That Super Middleweight Tournament Is Ridiculously Awesome, But It Won’t “Save” Boxing* (*Because It Doesn’t Need Saving)

(From left to right: Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler, Andre Dirrell, Jermain Taylor; Not pictured, Andre Ward. Tom Casino/Showtime)

On a day when I ought to be mighty happy that Showtime is putting together a boxing event of such audaciousness it’s hard to believe we ever got to the news conference announcing it, all I can do is fume at how idiotic the coverage by the Associated Press was. On one level, the reporter, Dave Skretta, seemed to recognize how monumental this six-man super middleweight tournament is — and the tournament idea got deservedly big coverage from a number of big outlets. But on another level, it’s like he got stuck in a time warp that ignored everything that has happened since 2007 in boxing, or else he’s just like every other mainstream media reporter who’s too lazy to have done anything but recycle the same easy no-thinking-required storylines about the mythically on-death’s-door state of the sport. (All right, as it happens, I DO have some things to say about the announcement today, too. But after a rant.)

Writes Skretta of the Showtime bossman:

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.

This is as close as Skretta gets. Boxing doesn’t need saving; MAYBE it needs reviving. A fair-minded reading of the state of boxing is that it certainly not the sport it once was in America, but since 2007, it began a revival. That revival continues with this super middleweight tournament, one of many steps boxing has taken to correct some of its most egregious mistakes of past years.

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.

What boxing fans does Skretta know, I wonder? I’m going to guess from this paragraph that he hasn’t talked to one in at least two years. Read any boxing website, surf any boxing bulletin board, and show me the boxing fan who has been complaining “for years” that the best don’t want to fight each other. In 2006, you’d find it plenty. But there are very few top match-ups in the years since where boxing fans have been left wanting. And what’s with that “fans that are left” line, as if there are between three and seven misguided misfits who insist on continuing with their campaign to bring back a television show from the 80s that was cancelled after two episodes? Somehow, 11 million people reportedly watched a boxing match on television in Germany last month, and since there are so few boxing fans “left,” I’m guessing that means they were all drugged and tied to their chairs by RTL network. Somehow, a boxing event earlier this year sold out the Staples Center, and on a smaller scale a few weeks ago, the small town of Salisbury, Md. drew thousands of fans to watch a boxing prospect who’s been a pro for about a year and a half. Are these the numbers of some kind of underground rebellion/resistance movement, or are there more than a few boxing fans “left?”

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

By what measure? MMA is undoubtedly growing, and there’s no way of knowing whether it will eventually, definitively pass up boxing. But when’s the last time a mixed martial arts event drew 60,000 fans to a stadium, as boxing did last month in Germany for Wladimir Klitschko-Ruslan Chagaev, or sold 2.4 million pay-per-view buys in a night, the way Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather did in 2007? By my count, the biggest pay-per-view in MMA history, the one from last weekend, was still only a little more than half as big as boxing’s biggest PPV. Nor is MMA anywhere near as popular worldwide as boxing is now. Again, there are some ways by which you could say MMA is “ahead” of boxing, but there are plenty vice versa, too.

“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.”

OH MY GOD HOW DARE GOOSSEN “REFUSE” TO BELIEVE A SPORT THAT ISN’T IN JEOPARDY IS IN JEOPARDY! WHAT NERVE! MAYBE HE’S JUDGING BY THE EIGHT THOUSAND PEOPLE HE JUST GOT IN OAKLAND TO WATCH ANDRE WARD, AN UNPROVEN FIGHTER WHO WAS STEPPING UP IN HIS FIRST REAL TEST? Goossen is right. Boxing is still successful. Boxing does need to grow its business. And this super middleweight tournament is one way to help do that. But boxing as a sport is not at all “in jeopardy,” as if it was a bank about to go under or a company about to fold and go bankrupt. (And I’m not in denial because I’m a boxing fan; facts are facts. I’m loyal to newspapers, but that’s an industry in huge trouble.)
What’s all the more head-scratching about this story is that Skretta appears to cover boxing a fair amount. He was at the sold out Madison Square Garden boxing match where Miguel Cotto beat Joshua Clottey, which happened to pit two of the best of the division against one another. Did his editors jam this storyline down his throat? Is he just blinded by the rhetoric of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, since he also covers MMA?
Mainstream sports writers, I beg of you: Stop repeating things as if they are true if you don’t have a clue what the hell you are talking about. If you don’t know boxing very well, stay away from blanket pronouncements about the state of the sport, or, maybe, do some research. I recommend playing it straight, the way the New York Times — a paper that has often has ignored boxing — did with its story on the tournament.
End of rant. Now, to the tournament.
  • Here’s where I have a bone to pick with Hershman — I don’t think he should over-promise with this tournament. There is a chance the tournament will produce a single champion, maybe even a good chance. It kind of depends how the tournament works out, and what happens in the meantime for the most important super middleweight left out of the tourney, Lucian Bute. What it will produce is a dozen (if my math is right) really high-quality fights and, at worst, the man who can argue he is the best super middleweight, if not the champion (“best” is an opinion; “champion” is something obtained by a certain action). If Bute is still going strong then, the tournament victor ought to fight him, and THEN we’d have one true champion.
  • On that tip, Hershman said Bute wasn’t even invited, but didn’t say why. It’s too bad.
  • Before I come across as too critical, I still think all of the parties — Showtime, the boxers, the promoters — are heroic for agreeing to this tournament. I know some people want a shorter tournament and I respect that. But Steve Kim reported today what I believed to be the case: The parties were only willing to take a chance at fighting tougher competition if they knew they’d be guaranteed two more big fights no matter what happened. With the way some boxing fans are so unforgiving of a single loss, this was a crucial concession, because who wants to be some one-and-out victim of a tournament like this when you’re fighting one of the (no worse than) two or three best opponents of your entire life? And, all in all, it’s not the worst thing in the world that this tournament will produce more fights than  seven bouts. They’re all good bouts. Not the worst thing in the world at all. Oh, and according to Kim’s chat with Hershman, Showtime had to go light on its schedule this summer to make the tournament happen, but the tournament won’t affect its schedule of other boxing events going forward.
  • Andre Dirrell had the best quotes from the tournament. I provide them here: “My heart is going 100 miles per hour.
    It is beating like hell. This is the biggest stage of my career…  I am ecstatic. I have this tingling feeling. I had that feeling when I came through the curtains today. I had that same feeling at the Olympic Games each time I entered the ring. I know it is my time. It is my time to shine… I have been hungry for a long time.  I just want to get it on. I am the only one here not wearing a suit. I want to wear a suit.” I have no idea who will win this tournament; I lean toward Mikkel Kessler or Arthur Abraham. But I think Dirrell is the dark horse because of his athletic gifts.
  • Here are the rules, just to give y’all the technical info:  “All bouts will be contested under the unified rules of boxing; All bouts scheduled for 12 rounds; Both the World Boxing Council (WBC) and the World Boxing Association (WBA) titles will be on the line at the outset of tournament competition; Each boxer will fight three bouts against different opponents in the Group Stage– round-robin, points-based competition; Points will be awarded after each bout. Scoring is as follows: Win – 2 points (with a 1-point KO/TKO bonus) Draw – 1 point Loss – 0 points. Following the Group Stage, the top four point scorers qualify for the Semi-Finals with the bottom two eliminated (In the event of a tie on points, a tie-break mechanism is in place); Semi-Finals will match the point leader against the fourth place fighter and the second versus the third in single-elimination bouts (In the event of a draw in the Semi-Final bouts, a tie-break mechanism is in place); The winners of the Semi-Final bouts advance to the Final.”

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.