'Super Six' tournament needs U.S. attention

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

Showtime's "Super Six" tournament, which aims to create a star in the long-dormant super middleweight division, is a brilliant idea filled with great fighters who undoubtedly will put on some sensational fights.

It features six of the best 168-pound fighters in the world in a format that will reward those who eliminate judges' participation.

It's also going to have zero impact on boxing in the United States going forward.

Unless, that is, that it somehow inspires other promoters, boxers and television networks to try something different, to dare to be unique and to put the integrity and the well-being of the sport above self- interest.

If that turns out to be the case, July 13, the date "Super Six" was announced in New York amid much fanfare, ought to be designated a holiday on the boxing calendar.

There are plenty of little things about the format that could have been better – starting with the fact that it would have been preferential to begin with an eight-man field instead of six – but that's quibbling.

There is no glaring exception in the field, which is the best thing.

Oh, there are those who will argue that any of Lucian Bute, Robert Stieglitz, Sakio Bika, Librado Andrade or even Paul Williams should have been included.

Williams hasn't fought at 168, though he is willing to fight at any class from 147 through 168 and probably would have been a co-favorite had he received an invitation.

Still, it's difficult to argue with a six-man field that includes World Boxing Association champion Mikkel Kessler, World Boxing Council champion Carl Froch, former middleweight champions Arthur Abraham and Jermain Taylor and unbeaten Americans Andre Ward and Andre Dirrell.

They're a combined 161-4-1 with 117 knockouts. Froch, Abraham, Ward and Dirrell have yet to lose as pros. Abraham surrendered the International Boxing Federation middleweight title to enter the field.

Taylor twice defeated Bernard Hopkins for the middleweight championship. Ward was the only American to win a gold medal at the

2004 Olympics. Dirrell brought home a bronze that year.

Perhaps the tournament would have been more compelling if two of those other fighters had been included, but it's just as likely that it would not have been. And it's almost certain that none of the excluded, with the exception of Williams, is good enough to win it, so their absence is no great sin.

Showtime is so committed to the tournament it has created a reality series in conjunction with NFL Films previewing the event. It debuted Oct. 10 and will air every night this week leading up to Saturday's doubleheader.

"The round-robin nature of this tournament lends itself to a story arc and fight progression that has never before been seen in boxing,"

Showtime Sports general manager Ken Hershman said.

Each fighter will compete in three bouts in the first round. A win is worth two points, with a bonus point for a knockout. A draw nets one point.

The four leading point-getters will advance to the semifinals, which become single elimination.

What's great about the concept is that elite – or close to elite – fighters will go against each other every time out. And the provision to award extra points for each stoppage is genius.

Boxing should go back to its prize-fighting roots, because it creates more intensity and competition and that makes for better viewing. It's no shock that the NCAA basketball tournament skyrocketed in popularity not long after the shot clock was instituted and teams could no longer go into the four-corners offense.

Imagine how much more interesting boxing would be for those in the arena, as well as those watching on television, if the fighters knew that there would be a 20 percent bonus to win.

Well, that's not happening in this event, but the points system encourages fighters to take risks they might not otherwise.

While a purist may complain that awarding an extra point for a knockout discourages slick boxers, the reality is that it should have just the opposite effect. A terrific boxer won't lose if he wins each of his fights and never gets a knockout. And if he thinks other fighters are making themselves more vulnerable by opening up and going for a knockout, he'll have that much more opportunity to pick an opponent apart.

The bigger picture is to create debate and get people talking about the sport. That, more than anything, is what is necessary.

Boxing doesn't need to be fixed anywhere but in the United States, where fans have turned a blind eye to it to a large degree unless a major name is competing. But in Europe and in Asia, boxing remains one of the major sports and that will be showcased in the opening bouts.

The first round will begin Saturday in Europe, with both fights televised on Showtime beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific. Froch and Dirrell will meet in Froch's hometown of Nottingham, England, for the WBC title, while Abraham and Taylor will clash in Berlin, Germany.

The crowds in Nottingham and Berlin will be raucous in support of their hometown heroes. Hopefully, that will translate to the American viewing audience, which needs to be engaged.

For this series to give the sport a lift and not just boost Showtime's ratings, it needs to be so resoundingly successful in the United States that other promoters and networks try to copy it or think outside the box in creating something else.

Modern professional boxing has become all about minimizing risk and maximizing reward. Even when a boxer wants to take on all comers, he's often discouraged by a manager or a promoter who gently guides him toward less-risky bouts.

If fighters get rewarded, though, for risky behavior in this event, for taking hard fights, for going for knockouts in fights they have sewn up, that will not go unnoticed by the establishment.

And if that happens, the "Super Six" will have a longer lasting effect on the sport than just a handful of good fights.

Expect Ward, Abraham, Kessler and Froch to advance to the semifinals and Ward and Abraham to meet for the title.

Ward, along with Dirrell, is the field's least-accomplished boxer professionally, but he's the most gifted, too, and he'll prove that over the next 18 months or so by winning the tournament.

It's going to be a great event for Ward.

Only time will tell, however, if it's just as good for boxing.