20/20 Hindsight: Showtime's Proposed Super Middleweight Tournament... and Why It Might Actually Work

There weren't any major fights to look back on during this July 4th weekend (sorry Eddie Chambers!), so instead, I'm going to focus on some news that first hit over the last few days. Close your eyes for a second and imagine that two current super middleweight titleholders, two rising American stars, a former middleweight champion and an undefeated middleweight titlist moving up in weight all agreed to compete in a six-man, round robin tournament.

Sounds great but crazy, right? After all, this is boxing, where even obvious match-ups have a hard time coming together for various reasons.

But it might not be as far-fetched as it seems. As reported by various sites, but most prominently by ESPN's Dan Rafael, Showtime is attempting to assemble a tournament featuring Mikkel Kessler, Carl Froch, Andre Ward, Andre Dirrell, Jermain Taylor and Arthur Abraham.

You really need to read the whole piece to appreciate the ambition involved, but to summarize the details, each man would fight three others in the field with two points awarded for a win (plus one for a KO), one for a draw and none for a loss. The top four in points after the preliminaries would advance to the semifinals, with the winners facing each other after that to decide the whole thing.

The very tentative plan for the first round would be:

Oct. 10: Froch vs. Dirrell and Abraham vs. Taylor
Nov. 7: Kessler vs. Ward
Jan. 30, 2010: Abraham vs. Dirrell
March 2010: Froch vs. Kessler
April or May 2010: Ward vs. Taylor
July or August 2010: Ward vs. Dirrell and Froch vs. Abraham
September 2010: Kessler vs. Taylor

In a word, wow. It would be hard to believe any boxing fan wouldn't be excited by this idea: a series of good fights in a division stocked with talented fighters.

So many questions would be answered by this tournament. Is Froch for real? Does Taylor have anything left in the tank? Can Abraham continue his winning ways at 168? Are the two Andre's ready for the big time? And that's just a few off the top of my head.

At the same time, it's even easier to see why it's not wise to get your hopes up for Showtime actually pulling this off. Too many competing interests, too many egos to be stroked, too much perceived risk (it's very possible to come out 0-3) and just too many questions, even if Rafael says there are contingencies for everything.

Until an official announcement is made that the tournament is on or credible boxing scribes write that it's dead, the case against it will be argued all over the internet. As an optimist by nature, I'm going to take a shot at arguing why the crazy thing might happen.

1. None of the participants are superstars.

Yes, it's a talented field, and everyone but Ward and Dirrell has held an alphabet belt. All of the fighters are known quantities who have been on the big American cable outlets.

Still, no one in the proposed tourney has huge name recognition among mainstream sports fans - the kind of pull that would generate eight-digit paydays. Taylor is probably the closest to being a household name in the U.S., but his star has faded after three losses in his last four fights.

The Europeans are all looking to raise their profiles on this side of the Atlantic, and Ward and Dirrell could use the step up in competition. Even with the knowledge that no bouts in this event would be easy, there's reason to think all of these guys could see the upside in it.

There's no way a Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather would agree to something like this, because the risk doesn't justify the possible rewards. But for a group of boxers a notch or two below elite status, it just might.

2. Golden Boy and Top Rank are not involved.

This is not a slam against either organization. They are the two biggest powers in the sport right now, and they even play nice with each other when there's incentive to do so.

It's just hard to imagine either Golden Boy or Top Rank would agree to let one of their fighters participate in a tournament like this one. They wouldn't feel comfortable with the uncertainty involved, and they'd likely want more say in the format.

On top of that (as Rafael points out), Golden Boy and HBO are almost like peanut butter and jelly at this point, and this is Showtime's baby.

It's not going to be easy to get a half-dozen promoters to agree on anything, let alone something as complicated as a round robin tournament. Yet it's still going to be easier to sell them without the two gorillas in the room.

3. The proposed fights have strong regional appeal.

Some of the match-ups wouldn't sell out venues in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Showtime seems to be aware of this and has thoughts of staging the fights where they make the most sense.

Froch-Kessler and Froch-Abraham will draw big crowds in Europe. Ward can certainly bring fans out in California, and Taylor should still be an attraction in the South or Midwest.

A few of the prelims look shakier than others (think Abraham-Dirrell, especially if either or both lose their first fights), but by and large, the round robin fights have strong regional appeal. Put them in the right places, as Showtime appears willing to do, and the ticket sales should be acceptable for all parties involved.

4. Showtime can afford to think outside the box and has a history with these fighters.

HBO tends to market everything, even fights that don't necessarily warrant it, as its own event. That formula has allowed it to become the industry leader, and there's really no incentive for it to commit to anything like this.

As the network doing the chasing, Showtime can roll the dice to try to bridge the gap. It's quite the coup if the tournament comes off, as the cable channel would have compelling fights to broadcast from this fall through the first part of 2011.

Showtime has also invested time and money in this particular group of fighters (and the 168-pound division in general), with all but Kessler making appearances over the last two years. If there's a big promotional blitz, as Rafael suggests is in the works, there's no one better equipped to hype the participants, show highlights, etc.

The fighters and their teams surely know this too. That previous investment could pay off handsomely by giving Showtime the extra bit of persuasion necessary to get the participants they want to sign up.

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical that the tournament will become a reality. Boxing is the sport where great ideas wither on the vine far too often, as anyone who's followed it for any length of time can attest.

It's a long shot, but there are just enough factors in play to make this concept the exception. As boxing fans, we just have to cross our fingers and hope that a plan this promising pans out.

Posted by The Franchise


Anonymous said...

so, did Froch-Taylor not count towards this?

The Franchise said...

Nope, that was before the tourney was dreamed up.

It sure would add another layer of intrigue, though, if Froch and Taylor would do well and meet in the semifinals, no?

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to know how the match ups were decided, if there were formal or informal "seeds" or if it's all based on marketability.

The Franchise said...

It seems like it was more based on marketability, but we'll have to wait and see. If it actually happens, maybe Showtime will provide more insight into how they drew up the round robin portion.