Boxing’s most overlooked division is set for a rare turn in the spotlight when the $50 million (Dh183m) World Super Series gets underway later this year.
The new tournament, created by former Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer and Kalle Sauerland, will feature a supermiddleweight competition, but more interestingly, a cruiserweight section.
The 200lb class rarely gets much attention, and serious contenders don’t usually hang around there for long. A small cruiser would prefer to shed weight and enjoy physical advantages at light-heavyweight, while a big cruiser will pile on the extra muscle and chase the pay days on offer in the more glamorous heavyweight arena.
Historically, it has been a poor division, a fact demonstrated by Evander Holyfield being widely considered the greatest cruiser of all time despite having only 18 fights there before moving up.
However, the current crop is as talent-rich as it has been in living memory, with the section clearly benefitting – as boxing has done as a whole – from an influx of Eastern European talent with formidable amateur pedigree.
This is evidenced by the quality of the eight-man field for this tournament, which features an Olympic gold medallist, all four current major belt holders plus two former champions.
And if you delve into their past fights, you’ll discover an exceptionally violent highlight reel of knockouts and start to understand why boxing fans are getting so excited. The combined record of the eight boasts 193 wins and just 10 losses – 164 of the wins have been by KO.
These men hit almost as hard as the heavyweights, but being that bit smaller and more agile means they throw and connect with far more shots. The potential for action-packed fights is clear.
Schaefer said: “I really believe this has an opportunity to become the brand in the sport of boxing, the kind of tournament fighters really want to participate in because it will elevate their exposure and their careers.”
Indeed, boxing hasn’t had a major tournament since the 168lb Super Six World Boxing Classic between 2009 and 2011. It says a lot about the appetite for this kind of format that an event as fundamentally flawed and riddled with scheduling issues as the Super Six is remembered so positively by fans.
There’s also no doubt that it had a profound effect on the careers of its combatants. Eventual winner Andre Ward had entered it as a virtual unknown, while Carl Froch also emerged with his reputation significantly enhanced. It boosted their bank balances too, as this tournament will do for the cruisers.
The winners of the quarter-finals are all guaranteed $1m (Dh3.7m) and, to put that in perspective, the outright favourite for the crown, Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk, earned just $75,000 (Dh250k) for beating Thabiso Mchunu last December.
After the field was finalised, the top four fighters were given seedings and allowed to pick their opponents. The quarter-finals will start in September, with semis early next year and the grand final in May 2018.
Usyk, the No1 seed, used his pick astutely to set up an opening skirmish with Marco Huck, one of the most decorated cruisers of all-time but now firmly in decline.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Murat Gassiev takes on Poland’s former two-time belt holder Krzysztof Wlodarczyk. The wild card among the group is the Cuban defector Mike Perez. He at least has some experience of shark-infested waters having swam to freedom in the perilous stretch between Havana and Florida before being picked up by a boat.
There’s nobody to rescue him this time and the former heavyweight is in deep from the off against the unbeaten Latvian Mairis Briedis, who has knocked out 18 of his 22 victims.
The opening stage is completed by another Cuban, the No4 seed Yunier Dorticos, and his opponent Dmitry Kudryashov.
All four opening bouts are compelling match-ups and virtually guarantee fireworks, while if the intended schedule can be maintained there will be a steady flow of great fights leading up to the ultimate satisfaction of seeing an undisputed champion crowned.
Such scenarios have been rare in boxing and is exactly why so many are embracing this tournament.
Chris Eubank Jr The Brit put on a mature display to widely out-point Arthur Abraham at Wembley Arena and book his place in the super-middleweight section of the inaugural World Boxing Super Series.
The 27-year-old never looked in trouble as he out-worked a man a full decade his senior, landing consistently around the sides of the German’s high guard and piercing it through the middle with uppercuts. He will now face Turkey’s Avni Yildirim in the quarter-finals.
Joe Smith Jr Smith Jr had been one of the breakout stars of 2016 with emphatic wins over Andrzej Fonfara and Bernard Hopkins, but he couldn’t cope with Cuba’s Sullivan Barrera on Saturday night.
Smith had wiped out Fonfara inside a round then clubbed Hopkins clean out of the ring, and his power was evident in the opening session as he clipped and dropped Barrera.
But after that it was all one-way traffic as the Cuban’s superior skill proved decisive. His unanimous points victory sets up a clash with Sergey Kovalev later this year
End of the road for Khan & Roach – It was a familiar story for Amir Khan in Las Vegas five years ago this week when his defensive frailty and poor punch resistance came back to haunt him against Danny Garcia.
Khan’s fast start had Garcia chasing shadows, but the Brit got greedy in the pocket and one big looping left hook changed everything. Dropped three times and stopped in the fourth, Khan predictably split from his Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach after the fight.