Today, Friday, the draft for the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) year two tournaments will take place. 16 elite boxers have been confirmed to take part – eight bantamweights and eight light-welterweights. Both competitions will provide tremendous matches along the way.
It is now just slightly over a year since the inaugural draft took place in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Back then the cruiserweights and super-middleweights who entered the 2017/18 events found out their potential path to the final. Those finals are due to take place soon. This then is an appropriate time to review what the WBSS has delivered so far and also to look ahead at what is to come while considering how the event has gathered and lost momentum over this past year. There have been ups and downs.
Back in March 2017 a press conference took place in New York City. The boxing media were informed of a new operation spearheaded by European boxing giants Team Sauerland and Richard Schaefer, very well known in America for his previous work with Golden Boy Promotions. This joint-venture between Sauerland, Schaefer and their backers was introduced as Comosa AG. Comosa AG would be over-seeing a new tournament – The World Boxing Super Series. The prize for the winner in each weight class would be The Muhammad Ali Trophy.
At this press event Robert Dolmiglio, Comosa's Head of Management said: “The tournament will set new standards, ensure coherent story lines and provide top-class boxing throughout the year. It is Comosa's ambition to turn the WBSS into the world's biggest and best boxing tournament.”
While there was no specific details given on which weight classes would be selected or what level of boxers we could expect to enter, the organisers did reveal that they were working with a budget of $50M for their first season.
It certainly grabbed the attention of the boxing world. There were still questions to be answered such as how would the tournaments be broadcast, but on the whole fans were interested and looking forward to Comosa's upcoming announcements.
Momentum Status: positive but with a healthy side of skepticism regarding weight classes, fighters and if they actually had the large budget they claimed. A bit like a teenager passing their driving test, they are very happy but begin to wonder if they will be able to afford a car.
Between March and July last year the announcements were made that cruiserweight and super-middleweight would be the weight classes and the names of the participating boxers were revealed.
The super-middleweight tournament contained only one current world title holder in George Groves but Jurgen Braehmer had been a two time titlist at light-heavyweight from 2009-2016 and was surprisingly moving down in weight to take part. Interestingly the 168lb competition also featured high profile English fighters Chris Eubank Jr and Callum Smith who, along with Groves, guaranteed at least one all English grudge match along the way if the quarter-finals went to plan.
The announcement of the cruiserweight competitors created a much bigger buzz. All four current world title holders, Oleksandr Usyk, Mairis Briedis, Murat Gassiev and Yunier Dorticos, had signed up. If everything came together here we would witness some amazing bouts and crown an undisputed champion in the final.
The draft for season one took place on July 8 2017 and the brackets took shape for both weight classes. Comosa also made it clear that fight dates would be strictly adhered to, any injuries would be covered by the use of reserve fighters and the fight nights would have the highest quality production. We were also assured that TV broadcasting deals for all territories around the globe were being worked on.
Momentum Status: huge excitement. Owning that car became a reality and we are roaring out of the showroom with a screech of the tires.
The dates set aside for the quarter-final bouts were all in September and October 2017. Thankfully no injuries occurred and all eight fights took place as planned. They also all went with the form book – all eight seeded boxers advancing. Smith, Eubank Jr, Groves and Braehmer at super-middle and Usyk, Dorticos, Briedis and Gassiev at cruiser.
Most of the world were able to tune in easily, the exception being America. The WBSS organisers (who rectified availability for season two) wanted to sell the entire tournament to one broadcaster in each country. No American broadcaster was willing to make that commitment. Time for some flexibility and on September 30 it was announced that AT+T had signed a deal with Comosa to show the remaining quarter-final matches on something called the Audience Network. It sounded fine from afar but friends in the USA were quick to point out that not many people had access to this platform. Here in the UK, commercial broadcaster ITV picked up the whole tournament. They did so under the proviso that certain high profile bouts would be moved to their PPV channel, ITV Box Office.
Momentum Status: hitting the brakes a bit. A proper TV deal was badly needed for America but the semi-final matchups looked enticing so bring on the new year.
The semi-finals were scheduled for January and February. They ensured that boxing in 2018 got off to a marvellous start.
Both cruiserweight semis were unification bouts. Usyk and Briedis fought out a classic on January 27 in Latvia with Usyk taking a deserved majority decision. One week later Gassiev and Dorticos produced an even better spectacle in Russia with home boxer Gassiev capping a fearsome display of power punching by stopping the game Dorticos in the final round.
In the super-middleweight tournament Groves cleverly boxed his way to victory over his domestic rival Eubank Jr in an entertaining fight on February 17. Unfortunately for Groves he dislocated a shoulder in the final round therefore placing his participation in the final in doubt.
The following Saturday Smith scored a UD win over late replacement Nieky Holzken. Holzken stepped in for original opponent Braehmer at four days notice after he withdrew with an unspecified illness.
