Why the World Boxing Super Series hasn't gained traction in the U.S. ... yet

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, top right, lays on the canvas as referee Earl Brown checks on him moments after he was knocked out by Murat Gassiev in the third round of a cruiserweight bout, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Imagine, for a moment, that someone came to you and said they planned to put on a tournament featuring the eight best welterweight boxers in the world. He’d have them fight each other in a bracket-style tournament and those fights would be available on free TV as well as streamed free online.

Would you be interested?

Imagine that in addition to WBA/WBC champion Keith Thurman entering the field, you were also told that IBF champion Errol Spence Jr., WBO champion Jeff Horn, Lamont Peterson, Manny Pacquiao, Danny Garcia, Jessie Vargas and Shawn Porter entered.

Or, that if Pacquiao wasn’t available to fight, that super lightweight champion Terence Crawford would become the field’s final entrant?

Still interested?

Let’s say it was Crawford instead of Pacquiao in the field, and that we’d see No. 1 Crawford vs. No. 8 Vargas; No. 2 Spence vs. No. 7 Horn; No. 3 Thurman vs. No. 6 Peterson and No. 4 Garcia vs. No. 5 Porter. You could juggle the seedings however you’d like, but imagine a Crawford-Spence, Thurman-Spence or even a Crawford-Thurman finale.

If you were a boxing fan, you’d be over the moon at such news. It would be a dream scenario.

And it’s exactly what is going on in boxing now, with the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament, to next-to-no acclaim in the U.S.

The Super Series, put together by promoters Kalle Sauerland and Richard Schaefer, is about to move into its semifinal round and has already been a massive success in Europe.

It was created by the folks who made the popular Champions League soccer tournament, and it’s produced similar fireworks.

While the cruiserweight division doesn’t have the star power of the aforementioned welterweight division, all of the existing cruiserweight champions – WBC champion Mairis Briedis, WBA champ Yunier Dorticos, IBF king Murat Gassiev and WBO champion Alexander Usyk – entered the eight-man cruiserweight field.

The cruiserweights are down to the semifinals, where Gassiev will face Dorticos and Usyk will meet Briedis.

And the final super middleweight quarterfinal is Friday in Germany, where American Rob Brant faces Juergen Brahmer. Chris Eubank Jr. will meet George Groves in one semifinal will Callum Smith will meet the Brahmer-Brant winner in the other.

The fights have been exceptional and have pitted the best against the best – which is what fans always say they want – but it hasn’t gone over big in the U.S. thus far.

In part, it’s because most of the fighters in the field are based in Europe, six of the eight bouts were held in Europe and Brant is the only American of the 16 fighters in the field.

And while Brant is largely an unknown in the U.S., he’s 22-0 with 15 knockouts.

In a year filled with outstanding accomplishments, the creation and production of the World Boxing Super Series is near the top of the list, even if many in the U.S. aren’t glued to the edge of their seats.

This event proves that name recognition and marketing in boxing, at least in the U.S., is as important as the quality of the fights.

But as far as Schaefer is concerned, the first round of the first year’s event is proof that the format works.

“Anybody who has seen it has had nothing bad to say,” Schaefer told Yahoo Sports. “The fans have had nothing but good things to say. The press has been extremely positive, There are always naysayers but I haven’t heard a thing bad about it. It has delivered. There were some obviously very good matchups going on, but even what were perceived to be the weaker matchups have delivered.

“What we’ve done here is we’ve brought the prize back into prizefighting.”

The finals of the cruiserweight and super middleweight tournaments will be held in May. For next year’s tournaments, Schaefer admitted that there is a possibility of picking weight classes which will be of more interest to American fight fans.

Neither the cruiserweight nor super middleweight divisions have much cachet in the U.S. because of the lack of an identifiable star. But if the WBSS came up with classes that promised similarly outstanding fights with more well-known names, it could be the impetus the series needs to get moving in the U.S.

“For future seasons, particularly the next season, we have internally talked about having weight classes where you could have Americans as well as perhaps Asians and Mexicans,” Schaefer said. “They’d be fighters who mean a bit more to the U.S. market.”

The difficulty here is that the promoters who have deals with the boxers likely to be invited have deals with television networks already in place. Top Rank, for instance, is aligned with ESPN. Golden Boy is with HBO. Premier Boxing Champions fighters are with Showtime.

Those affiliations will make it difficult, though not impossible, to put together a quality field that would appeal to fans in the U.S. as well as around the world.

“The World Boxing Super Series comes at this to unite the sport and showcase weight classes,” Schaefer said. “We’re trying to determine who are the best in a particular weight class, and how better than to do that then to take the fighters you think are the best and put them into the field and let them prove it themselves?

“The important thing is, this is open to anyone and is one which embraces all promoters. This tournament provides a lot of money and a lot of promotion and it gives the boxers unbelievable global exposure. If you are a promoter, it only benefits you and your fighter.”

HBO had great success with what it billed as “Superfly,” on Sept. 9, a three-fight card which pitted six of the best super flyweights in the world. There are a lot of fighters in those lower weight classes who are elite talents, would produce great matches and who aren’t necessarily bound to major promoters that would keep them out of it.

A flyweight or a bantamweight tournament, say, might be the ideal pairing of elite fighters who are in desperate need of promotion and exposure.

The idea for the World Boxing Super Series is simple, yet brilliant. But will it ever catch on in the U.S. like it has everywhere else in the world? Time will tell.

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