Super Middleweight Bomb: Everyone Loses But the Fans

Boxing Scene Cliff Rold8th July, 2009

It was the first thought which came to mind when the news broke here at BoxingScene of a Showtime Super Middleweight 'tournament' beginning later this year and continuing through 2011. With a round robin format where each man appears slated to fight three times, building through some sort of points system to a final four situation, everyone involved is likely to lose at least once from start to finish.

The talent involved demands it.

The six names featured prominently in early reports represent some of the best of the 168 lb. class and one of the premiere Middleweights of the last four years. It's a healthy mix of men at different stages of their careers, three from America and three from abroad.

Two already hold belts in the division.

WBA titlist Mikkel Kessler (41-1, 31 KO) of Denmark is widely seen as the best Super Middleweight in the world but contractual issues castrated him in 2008 and through much of 2009. They could still create an obstacle to involvement here but the story remains in development. If he appears as planned, he is fired firmly back into the mix. WBC titlist Carl Froch (25-0, 20 KO) of England thrust himself into the mix with two thrilling victories to win and then defend his strap.

They are both tied to the shadow of long reigning Super Middleweight king Joe Calzaghe. Kessler fought his way through the ranks, unifying two major belts en route to a showdown with Calzaghe in 2007. While competitive, he lost and has had no real chance to prove his stature since Calzaghe first left the division and then retired.

As a fellow U.K. native, Froch waged a rhetorical war against Calzaghe for most of the last few years. It didn't happen. The knock on Calzaghe for much of his career was a lack of risk. A late career surge waylaid the argument but Froch has a chance, in his prime, to make the sort of run Calzaghe never did. With Calzaghe gone, and Ricky Hatton not far behind, there is a void waiting for a new star in the British market and Froch is positioned to fill it.

The other four competitors all have their stories as well.

IBF Middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham (30-0, 24 KO), German-based from Armenia, has found his name on the lips of World Middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik since 2007. It never resulted in a fight and it seems 'maybe in 2010' just wasn't good enough.

Former Middleweight champion Jermain Taylor (28-3-1, 17 KO) has lost three of his last four. The first two of three were to Pavlik, once for his title and once at a catch weight. His last loss, his last fight, saw him cough up a lead to Froch in suffering a final second's knockout. Taylor and Froch are the only men of the six proposed with established history and Taylor is the biggest question mark. If he loses early in the round robin, will he really fight three times?

Then there are Dos Andres. 2004 Olympic Light Heavyweight Gold Medalist Andre Ward (19-0, 12 KO) and 2004 Olympic Middleweight Bronze Medalist Andre Dirrell (18-0, 13 KO) fill out the States side of the brackets. Both have seen their pro careers develop slowly, only recently inching towards serious contention. This is a chance for both physical talents to become proven professionals.

This is a deep pool and one which will be hard to predict. Before it is over, as noted at the top, it is likely all will have at least one more loss on their record.

Along the way each losing competitor will exit the ring with the security of knowing their career is not completely blown off the rails. If things go according to early plans, it could be the best thing to happen to boxing in a long time.

Somewhere between the good ol' days and now, losing became something to fear not only in a physical sense but also in an economic one. Sports, at their best, are about pitting elite athletes against one another. Almost always there has to be a winner and a loser. In boxing, everyone starts their career with a "0" in the loss column. Few keep it there forever.

Boxing has seen in the modern era, with fighter schedules shrunk to only occasional appearances past the prospect level, an increase in fighters who hold their "0's" for longer than used to be the norm. As stature and money have grown, some became highly averse to risking an undefeated mark.

Network voices asked for challenges but network contracts were written as to allow a single loss to be as damaging out of the ring as in. The incentives laid in calculation and, too often, exploitation of the public's time with fights where the winner and loser might just as well have been predetermined.

If the scenario described sounds at all like a number of matches involving men named Jr., well, objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear.

The Showtime proposal turns such thinking on its ear by providing a powerful option to winner and loser throughout the round robin portion of combat. It also flexes the muscle which can be found in international cooperation. Let's face it; boxing is not controlled by the U.S. market anymore and the internet has educated the fans on the global scope of things. Fans in Germany are just as curious to see their best against the world as American fans are. The reported cooperation of multiple networks around the world in making this happen is welcome and long overdue.

Of the six men named as tournament participants, two have already experienced defeat while the other four have not. Given the level of talent involved, if any of those four emerge unscathed boxing gets a new, earned superstar out of this mix. If all pick up a blemish, it probably gets one anyways. Losing is more forgivable, less a sin, in this context.

In boxing's golden eras, it was the same way. When men like Ray Robinson, Gene Fullmer, and Carmen Basilio were all winning and losing against each other, no one asked to stop seeing them. Here, let's say a Ward loses a close decision early but goes on to win the tournament; the loss will be contextualized and hyperbole can be kept to a minimum. Boxing needs for losses to become just losses again. It's healthier for it.

The biggest early argument against this proposed format has less to do with who is in and much to do with who is out. The exclusion of IBF titlist Lucian Bute (24-0, 19 KO), no matter the reason, makes it nearly impossible for an undisputed king to emerge here.

Super Middleweight contender Allan Green (28-1, 20 KO), is not involved, maybe to the detriment of the affair. He would certainly add an element of power missing on the American side; frankly, the former Olympians can be occasionally dull. Taylor's inclusion does smack of adding damaged goods for name brand at this point but it's also part of the psychology here. Taylor's losses have been only to the best of the Middle and Super Middleweight classes.

Those losses didn't kill his career.

Losses don't have to.

For men like Bute and Green, and perhaps even WBO titlist Karoly Balzsay (21-0, 15 KO), opportunity may knock loudly with patience. There could always be injuries, cancellations, or legal issues which create an opening. If they do not, being the force outside can pay handsomely.

During the HBO heavyweight unification tournament of the 1980's, Michael Spinks bowed out early and went his own way, waiting for the man who emerged as the winner before cashing in fully on his status as the lineal champion of the division following two wins over Larry Holmes. Sure, Mike Tyson dumped Spinks in 91 seconds, but the 12-million plus Spinks was paid was a far higher sum than he would have made had he merely been where Tony Tucker was at the end of the tournament.

In this case, there is no single figure with the credentials of Spinks so the man to play his role will have to be determined. The incentive to compete against the best found in the tournament thus spreads outside it to everyone not involved. If Bute, Green, Balzsay, as well as Pavlik and WBA Middleweight titlist Felix Sturm (32-2-1, 14 KO), don't seek out the best tests left to them, at least intermittently, then their outside looking in position won't be worth as much.

Green, for instance, is dangerous to anyone he faces and with so many names locked up should become viable for the names left. If any or all seize the moment to stage their own counter-warfare with each other, we could see something truly special.

Fight fans are a funny lot. Whoever looks the best outside this tournament will garner strong public support. As various entrants pick up losses, and non-tournament fighters do not, buzz will grow.

The winner of the tournament will then have something all the men named here lack right now: a pay-per-view showdown with close to two years of build.

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