The sport of boxing has always been adept at putting itself on the canvas. Some of the self-inflicted blows derive from the fact that promoters have boxers under extended contracts. They have their own stable of fighters, and rival promoters are reluctant to put their boxers in with legitimate challengers from the competition. Think here of Golden Boy and Top Rank. In sum, the prime motivation of those with the bucks to put on the shows is not necessarily to provide the best and most entertaining matchups.
For the fighters themselves, there is also the sense that one loss can ko your marketability and take you out of the crazy money that only exists at the tip of the peak of professional boxing. The result is that the elite pugilists, or at least their brain trusts, are hyper-cautious about picking opponents. As a consequence, the boxers the public clamours for only enter the klieg lights once or twice a year.
But Showtime and Sauerland Event came up with a creative response to the stagnation problem. In October 2009, they initiated a series, the Super Six World Boxing Classic, in which a half dozen of the premier super-middleweights (168lbs limit) in the world would engage in a series of bouts with the finalists to be determined by points earned from knockouts or wins by decision.
At the start, the cadre of combatants included then-WBA Super Middleweight Champion Mikkel Kessler, then-WBC Super Middleweight Champion Carl Froch, Andre Ward, quandom champions Jermain Taylor and Arthur Abraham, and Andre Dirrell, a bronze medalist in the 2004 Olympics. Kessler, a favorite to win the tournament, was forced to withdraw from the series because of an eye injury. Taylor, who suffered a severe knockout at the hands of Abraham was also compelled to check out. Kessler and Taylor were replaced by Allan Green and former light heavyweight King Glen Johnson.
Two years plus into the tourney, Andre Ward and Carl Froch will clash in the finals on Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. The victor will wear the WBA, WBC, and Ring Magazine super-middleweight crowns. The IBF title is in the clutches of Montrealer Lucian Butte.
A 2004 gold medalist in the Olympics, Ward is the current WBC champion. He is ranked in virtually everyone's top ten list of the best pound-for-pound boxers on the planet. The Oakland native has super-sonic hand speed and superb defensive skills. Undefeated in 24 pro bouts (13 knockouts), he has decisively beaten Kessler, Green, and Arthur Abraham. Ward has won a whopping 88 percent of all his tournament rounds and connected with 40 percent of his punches.
A brawler with a tough neural circuitry and a knack for counter-punching, Froch dropped a decision to the Dane, Kessler, but has points wins over Dirrell, Abraham, and Johnson. A native of Nottingham, England, Froch is 34 years old and boasts a record of 28-1 (20 knockouts). Even though he is 6-1 against former champions, Froch is the underdog in this tussle but a highly motivated one at that. At a recent press conference, he insisted,"I am in the best shape of my life. It's as simple as that. I've been on the weight now for a couple of weeks. I feel sharp, strong, confident. Physically and mentally, I could not be in better shape. I know I'm ready and I know that Saturday night is going to be my night."
Whether or not it is Froch's night, Saturday should be a night for the fans. The tournament has been a success and on that we should hope breeds imitation. As Ward put it, "Before the Super Six the super middleweights were really a sleeper division. They looked right over the super middleweight division. They talked more about the light heavyweight division. And now people are talking about us and even after the tournament they are looking at the possible matchups with the fighters," such as between the winner Saturday's boardwalk brawl and the heavy-handed Butte.