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OAKLAND, Calif. – New WBA super middleweight world champion Andre Ward has become embroiled in a bitter rift between rival promoters that could impact the future of the Super Six World Boxing Classic.
Ward, who defeated Mikkel Kessler here Saturday night, may be denied the opportunity to fight in his home city of Oakland later in the competition after German promoter Wilfried Sauerland, who represents the interests of Kessler and Arthur Abraham, revealed that he would refuse to bring his boxers to California in the future.
This stance stems from a bitter dispute regarding the naming of Californian Jack Reiss as the referee for Ward's unanimous technical decision victory over Kessler – a choice enforced by the California State Athletic Commission.
Sauerland claimed that Reiss' appointment was contrary to the Super Six tournament regulations drawn up in conjunction with organizer Showtime, which stipulates a requirement for neutral officials and judges.
"I have another fighter, Arthur Abraham, who could also come up against Ward," Sauerland told Yahoo! Sports. "I would never bring him to California, for 100 percent not.
"Why should we come to a place where there is a commission who says the referee has to come from there? We protested but there is no chance, so we have to go in the future to states where they also allow neutral referees."
Sauerland said the promoters have contracts stipulating that the fights need to be refereed by neutral officials and that the issue could have caused "a big fuss" and the cancellation of the fight.
"I don't think it helps in this case, but our fellow promoters on this know now what is happening," he said. "Andre Ward is the only one who has three home fights, the other guys all have to travel. So I think there will be a lot of attention on this in the future."
Ward was crowned WBA champion when the contest went to the judges' scorecards, with the fight being stopped in the 11th round due to cuts on Kessler's face caused by an accidental headbutt. Two judges scored it 98-92 to the American, a third ruling 97-93.
Ward's promoter, Dan Goossen, has ambitious plans for his fighter that involve tapping into the his strong support base in the Bay Area, where more than 10,000 showed up to the Oracle Arena to see him defeat Kessler.
With Saturday's spectacular display likely to have dramatically increased Ward's support, Goossen even floated the possibility that if Ward qualified for the final of the Super Six, the championship bout could be held outdoors at the Oakland Coliseum.
However, if Sauerland and the other Super Six promoters refuse to agree to bouts in California from the semifinal stage onward, it could create severe friction and a potential stalemate.
Ward's next two fights are scheduled to be against fellow Americans Jermain Taylor and Andre Dirrell, with both set to be held in Oakland. However, Taylor and Dirrell are widely considered to be the boxers most likely to be eliminated when the six-man field is cut to four after the round-robin stage.
That would mean there is a strong likelihood of Ward being paired up with either Abraham or Kessler in a semifinal bout. England's Carl Froch is another potential opponent, and Froch's promoter, Mick Hennessy, would need little encouragement in pushing for a home fight in Nottingham, England, rather than a trip to the U.S.
Given the strength of conviction held by both Sauerland and Goossen, discussions could reasonably be expected to become mired in a stalemate, as neither promoter would be keen on giving up home advantage and the associated spinoffs.
Goossen hopes the matter is resolved amicably, but that seems a long shot right now.
"We made no complaint that two of the judges, the Swedish judge and the South African judge, both adjudicated Kessler's last fight," Goossen said in a telephone conversation with Yahoo! Sports. "I made no protest. I wanted the right winner to get the decision, whoever it was.
"Anything that comes after the fight is just sour grapes. Anyone who saw the fight would see that Andre Ward was by far the better fighter.
"I hope that what Mr. Sauerland said was just in the heat of the battle and that things will calm down. Nothing should be allowed to divert from Andre's great win."