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.
Tyson Fury could be set for a sensational title comeback in September – if he gets his boxing licence back.
The controversial Briton hasn’t fought since dethroning heavyweight legend Wladimir Klitschko in 2015.
Having tested positive for cocaine while in America, Fury was charged by UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) and stripped of his licence by the British Boxing Board of Control.
Great sparing with @JoeJoyce_1 this week, really top bloke. & great athlete. Hope to do some more work.😎😎👍🏼👍🏼— TYSON2FASTFURY (@Tyson_Fury) June 23, 2017
But Peter Fury, Tyson’s trainer and uncle, is hoping an imminent decision will allow the 28-year-old to join the undercard for cousin Hughie Fury’s bout on September 23 for the WBO crown held by New Zealander Joseph Parker.
“What we are looking at (regarding the decision) is the next couple of weeks and if that’s the case, all being well, he will join Hughie on this bill,” said Peter. “And we will look to get him some form of title too, so it won’t be just a journeyman against him, or a run out, because he is training at the moment.
“He’s ready. I’ve always said if you can fight you can fight. This guy is unique and when he fights he will have sparred 5-600 rounds.”
Tyson made an appearance at Hughie’s press conference with Parker on Tuesday to promote their showdown at Manchester Arena and Peter is hoping he can now put the troubled times behind him and focus on proving he is the best heavyweight, despite Anthony Joshua claiming the WBA, IBF and IBO belts after beating Klitschko himself in April.
Tyson Fury sparring Joe today👑 pic.twitter.com/AuiRKg9FYx— Boxing planet (@boxing__planet) June 19, 2017
“I can’t speak for what was going on in Tyson’s mind and he’s had a fair few issues to deal with,” added Peter, who also trains son Hughie.
“But it’s over now. Boxing is where he belongs. I think he’s the best heavyweight in the world. I wanted him to defend that belt and keep on defending for the next 10 years and build a massive legacy for himself.
“But I also think everything happens for a reason and this was meant for him. I think he will come back a stronger person and a better fighter as well.”
And should Tyson be cleared to box then a much-anticipated clash with Joshua could be on the cards in 2018.
“Probably September, October time next year, that’s a real possibility for him against Joshua,” added Peter. “I think it’s what the public want to see absolutely. It will be in Britain, it’s a fight for Britain.
“Joshua can fight and has been brought on well and done his job. But the applause, I’m in this job for one thing and that’s proving my fighters are the best in the world – and the only way of doing that is slicing through the division. Tyson has had enough of a lay-off now and am looking to get him back in September and next year it’s full on for him.”
Manny Pacquiao is “not surprised” the World Boxing Organization affirmed the loss of his welterweight title to Australian Jeff Horn, but the Philippine ring legend railed at large at judges who “manipulated results”.
The WBO ordered a review of the scoring of the July 2 Brisbane bout at the request of the Philippines’ Games and Amusements Board, which criticised the judges and the referee.
The WBO set up a panel of independent and anonymous judges to watch the bout without sound and determine who won each round. On Tuesday it said the judges found Horn won seven rounds to Pacquiao’s five.
“We have seen worse judgments in the past where judges manipulated results. Nothing surprises me now,” Pacquiao said in a statement late Tuesday.
He did not name the judges nor mention the specific fights in his allegations.
“Let the people judge for themselves. People saw what happened,” said the 38-year-old, who had won world titles in an unprecedented eight weight divisions.
I love this sport and until the passion is gone, I will continue to fight for God, my family, my fans and my country. pic.twitter.com/mcfegAOSIi— Manny Pacquiao (@mannypacquiao) July 12, 2017
The undefeated but unheralded Horn, 29, had stunned the Filipino legend with his ultra-aggressiveness to earn a unanimous decision.
But the Filipino’s camp alleged the referee let the Australian get away with illegal tactics.
The WBO ordered the review while stressing it did not have the power to reverse a decision unless fraud or law violations were proven.
Pacquiao had endorsed the call for a review issued by the Filipino sports regulatory, which lashed out at the “unfair decision and officiating” of the fight.
In a statement sent to AFP on Wednesday, the Filipino regulator thanked the WBO for looking into the fight but blamed American referee Mark Nelson for the results.
Mayweather on if McGregor has a chance: "He does have a chance, we saw a teacher beat Manny Pacquiao"— BlackSportsOnline (@BSO) July 11, 2017
“No matter what review they do, it will be hard to change the result as the referee didn’t call it close,” said board chairman Abraham Kahlil Mitra.
“The judges’ scores would have greatly changed if the referee did his job properly,” Mitra alleged.
“He (referee) didn’t give (Senator) Manny Pacquiao the respect and fair protection that is due to a people’s champ,” Mitra said, referring to Pacquiao’s elected post as a Philippine senator.
Horn, a former schoolteacher written off before the bout by most observers, welcomed on Tuesday the ruling as “evidence” of his victory.
“It’s definitely nice to have it finally put on paper,” said Horn, who had been keen for a rematch.
In the twilight of a 22-year pro career, Pacquiao had initially called for a rematch, but later said he would also “think hard” about retiring.
Pacquiao briefly quit boxing last year to pursue his long-held political ambitions and was elected senator. But he quickly made a successful comeback against Jessie Vargas in November, saying he still felt like a youngster.
Pacquiao’s loss to Horn had prompted calls that he retire for good.
Provided by AFP Sport