Boxing devotees may well recall the thrilling Super Six World Boxing Classic which occurred seven years ago. It enabled incredible super-middleweights to go head-to-head against each other to see who would emerge from a world-class tournament victorious. Six elite fighters entered the competition; none other than Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler, Andre Ward, Jermaine Taylor, Arthur Abraham and Andre Dirrell. Despite the fierce competition, and the involvement of the WBA and WBC world titles, it was, now pound-for-pound king, Andre Ward who dominated the tournament by defeating Carl “The Cobra” Froch in the final and unifying the division in the process.
Now, fast forward seven years, Sauerland Promotion have once again constructed an elite boxing tournament. In unison with former Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer, a star-studded World Boxing Super Series was devised, and then given the moniker of the Ali Trophy in honour of the late Muhammad Ali. Set to commence later this year, the tournament will feature both super-middleweight and cruiserweight divisions, with each division being supplied with an estimated £20 million prize money incentive. If that wasn’t enough, the winners will also receive a special ‘diamond’ belt from the WBC.
The World Boxing Super Series will strive to place the best against the best, so considering there are five genuine world titles on the line across both divisions, the best fighters will most certainly be placed in the spotlight. Whereas the previous world boxing tournament adopted a group-stage procedure, which resulted in a wait of over two years to eventually see the winner, this competition will be smooth, simple and straight-forward. No group stages, just an elimination style with quarter-finals, semi-finals and then the final. When the plans were announced for the Ali Trophy, Kalle Sauerland stated the contests would take place relatively swiftly; beginning at the back end of this year and concluding in spring 2018. The German promoter said, “It's fixed dates. September or October is for the quarter-finals. January or February for the semis and the finals in May.”
American TV giants, Showtime, are amongst those showing great interest in securing the TV rights. Executive vice president and general manager of Showtime, Stephen Espinoza, believes he has a seamless strategy in place to secure the deal. He noted that, "I can look at my calendar and say here are four dates in September and October that I know are written in stone. I know what they cost, I know when they're going to be, I know it's not going to move. That's a much easier way to program schedule and market."
In terms of the World Boxing Super Series, this division hasn’t been particularly bolstered by the strongest of names, not in comparison to the cruiserweight version anyway. Only one world champion has been drafted into the mix, and that’s newly crowned WBA champion George Groves who is appropriately seeded #1. Although, depending on how you judge the IBO title, Chris Eubank Jr will also be a formidable opponent that holds a belt and fresh off his domination over Arthur Abraham, he’ll be full of confidence. They cherry-picked fellow Brit, Jamie Cox and tough Turk, Avni Yildirim respectively to be their opening bouts, contests both Groves and Eubank Jr are expected to advance from. Highly-rated #2 seed Calum Smith, who is on the brink of world level, will encounter Sweden’s Erik Skoglund in his home town of Liverpool, whilst the last opening match-up will be between Jurgen Braehmer and Rob Brant. Braehmer is a former champion in both super-middleweight and light-heavyweight divisions, yet Brant, the sole American who is identified as a middleweight, will be an unbeaten underdog going into the fight.
Taking into account the level of boxers in the super-middleweight draw, the cream should rise to the top and produce a huge all-English final between Chris Eubank Jr and Callum Smith. However, many will disagree and may say Callum Smith is too inexperienced, especially at the highest level. Smith, whose opening bout in Liverpool will ignite the whole tournament on September 16, has been named the favourite to win the whole thing. But, they would both need to manoeuvre their way to the final, with Eubank Jr potentially having the incredibly difficult task of disposing of George Groves in the semi-final. Also, a blend of other experienced, rising and talented fighters will no doubt attempt to combat the predictions and claim the respected trophy, the generous prize fund and the boost for their career.
The cruiserweight division is currently stacked full of brilliant fighters, and all four of its major champions have entered the World Boxing Super Series. So, whoever conquers the entire competition will theoretically unify all the belts and become an undisputed champion. In addition to the title holders, previous champ Marco Huck will also be on display, and will begin with a difficult fight against WBO champion Oleksandr Usyk. A reinvigorated Mike Perez, who is a marvellous Cuban boxer, will aim to continue his upward climb by challenging for Mairis Briedis’ WBC belt and Murat Gassiev, a stable mate of Gennady Golovkin, will defend his IBF title against #1 ranked contender Krzysztof Wlodarczyk. To complete the opening contests, WBA ‘Regular’ Champion, Yunier Dorticos, will share the ring with another #1 ranked contender, Russian fighter Dmitry Kudryashov.
In spite of the calibre of fighters competing in the cruiserweight bracket, which includes every single major titleholder, Oleksandr Usyk leads the early betting odds to hold all the belts come the end of the tournament, although I feel it is very unpredictable. Not only are there four strong champions, there are additionally four other extremely competent boxers determined to receive the label of ‘The best cruiserweight in world boxing’.