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At the rate things are going, the 2012 U.S. presidential election may be finished before Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic. The tournament, however, has been a boon for boxing, as evidenced by the calls for similar tournaments at bantamweight and super lightweight, among other loaded divisions.
The Super Six may yet turn out to be a home run for boxing and for Showtime, though getting to that point will in large part be determined by whether Showtime can solve the dilemma created when Mikkel Kessler withdrew from the event last week with an eye injury.
The pre-tournament favorite, Kessler announced his withdrawal complaining of double vision. Color me skeptical at that news. I became even more suspicious of Kessler's injury after seeing Showtime's Fight Camp 360 on Wednesday, in which Kessler was driving his car and talking to the camera after he had withdrawn from the tournament. If he has double vision, is it a good idea to be driving a car at all, let alone while keeping only partial attention on the road? I think not.
Further, his doctor said he'll be fine after eight months of rest – no surgery needed, miraculously – just at a time when he will be able to resume training and potentially fight the tournament winner.
Showtime has yet to announce plans for the continuation of the event, though it clearly would love to eliminate Allan Green and get to the round robin. If it did that, it would have Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch, who will meet on Oct. 2 in Monaco, and Andre Ward and Andre Dirrell, remaining in the field. That would guarantee Showtime an American against a European in the final with the possibility of the winner ultimately facing a suddenly healed Kessler in his first post-Super Six bout. That would give Showtime at least two significant fights and make all the angst that went into organizing and conducting the tournament worth it.
It would also create at least one more star in a sport desperate for one.
Right now, it appears Ward is that man, though he's clearly not a star just yet. The 2004 Olympic light heavyweight gold medalist has plainly developed into one of the finest boxers in the world, as his one-sided tournament wins over Kessler and Green have proven. Ward, though, has yet to become a box-office or ratings star, but that could come with another two wins in what is left of the Super Six.
The Ward-Dirrell fight is the most significant remaining bout from an American standpoint, but it is yet to even be scheduled. For many weeks, it was listed as Sept. 25 on Showtime's website, though promoters Dan Goossen and Gary Shaw were very public in saying that no site had been chosen and that neither fighter was training.
An inability to make a match between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao has already created the impression of complete incompetence among much of what is remaining of boxing's fan base, thus putting enormous pressure squarely on Showtime Sports executive vice president Ken Hershman's shoulders to get Ward-Dirrell done.
No one involved is willing to explain publicly what is preventing a fight that was agreed upon before the tournament started from being finalized. If Ward-Dirrell falls through the cracks – and potentially takes what remains of the Super Six with it – it's almost impossible to understand how anyone but the most hardcore boxing fans could take the sport seriously any longer.
Goossen, who promotes Ward, failed to return numerous messages seeking comment. Shaw, who promotes Dirrell, wouldn't say much. When asked why it was so difficult to make Ward-Dirrell after the fight had been agreed upon before the tournament began, Shaw said, "That's a very good question. All I can tell you is, it's not me."
Saving Ward-Dirrell, though, will leave open the possibility that a major star could emerge from the Super Six and could begin the drumbeat for a fight down the line with Lucian Bute.
Bute is already a superstar in Montreal, where he regularly attracts overflow crowds and draws staggeringly high television ratings in Canada. If Ward, for instance, were to defeat Dirrell and the Froch-Abraham winner to win the tournament and then were to win a post-tournament bout against Kessler, he'd by that point be one of the biggest attractions in the sport. At that stage, there would also be a drumbeat for a Ward-Bute fight.
It would have been a cleaner format had Showtime come up with an eight-man single elimination event instead of the six-man tournament with a round-robin preceding single elimination semifinals and finals, but promoter Lou DiBella made a passionate case in favor of the round robin.
DiBella had the worst luck of any promoter who had a fighter in the tournament. Jermain Taylor was injured after being stopped by Abraham in his first-round match and was forced to pull out. He was replaced by Green, who was routed by Ward and now may be booted from the event without another fight. Still, DiBella said Showtime has proven the round-robin concept works and that it could have an impact upon boxing's future.
"Intellectually, there was nothing wrong with the concept and as a fan, if you look at it, there were innovations there that were terrific and worked out very well," he said. At the end of the first round, it looked like European dominance. Then, Kessler was destroyed by Ward (in what was the final first-round fight) and Dirrell beat Abraham and all of a sudden, it's a different tournament. Guys were counted out. Kessler was beaten into a bloody mess by Ward and looked like he was shot and then, bang, he gets out there and beats Carl Froch. The round robin aspect of it has worked perfectly.
"The problems they're encountering are not with the Super Six, it's with how dysfunctional and [expletive] boxing is."
And that, it seems, is far too often the case. But now, the tournament stands on the precipice and can go either way. If Hershman can get the Ward-Dirrell fight done and move Green aside without causing a scene, it has a chance to fulfill its pre-tournament mission of creating a star.
The potential, though, is just as real for it to implode. The Ward-Dirrell fight could fall apart and bring the tournament down with it. Fans will accept a replacement for an injured fighter, even one with an injury as suspicious as Kessler's double vision. Fans, though, aren't going to accept replacement fighters if contractual disputes cause the now clear tournament favorite to drop out.
Hershman has done a lot of good things with the tournament, but it's not enough. He's got to play Superman yet again or he – and boxing – will have an epic disaster on his hands.
- Mikkel Kessler
- Andre Ward