The first round of the two World Boxing Super Series tournaments went off without a hitch, as all eight fights were completed, nobody missed weight, nobody pulled out, no injuries, no controversies — all in all, the organizers couldn’t have asked for it to go any better than it did.
Oh, and all the favored (seeded) fighters won their fights, and the desired second-round matchups are in place.
None of these fights have dates just yet, but the promoters have announced already that the semifinals will take place in early 2018. Here’s where we stand.
George Groves vs Chris Eubank Jr
As far as mainstream attention in a market goes, UK interest in this fight will make this probably the most eagerly-anticipated and perhaps the biggest fight of the semifinal round, and perhaps, even, the biggest possible fight in either tournament, including potential final round matchups.
Groves (27-3, 20 KO) will defend the WBA title against Eubank (26-1, 20 KO) in what should be a good drawing matchup in the United Kingdom, with plenty of hype and a great atmosphere. Both men looked impressive against somewhat overmatched quarterfinal competition, adding to the hype behind this showdown.
Groves, 29, and Eubank, 28, are both in good shape, both in their primes — I know some will argue that Groves is past his, but I really don’t believe that’s the case, personally. That said, I can see Eubank’s style and skills potentially overwhelming Groves and making for a star-affirming sort of outing for the second generation fighter. We’ll see, but this is a terrific matchup on paper in just about every way.
Early Prediction: Eubank by late TKO
Callum Smith vs Jürgen Brähmer
Smith (23-0, 17 KO) labored a bit in his win over Skoglund, and it’s a question now of whether or not that says something about Smith or about Skoglund. Either Smith isn’t quite the force he was believed to be, which is possible, or Skoglund is better than some perceived, which is also possible.
Brähmer is the Old Man left in the tournament, a 39-year-old fighter with his best days behind him, but he looked really sharp moving back to 168 for the first time in a decade, beating Rob Brant, a promising middleweight prospect who’s had a hard time getting fights.
Smith, at 27, has youth and freshness and all that on his side, just as Brant did, but Smith is also a natural super middleweight, and at 6’3” is notably taller and longer than Brant, and Brähmer. I don’t count the veteran out here, because Brähmer is a good, clever boxer when he’s at his best, and Smith hasn’t had to deal with someone who has his level of experience yet.
If I had been the one doing the seeding for the tournament, I’d have probably put Eubank No. 2 and Smith No. 3 — I just think, one way or the other, a final with Eubank was the biggest possible fight, be it against Groves or Smith. He stirs the pot the most and it’s an all-UK showdown either way. But this is what we have.
Early Prediction: Smith by TKO, time and size catching up to Brähmer
Oleksandr Usyk vs Mairis Briedis
A big matchup, with Usyk the WBO champion and Briedis the WBC champion. Both guys won solidly in the opening round, with Usyk knocking off fading veteran Huck, and Briedis taking care of a spirited challenge from Perez.
Briedis probably isn’t going to have home field in Latvia this round, but then again he might. Neutral ground in Germany seems the smartest-plus-fairest place to put the fight, but Riga might be where it can draw best.
I like this matchup a lot, but I have the feeling those looking for it to be highly competitive may wind up disappointed. Usyk is something of a hype victim in that he’s not a mega-destroyer, as he was sold to be during his early pro build. He’s a terrific technical fighter who also has power and can wear opponents out. When he attacks, he can do damage, but he’s not someone who goes hunting for knockouts. Briedis is a good fighter, but I think he might be too basic to overcome Usyk.
Early Prediction: Usyk by decision
Murat Gassiev vs Yunier Dorticos
If Groves-Eubank has the box office appeal for a single market specifically, this is perhaps the matchup that will most excite diehard boxing fans.
Gassiev-Dorticos has Fight of the Year type potential, two explosive punchers who always look to do damage coming into a fight. Neither is exactly a defensive whiz, and both showed off their power in the quarterfinal round, smashing their opponents in short order.
Gassiev has the IBF belt, while Dorticos has the WBA “world” title, but considering Denis Lebedev has the WBA “super world” title only because that idiot sanctioning body allowed him a pass to not defend it in his IBF belt-losing loss to Gassiev, Dorticos deserves to be considered the “real” WBA champion, for whatever that’s worth.
Whenever the date is announced, this is one to circle on the calendar.
Early Prediction: Gassiev by TKO in a blistering fight