The Super Six: How the Tourney Plays With the Titles

Boxing Scene Cliff Rold14th July, 2009

With some amusement, the following could be read in today's wrap piece from the Super Middleweight tournament kick-off press conference. BoxingScene editor Rick Reeno (at http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=20998) noted:

Jose Sulaiman, president of the WBC, sent him an email that fully supported Froch's campaign in the tournament. The WBC will not force Froch to make any mandatory obligations during his run in the super middleweight tournament. The two top contenders, Andre Ward and Andre Dirrell, are part of the tournament and I'm sure that helped with Sulaiman's decision.

Undoubtedly.

There has been some discussion of how the contracts for tournament participants are structured. They are alleged to have language which does not allow an out for mandatories to be made in lieu of tournament fights. For those frustrated by sanctioning body politics and stripped titles, this would seem a breath of fresh air. To illuminate it as a point of the tournament furthers the idea of the purist aesthetic unfolding. Fights versus the best and damn the silliness!

Right?

There is a little bit of sleight of hand here. It's not a negative in this case, and it won't affect the marketing, but it is there. Whether by chance or more likely by design, the titles which will regularly be at stake in the tournament should be well protected. Mandatory challengers should be a non-issue for the duration of the tournament. With a pair of belts in play and the number of excellent fighters, there are questions of whether or not the tournament will crown a true World champion by its end.

It bears closer examination beginning with potential alphabelt scenarios.

The tournament features two of the four most recognized titleholders at 168 lbs. in WBA titlist Mikkel Kessler (41-1, 31 KO) and WBC titlist Carl Froch (25-0, 20 KO).

As noted above, Ward (19-0, 12 KO) and Dirrell (18-0, 13 KO) occupy the top two slots of the WBC ratings. Not noted is the man currently in the WBC's number three slot: tournament participant and former World Middleweight champion Jermain Taylor (28-3-1, 17 KO). Froch draws Dirrell in October's first round of 'tournament play' and, given other matches made, Dirrell assumes the role of mandatory. Even without Sulaiman's early blessing, this belt appears to be well protected.

On the WBA side, Kessler's present mandatory is Gusmyl Perdomo (16-2, 10 KO). All indications point to Kessler, who has nearly a year of ring rust on him after contract problems, fighting Perdomo only weeks before the tournament begins. Perdomo is probably considered a walkover by most and yet is the biggest threat to the tournament coming off without a hitch. He's better than some would think having been seldom seen, a gangly and fluid Venezuelan whose only two losses (Mario Veit and Dimitri Sartison) came far from home, and narrowly on the cards, in Germany.

He shouldn't beat Kessler but he's not entirely incapable. It's a fun drama point in the build to the tournament. It's more fun for now to assume a Kessler win and an eliminated mandatory obligation.

Kessler's first round foe is Ward while Taylor faces longtime IBF Middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham (30-0, 24 KO). An Abraham win would allow him an easy justification to slide into the top WBC spot after the first round as Ward and Dirrell will either be champions or move down.

When the first round concludes, title considerations get very interesting. For the sake of avoiding migraine, everything from here assumes the tournament coming off entirely as planned. Here are the possibilities based on the tentative matches for the second round.

Abraham-Dirrell

o If Dirrell wins in the first round, this will be for the WBC title.

Kessler-Froch

o If Kessler and Froch win in the first round, this will be a unification fight.

o If Kessler wins and Froch loses, it will be for the WBA belt.

o If the opposite occurs, the WBC belt will be on the line.

Ward-Taylor

o If Ward wins in the first round, this will be for the WBA belt.

Based on these scenarios, it is possible the second round could end with a unified champion, barring a draw of course. While easily mocked, the WBA utilizes a "Super Champion" policy whereby unified WBA titlists are allowed much more flexibility, and time, in putting off often less than marketable mandatories while other men fight for 'regular' champion status. Should the second round end with a unified titlist, Kessler's WBA belt likely joins the WBC belt as safe into the intended end dates for the 12-fight tournament in 2011.

And if there is no unified titlist at the end of two rounds?

Here are the title possibilities based on the tentative matches for the third round.

Dirrell-Ward

o If both are still undefeated, unification happens here.

o If Ward is still unbeaten and Dirrell is not, it's a WBA defense.

o If the opposite, it's a WBC defense.

