When Showtime announced the Super Six World Boxing Classic last year for real after some speculation, and I was done picking my jaw up off the floor, a few things ran through my mind.
First off, I thought, "Holy s**t. This is going to be awesome."
But after letting it sink in, a less enthusiastic thought came to mind: "Something's going to go wrong."
Now, we're two-thirds of the way through the second part of the three-part round robin section of the tournament. Things, no doubt, have gone wrong. Among them, almost every fight until yesterday was, in some way, marred, or had gathered some negative press.
And then there's Jermain Taylor, the former middleweight champ who risked his career to keep fighting the best guys in the sport. He was matched in Stage One with Arthur Abraham in Germany. Taylor was losing, but had made a go of it. With just moments remaining in the fight, an Abraham right hand down the pipe turned Taylor's lights out, concussing the admirable Arkansas native and, shortly thereafter, resulting in his withdrawal from the tournament. He is replaced by Allan Green, a talented but frustrating fighter more famous for what he hasn't done than what he has.
The Carl Froch-Andre Dirrell bout that same October evening was a disaster. A brutally ugly fight to watch, Froch got what many felt was some home cooking in Nottingham. Andre Ward's dominant upset of Mikkel Kessler in November righted the ship some, but then fights were delayed in every Stage Two bout, and the first of them between Abraham and Dirrell finished not with Dirrell's hand jubilantly raised after putting on a clinic, or Abraham's raised after scoring a dramatic knockout, but with the disqualification when the Armenian wickedly fouled Dirrell in the 11th round.
But through it all, the first four fights of the Super Six just kept turning up surprises. Ward, a highly regarded prospect, came into his own against Kessler. Dirrell, whose guts had been seriously questioned, had many feeling he'd beaten Froch (ugly as it was), and then silenced continuing skeptics by routing Abraham. Froch, whether anyone liked it or not, was still unbeaten.
And then yesterday, the tournament had something it was missing: a great fight. Froch and Kessler both showed a ton of heart on Saturday in Herning, with Kessler coming back from the brink of career catastrophe with one of the best performances of his career, taking Froch's "0" and his WBC title belt with a unanimous decision win. This time, no real controversy. Froch, who has a reputation as a talker and a bit of an egomaniac, said after the fight only that if it had been in England, he probably would have won. He's probably right. The fight was close, the fight was action-packed and largely devoid of any tediousness, and if this were the "regular" boxing world, everyone would be talking rematch right now.
While it kind of stinks that we won't get an immediate rematch, that's also part of the reason the Super Six is so great. If in the NFL, the Packers squeak one out over the Bears, they don't get to immediately play again. They have to let it simmer, they have to both continue to play, they have to move on even if getting revenge is heavily on their minds.
It's not exactly the same situation or anything, but the Super Six setup makes boxing, frankly, feel more like a sport and less like a business. I know exactly who Kessler's fighting next. It's Allan Green. And in August (tentatively), Froch will take on Abraham in what promises to be a balls-out, hard-hitting war.
Throughout this tournament, we've seen what happens when elite-level fighters are forced to check their egos and get ready for tough fight after tough fight. Nobody's had it easy. Nobody's going to have it easy. This competition seems to have, at one point or another, brought out the best in every single one of these six (soon to be seven) men.
- Fight One: Jermain Taylor, with his career on the brink, gives his all in Germany against a very powerful, unbeaten Arthur Abraham. It's not good enough, but Taylor gains more respect for once again fighting tough opposition. Abraham picks up the best win of his career.
- Fight Two: Carl Froch and Andre Dirrell's foul-filled mess brings out the best of neither in the ring, but the aftermath leaves both reputations damaged. More on that later.
- Fight Three: A star is born as Andre Ward dismantles tournament co-favorite Mikkel Kessler. The Danish star is left looking like a second-tier fighter against the young American, who knocks Kessler off his widely-accepted perch as the best super middleweight in the sport.
- Fight Four: Dirrell, stinging from the talk of him being a runner who is afraid of action, comes to Detroit with a chip on his shoulder, and takes the slow, lead-footed Abraham to school. Abraham, before his ugly DQ, also shows that he's got the motor to gun for the knockout late. After two fights in the tournament, suddenly Andre Dirrell is a hot property. Arthur Abraham's rep takes a hit.
- Fight Five: Froch wants a good fight, as his reputation in the UK is as an action star, and his last fight was anything but exciting. So Carl's rabbit punches and wrestling go by the wayside. Kessler, having changed corners between the Ward loss and this bout, shows up determined and relaxed, fighting his fight and letting what happens happen. No matter what Froch tried, Kessler found an answer soon enough, and fought through a nasty gash over his left eye to boot. They end their fight with a crazy 12th round, and Kessler leaves the winner.
Four of the fighters have fought twice. Dirrell, Abraham, Kessler and Froch are all 1-1 in the tournament. Three of those men took the first losses of their careers. Ward is 1-0, Green has yet to fight of course.
I can only hope this is pleasing the promoters. Their fighters are gaining new levels of respect, even in losing, that they just would not have by racking up wins over lesser competition. If the promoters have been largely happy so far, then that means the chance for another Super Six still exists.
This tournament is revolutionizing boxing. World class fighters fighting nothing but other world class fighters. All of them thus far showing some degree or fortitude, resiliency, toughness and heart that, in some cases, we did not know these fighters had. We're learning that now, because they're fighting the sort of competition that makes fighters fight their best.
If only it were so simple more often in boxing. So many times when thinking about a fight, I have to wonder if it makes sense for everyone involved, or who has a grudge with who, or who won't fight this guy because he's too tall or too strong or might exploit his weaknesses so he'll fight someone who doesn't. And all the fighters in this tournament hadn't come in testing their mettle to the full degree, either. Dirrell and Ward were still taking baby steps, Kessler was stuck fighting fringe contenders, Abraham was in the bubble in Germany. Now we've seen them all tested. And outside of Ward, we've seen them all lose. They've been gut checked.
I really couldn't be higher on this tournament than I am right now. It has been a wonderful thing for boxing diehards and I hope some casual fans alike. And with all the twists and turns we've seen so far, I don't feel confident picking any single fighter as so far ahead of the rest of the pack that I can't see him losing in this tournament. It's the wild west out there with this thing. Guns are blazing and it seems you never can tell who's going to come out on top.
At the moment, this really couldn't be better than it is.