goossen said. “That's what the fans get excited about, that's what the fighters get excited about. And that's why I think you've got six of the best super middleweights in this tournament – because they all realize the consequences of being able to win something like this.”

For the first time in a long time, those that control boxing are doing what they should always do - place the collective interests of the sport ahead of self preservation. Not only do the fighters realize the consequences of this tournament – we all do.

November 2008

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