Abraham-Froch

o If Froch is still undefeated, and Kessler beats Ward, this is a unified defense.

o If Froch is still undefeated but Ward beats Kessler, this is WBC defense.

o If Froch loses to Dirrell, Kessler beats Ward, and Froch beat Kessler, it's a WBA defense.

o If Dirrell beats Froch, Abraham beats Dirrell, and Froch beats a still reigning Kessler, this is a unification bout.

Kessler-Taylor

o If Kessler is unbeaten in the tournament, it's a title defense regardless with the caveats being:

§ If Froch beats Dirrell, it's a unified defense.

§ If not, it is WBA only.

o If Ward beats Kessler and Taylor beats Ward, Kessler can attempt to reclaim the WBA belt.

Altogether, this leaves three fights (Kessler-Froch, Ward-Dirrell, and Abraham-Froch) as potential unification matches. If no unification occurs, then the WBA belt could be threatened with a mandatory from the outside, leaving the WBC belt the only one in play. However, by the end of round three, interest should be such that the best available sanctioning fees will come from the elimination rounds making a WBA 'interim' title designation for outsiders as a viable option.

Those are some alphabelt scenarios. There is also the notion of a new lineal champion at 168 lbs., something the division has lacked since Joe Calzaghe's Super Middleweight exit. Lineage could be as tricky as the alphabelts here. While not the sole determinant in establishing a new lineage, Ring Magazine's belts are often looked to in that regard making their current divisional ratings a factor.

As of this writing, four of the six participants are rated at 168 lbs. by Ring with the champion's spot rightfully vacant. Kessler is at #1, Froch #3, Taylor #8, and Ward #9. Excluded from the tournament is IBF titlist Lucian Bute (24-0, 19 KO), Ring's #2 man. Dirrell is unrated and Abraham has long been the Ring's #1 contender at Middleweight.

Obviously, Bute could have a lot to say about how locked in the tournament winner will be in calling themselves the 'real' Super Middleweight champion.

Bute is scheduled to face #4 Librado Andrade (28-2, 21 KO) in the fall, a rematch of their controversial first fight won by Bute. Should Bute lose, an Andrade rubber match is likely and the road is probably clear for the Showtime tournament to crown the new outright world champion, particularly if Kessler and Froch is a unification match.

Kessler holds a decisive, as in won every round, victory over Andrade. Even if Andrade were elevated to #2 off of a Bute win, Ring recognizes showdowns between #1 and #3 for their belts circumstantially. It would be surprising if this scenario didn't produce such a circumstance.

Assuming Bute wins and stays at Super Middleweight, the following current Ring rated contenders will be available at least in the sense of their not being in the tournament:

#5 Sakio Bika (27-3-2, 17 KO)

#6 Allan Green (27-1, 19 KO)

#7 WBO titlist Karoly Balzsay (20-0, 14 KO)

#10 Denis Inkin (34-1, 24 KO)

Of these men, Bute already holds a lopsided win over the Contender Season Three winner Bika with a Bika rematch looming as a potential mandatory after Andrade. Talk of Bute-Green has sounded before and could again. If Bute were to take and win the latter two fights after an Andrade win, it would be very difficult to argue he hasn't maintained his number two position. Depending on tournament results, he could even slip into Ring's #1 slot.

There is also the x-factor of reigning World Middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik (35-1, 31 KO). 2011 is a long way away. Pavlik could keep winning and yet find 160 lbs. too hard to make over time. Bute, an impressive draw in Canada, and Pavlik, an impressive draw in the eastern U.S., could find each other as the best financial option while the tournament continues. Should both not lose in the run to such a fight, the winner would have a hell of a case as best at 168 without a tournament fight between them.

As noted last week in a separate analysis of this remarkable turn of events (http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=20879), the outsider who performs best over the next year to two years will be in a hell of a position. In title terms, they will either be the obstacle to crowning a new lineal champion or the absolute must contender for the tournament winner and a major pay-per-view option.

It is certain some of the possibilities have been lost here while others not considered have yet to emerge. It's part of what makes this is all so worthy of our anticipation. The quality of the fights will matter more at the end of the day then who has what strapped around their waists but titles, now as ever, matter.

More than titles, we seek champions. At Super Middleweight, we can't help but get one before this is done.

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