By Arne K. Lang
The contestants in the World Boxing Super Series will be officially announced tomorrow (Saturday, July 8) in Monaco, but the event will be anticlimactic as the names have already leaked out. There are two separate single-elimination tournaments, one for cruiserweights and one for super middleweights. At stake, say the sponsors, is $50 million in total prize money. In addition, the winners of each bracket will receive an impressive trophy named in honor of Muhammad Ali.
The seedings will be announced at a future date. Each of the top three seeds will get to pick their first-round opponent, with the top seed selecting from the largest menu. The tourneys will begin in September and are expected to take 10 months, meaning that the champions will be crowned in May of 1918. But if history is any guide, there will be some glitches along the way.
Both brackets are top-heavy with fighters tied to German powerhouse Sauerland Promotions, one of the co-sponsors. Of the two divisions, the cruiserweight bracket is far and away the strongest. What follows are thumbnail sketches of the competitors. The boxers are listed in alphabetical order.
Mairis Briedis (22-0, 18 KOs) – Latvia
A former European kickboxing champion, the 32-year-old Briedis won the WBC version of the cruiserweight title in his last start, outpointing Marco Huck by unanimous decision in Germany. He previously knocked out Olanrewaju Durodola who was coming off a second round stoppage of Dmitry Kudryashov.
Yunier Dorticos (21-0, 20 KOs) -- USA via Cuba
A 31-year-old Cuban defector, Dorticos made his pro debut in his adopted home of Miami in 2009. While he has won several regional belts, his record is largely devoid of recognizable names. In his last outing, he came from behind to score a 10th-round stoppage of French-Congolese Youri Kalenga in a bout contested in Paris.
Murat Gassiev (24-0, 17 KOs) – Russia
The youngest competitor in the tourney, the 23-year-old Gassiev turned heads in his next-to-last fight with a brutal one-punch knockout of Jordan Shimmell. That thrust him into an IBF world title fight with rugged Denis Lebedev, who he defeated by split decision. When in the U.S., Gassiev resides in Abel Sanchez’s compound in Big Bear where his comrades include Gennady Golovkin.
Marco Huck (40-4-1, 27 KOs) – Germany via Latvia
The 32-year-old Huck, who has participated in 18 world title fights, has seemingly been around forever. In 2012, he made a brief foray into the heavyweight ranks, losing a majority decision to Alexander Povetkin in a bout where he was outweighed by 20 pounds. Huck is 7-2-1 since that encounter.
Dimitry Kudryashov (21-1, 21 KOs) – Russia
The 31-year-old Kudryashov, reportedly 138-12 as an amateur, is thought to be the hardest puncher in the tournament. His signature win was a 22-second blast-out of 41-year old Juan Carlos Gomez who was 55-3 coming in. In his last start, he avenged his lone defeat, stopping Olanrewaju Durodola in the fifth round.
Mike Perez (22-2-1, 14 KOs) – Ireland via Cuba
A surprise addition to the tournament, the 31-year-old Perez was knocked out in the opening round by Alexander Povetkin in his most important match. After a 25-month layoff, he returned as a cruiserweight, carrying 42 ½ fewer pounds than he had carried for Povetkin. The new, slimmer version of Perez needed only 29 seconds to vanquish Slovakia’s relatively inexperienced Viktor Biscak.
Oleksandr Usyk (12-0, 10 KOs) – Ukraine
A gold medal winner at the 2012 Olympics, the 30-year-old southpaw is the reigning WBO champion, having acquired that belt in Poland with a unanimous decision over previously undefeated Krzystof Glowacki. In his most recent bout, he defeated former U.S. Olympian Michael Hunter Jr. via UD 12. Although he didn’t get the stoppage, Usyk had Hunter hanging on by a thread in the final round.
Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (53-3-1, 37 KOs) – Poland
The oldest entrant in the cruiserweight bracket, the 35-year-old Pole won the WBC cruiserweight title in 2010 and made six successful defenses before being dethroned by Grigory Drozd (currently 40-1) in Moscow. In his last start he nipped previously undefeated Noel Gevor, winning a split decision.
Former WBO cruiserweight champion Kyzysztof Glowacki (27-1, 17 KOs), a 30-year-old Pole, was aced out by Perez, a major surprise, but has agreed to serve as an alternate.
SUPER MIDDLEWEIGHT DIVISION
Juergen Braehmer (48-3, 35 KOs) – Germany
A pro since 1999, the 38-year-old Braehmer is the grand old man of this competition. A former WBO and WBA light heavyweight titlist, he had won 17 straight before running into Nathan Cleverly in October of last year. Braehmer was ahead on points when he was forced to pull out after six rounds with a dislocated elbow.
Rob Brant (22-0, 15 KOs) – USA
The only U.S.-born fighter in either sector of the tournament, Brant has been competing as a middleweight but was a National Golden Gloves champion at 178 pounds. The Minnesota native shifted his base of operations to Dallas several years ago to get better sparring (think Jermell Charlo and Errol Spence Jr.).
Jamie Cox (23-0, 12 KOs) – England
A 30-year-old southpaw, Cox was in action last week (July 1), scoring a first round knockout over Croatian slug Ivan Jukic. This was his third start since serving a six-month prison sentence for breaking into his ex-girlfriend’s apartment and threatening her.
George Groves (26-3, 19 KOs) – England
The 29-year-old Groves switched trainers after losing his WBC title to Badou Jack and is 6-0 with Shane McGuigan in his corner. His other losses were inside the distance to countryman Carl Froch. The first fight was controversial – Groves was ahead on all three scorecards – and the rematch, which attracted 80,000 to Wembley Stadium, was basically even until Froch lowered the boom.
Erik Skoglund (26-0, 12 KOs) – Sweden
A potential #8 seed, the 26-year-old Skoglund, in common with Juergen Braehmer, is coming down in weight after competing as a light heavyweight. He had two early fights in Germany, but since then has fought exclusively in Scandinavia.
Callum Smith (22-0, 17 KOs) – England
The youngest, biggest, and most talented of the four fighting Smith brothers, Callum whacked out nine of his first 19 opponents in the opening round, inviting comparisons to Hall of Famer Joe Calzaghe. The six-foot-three Liverpudlian spurned a match with Anthony Dirrell for the vacant WBC title to participate in this competition.
Avni Yildirim (16-0, 10 KOs) – Turkey
Avni who? A 25-year-old Turk, Yildirim had one fight on U.S. soil, winning a 10-round decision over then 46-year-old Glen Johnson in Miami. His best win was a third round stoppage of Schiller Hyppolite who was 21-1 going in. In May he was in Mexico where he scored a mild upset, winning a 12-round decision over Marco Antonio Periban.
The final slot will go the winner of the July 15 bout in London between Chris Eubank Jr. (24-1, 19 KOs) and German-Armenian veteran Arthur Abraham (46-5, 30 KOs). Eubank is a heavy favorite. Germany’s 21-year-old wonder kid Vincent Feigenbutz (26-2, 23 KOs) is on standby in case someone drops out.
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