Super middleweight tourny designed to crown champ

NEW YORK (AP) — Ken Hershman knows his plan is ambitious, a six-man super middleweight round-robin tournament designed to crown a single champion. He also understands that if he pulls it off, it could go a long way toward reviving the sport of boxing.

The tournament, featuring two current champions, two former middleweight champions and two up-and-coming U.S. Olympians, was announced Monday at Madison Square Garden. It will begin this fall and conclude with a seeded semifinals and championship in early 2011.

“The beauty of this is that at the end, there’ll be one winner,” said Hershman, the senior vice president in charge of boxing at Showtime. “He’ll be the best in his weight division.”

Hershman began putting the concept together in May, first pitching the idea directly to the fighters: WBC champion Carl Froch, WBA titleholder Mikkel Kessler, former middleweight champs Arthur Abraham and Jermain Taylor, and former Olympians Andre Ward and Andre Dirrell.

Then Hershman went to their five promoters and, in a sport where it’s difficult enough to get two sides to agree on a fight, managed to get all five to sign a contract.

“It was an interesting process and not one I relish repeating,” Hershman said. “But they all believe firmly they can win the tournament and … that eliminated all the nonsense.”

Eliminating the nonsense is precisely what boxing fans want.

The primary complaint for years has been that there are too many champions in too many weight divisions, and that the best don’t want to fight each other. Greed has often taken precedence over interesting and exciting fights, alienating those fans that are left.

As mixed martial arts booms in popularity, boxing languishes behind.

“Boxing is still successful,” promoter Dan Goossen said, refusing to believe the sport is in jeopardy. “But what we haven’t done is grow the business.”

Fellow promoter Lou DiBella believes the “World Boxing Classic” will help.

“This is what’s going to get us back together, what’s going to get us back on the map,” he said. “There’s not going to be a bad fight in this tournament, the best are fighting the best.”

Unlike a traditional single elimination tournament, each fighter will be guaranteed three bouts and earn points based on their decisions. A victory will be worth two, including a bonus point for a knockout, and a draw will earn one point. The four boxers with the most points will advance to the semifinals.

While dates and locations have not been confirmed, the first group of bouts is set. Dirrell will fight Froch for his WBC title, while Kessler defends his WBA title against Ward and Taylor fights Abraham.

“It happened so fast,” Taylor said. “I was wondering what I was going to do next, and I got a phone call saying this tournament was coming. I couldn’t wait to sign.”

Some talented fighters didn’t get that chance.

Among those who aren’t involved are IBF champ Lucian Bute, who is scheduled to fight Librado Andrade this fall, WBO champion Karoly Balzsay and top contender Allan Green.

Hershman would not reveal what contingencies are in place should a fighter get hurt, fail a drug test or drop out for some other reason, but he acknowledged that Bute or another top super middleweight could conceivably end up in the tournament.

“If you have eight, at some point it becomes so unwieldy and long, and you run the risk of collapsing on top of itself,” Hershman said. “We expected we would go to six and one would say no, but everybody said yes, and we were done.”

The fighters give the tournament a global flair, while their resumes give it credibility.

Kessler (41-1, 38 KOs) might be considered the favorite. The hard-hitting Dane’s only loss came in 2007, when he waged a slugfest with unbeaten champion Joe Calzaghe.

Froch (25-0, 20 KOs) made headlines earlier this year when he rallied to knock out Taylor (28-3-1, 17 KOs) with 14 seconds left to defend his title. Abraham (30-0, 24 KOs) was born in Armenia and now fights out of Germany, and will be moving up from middleweight after vacating his 160-pound title over the weekend.

While the tournament isn’t designed to pit Europe versus America, that’s how many fans will view it. Taylor was a 2000 Olympic bronze medalist, Dirrell (18-0, 13 KOs) won the bronze medal in 2004, and Ward (19-0, 12 KOs) won gold for the U.S. in Athens.

“It has nothing to do with Europe and America,” Froch insisted. “It’s the best fighters in the world. It just happens to be where we come from.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.