Round-robin boxing tourney pits best of USA, Europe

USA Today14th July, 2009

Showtime's ambitious plan for a six-man super middleweight round-robin boxing tournament, announced Monday at New York's Madison Square Garden, could be the sport's version of golf's Ryder Cup. At least for the first round.

The Americans vs. the Europeans. Six of the best fighters in the 168-pound division, who sport a combined record of 161-4-1, including four unbeaten fighters, two U.S. Olympians, two world champions and two former world champions, will begin fighting each other in October and November. The tourney will run through 2010 with seeded semifinals and conclude with the championship bout in early 2011.

A look at the opening matchups:

•Andre Dirrell (18-0, 13 KOs), a 2004 U.S. bronze medalist in Athens, will fight WBC champion Carl Froch (25-0, 20 KOs), probably in Froch's native England.

•WBA champion Mikkel Kessler (41-1, 31 KOs) of Denmark will fight Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward (19-0, 12 KOs), probably in Ward's hometown of Oakland. Kessler's loss came in a tough fight against unbeaten champion Joe Calzaghe in 2007. Calzaghe is retired and the Welshman was not even considered for the tournament.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Madison Square Garden | Jermain Taylor | Joe Calzaghe | Lou DiBella | Mikkel Kessler | Arthur Abraham | Carl Froch | Andre Dirrell

•Former undisputed middleweight champion Jermain Taylor (28-3-1, 17 KOs) will fight IBF middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham (30-0 with 24 KOs), most likely in Abraham's home country of Germany.

Ken Hershman, the senior vice president in charge of boxing at Showtime, said it was a huge challenge to get six of the best boxers in the world together but added the tournament's structure was a big draw.

"The idea of becoming a global property for these fighters, fighting in this style tournament, was very appealing," Hershman said. "They all want to build their brand and awareness level in the U.S., the biggest market on the planet.

"You get three guaranteed fights, and four out of the six will move on. And the money grows with each fight. It could be very lucrative in the long run. They all have amazing confidence levels, and they all believe they're going to win this tournament."

The tournament is a departure from what has been one of boxing's biggest problems: too many champions in all divisions and a feeling among fans that the best fighters don't want to fight each other. "There's not a bad fight in this tournament," promoter Lou DiBella. "The best are fighting the best."

Each fighter is guaranteed three bouts. A victory will be worth two points, including a bonus point for a knockout, and a draw will earn one point. The four boxers with the most points will advance to the semifinals.

Gary Shaw, Dirrell's promoter, said he's often concerned about taking his fighters abroad. "I'm concerned about judges, I'm concerned about referees," he said. "In this case, though, I don't have as much concern because I believe Andre is a much superior boxer and fighter than Carl Froch - no disrespect to Carl."

Shaw said it was a huge step up for Dirrell. "He's very young and he's undefeated and he can really punch, but he's never been in with the likes of Carl or Jermain or Kessler or Abraham," Shaw said. "It's a giant leap. But I think he's ready for it. It's my job to bring him the confidence that he needs. He absolutely has the talent."

Dirrell says he's not afraid of fighting in England. "I'm an Olympian, you know?" he said. "I've fought all over the world. I know this is a professional stage, but fans will be fans. ... As long as I go across with a great mental game, my skill is superb. I know it's better than Carl Froch's.

"This is not an opportunity I'm going to take for granted."

Dirrell knows it's likely he will eventually have to fight his good friend and ex-teammate Ward.

"They told me it will come in the semifinals or finals," he said. "I just want to become the best fighter out there, and whatever I have to do, I'll do."