This was the first instance of Comosa having to invoke their policy of ‘the show must go on' and it left us wondering how Groves' injury would be dealt with as the date of June 2 had been set for the super-middleweight final.
Momentum Status: no US TV coverage put a bit of a dampener on things but the cruiserweight semi-finals and Groves vs. Eubank Jr were so enjoyable we couldn't wait for the two finals. We were speeding down the highway but there were some speed traps up ahead.
Which brings us nicely to the present day. Between the end of February and early May the WBSS lost some momentum. Injuries being the reason why. Usyk vs. Gassiev had been scheduled for May 11 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. This was shelved when Usyk reported an elbow injury. After some concern as to the fight ever happening it was announced that this final would take place in Moscow on July 21.
Meanwhile the Groves vs. Smith fight was still up in the air. While Comosa's policy of using reserves to ensure fight dates went ahead as planned was clearly stated before the tournament, the feeling was that Groves deserved the chance to contest a final he had worked so hard to reach. Thankfully the powers that be also came to this conclusion and while we are still awaiting a date and venue I have an idea as to what their plan may be. Keep reading.
Also happening since early May, thus helping to build the momentum back up – announcements regarding WBSS season two. The organisers communicated that tournaments at 118 and 140lbs would take place and star-studded lineups have been assembled for both. The draft will take place on July 20 in Moscow, ensuring that on Friday and Saturday this week all the attention of the boxing world will be on the WBSS. Comosa have done a masterful job overlapping their season two draft with Usyk vs. Gassiev. That's the way to deal with the setback of Usyk's injury.
Momentum Status: speed traps narrowly avoided we are now enjoying rolling along in cruise control. There is huge interest in the soon to be announced bantam and light-welterweight matchups of course but it's Usyk vs. Gassiev on Saturday!
So allow me to take a quick look at this particular matchup before bringing this journey through the WBSS…
…so far to an end.
The two best cruiserweights in the world are about to meet – Saturday's winner will be crowned the undisputed champion in the division and lift the Muhammad Ali Trophy. It is a genuine pick 'em fight.
Oleksandr Usyk (14-0-0, 11KOs) of Ukraine is turning into a road warrior for the modern era. The smart southpaw won the WBO title in Poland against home favourite and then holder Krzysztof Glowacki in September 2016 in what was his 10th pro fight. He has since defended it against Thabiso Mchunu and Michael Hunter (both in America) before WBSS duties saw him easily dismantle Marco Huck in Germany before he added Briedis' WBC version of the title in Latvia. Travelling to face a hometown hero on enemy turf is no problem for Usyk. In fact Usyk is a hit with fans wherever he goes and his toe-to-toe war with Briedis in the semi-final was truly epic. Gassiev is a far heavier puncher so Usyk's tactics may be slightly different on Saturday as once again he attempts to win in his opponent's back yard.
Murat Gassiev (26-0-0, 19KOs) will be defending said back yard in Moscow. The Abel Sanchez trained fighter didn't have many amateur fights and has really been learning and improving while on the job since his pro debut in 2011. Gassiev's December 2016 split decision win over countryman Denis Lebedev…
…netted him the IBF title but it also demonstrated his physical strength, fitness and power. Gassiev followed that up with a beautiful third round KO of Krzysztof Wlodarczyk in the WBSS quarter-final. His brutal semi-final twelfth round stoppage of Yunier Dorticos, where he added Dorticos' WBA “Super” crown to his haul, is my fight of the year so far. In both WBSS outings Gassiev has shown that as well as possessing power his boxing skills are improving fight by fight. He is an imposing opponent.
If we see more of a boxing match in Moscow on Saturday Usyk should be able to do enough to win with his superior footwork and speed. If more of a fight breaks out then Gassiev will be the man in the driving seat. A potential fight for the ages awaits us.
Viewers in the UK can tune in for £9.95 on ITV Box Office while streaming subscription service KlowdTV will show the bout in America. First bell for Usyk vs. Gassiev is expected just after 10pm BST, 5pm EST.
Once the action in Moscow has concluded we will be looking ahead to that Groves vs. Smith final and the quarter-finals of the season two tournaments. Assuming the September/October timetable remains in place for the new season's opening bouts it wouldn't surprise me if Comosa schedule Groves vs. Smith for one week prior to the first fight night of season two. Again this would show the organisers to be adept at dealing with the problems that running a boxing tournament will present from time to time.
If Comosa use Groves vs. Smith as a spring-board into their season two contests then their momentum will be relentless. With new streaming provider DAZN on board to show all of season two in America their main broadcasting flaw from season one has now been ironed out.
The season two action should deliver just as much as season one. There will be time to discuss the lineups in both upcoming tournaments in future articles but the caliber of the contestants who have signed up is stellar.
If the people in charge keep serving this level of competition up the WBSS may well achieve the goals mentioned in the quotes from Robert Dolmiglio near the beginning of this article. As far as momentum goes, if things continue in this vein then the car analogy will not be sufficient at the end of season two.