It’s hard not to wonder if this is it.
Plenty of fans in the US might not even realize it’s happening.
On June 15, 2019, IBF cruiserweight titlist Yuniel Dorticos (24-1, 22 KO) and former WBC titlist Mairis Briedis (26-1, 19 KO) proved their second chances a charm, clearing the semifinals of the World Boxing Super Series and setting the stage for an excellent showdown after falling short in the round of four in the first WBSS tournament.
On September 26, 2020, the showdown will finally arrive.
Struck by delays even before COVID, the lack of movement in their class this year leaves us as we were in the wake of the original WBSS finalists Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev moving to heavyweight. These are the top two men in the world in the class that isn’t quite heavyweight.
We hope for a hell of a show (DAZN, 3 PM EST).
The question that has to be asked: is this the last gasp of the WBSS format?
Promoter Kalle Saureland has been quoted in the run up to Saturday’s long delayed cruiserweight final as having an eye on more, suggesting a heavyweight tournament next year just outside the current title picture and potential showdown between champion Tyson Fury and unified belt holder Anthony Joshua.
Still, it remains hard not to wonder if this is it.
The delays, reports of funding struggles, and inability to cement a foothold in the US market to go with plenty of international exposure has been an issue through what have been five compelling tournaments in total. On a Saturday when boxing provides fans with major action at Jr. welterweight and a six-bout pay-per-view featuring the Charlo twins, the WBSS returns to fill out one of the most exciting days the sweet science has provided in some time.
Fittingly happening during the college football season, a time often fun for the marathon way it can conquer eyeballs from early afternoon to the wee hours of Sunday, quality boxing will be available from ESPN+, DAZN, and Showtime PPV for the better part of twelve hours or more.
What’s not to like?
But when the smoke clears, when we have a new clear leader at cruiserweight, we can take stock of what works and doesn’t work about boxing’s attempts at tournaments. Fantasy matchmakers often wonder how much healthier the sport would be in elimination formats. The two WBSS attempts, first with tournaments at cruiserweight and super middleweight, and then again at cruiserweight with bantamweight and Jr. welterweight, suggest plenty of positives.
The most important thing the WBSS experience has highlighted is tournaments are only as good as their field. Both cruiserweight tournaments will end, barring a draw this weekend, with a new champion crowned by both the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and Ring Magazine recognizing the winner as a new lineal king. Both had six of the TBRB top ten at 200 lbs. from jump in eight man formats, lending legitimacy to the fields.
Jr. welterweight and bantamweight both had five of the top ten.
Like the Super Six Super middleweight in the 00s, a tournament doesn’t have to have the top eight in a single weight class to basically act as an eliminator by the end. Even the WBSS at super middleweight, missing the most big pieces of the class, ended with a new Ring Magazine titlist (all five tournaments share that in common). Fights with results create movement and the perception of elevation.
When they don’t settle matters at the top beyond dispute, they can provide the next best thing if players outside the field get business done too. Jr. welterweight Jose Ramirez unified two titles in parallel to the WBSS. If Josh Taylor wins this Saturday, we may be on the verge of a four belt showdown.
The negatives come in the form of holding pieces together. The Super Six ultimately featured eight fighters officially and Sakio Bika unofficially. Both the super middleweight and bantamweight WBSS tournaments lost a player before the semi-finals, costing the latter tournament a chance at a three-belt unification. That it ended with a popular choice for 2019 Fight of the Year, Naoya Inoue-Nonito Donaire, was fine salve for the wound.
The Jr. welterweight and both cruiserweight tournaments went off without losing a competitor. The first cruiserweight field is among the most successful in-ring tournaments of all time.
It’s interesting to compare the WBSS to what’s going on at Jr. middleweight. Hours after Briedis-Dorticos, Jr. middleweight will produce a three-belt leader of the class from Jermell Charlo-Jeison Rosario. Without a strict tournament, Jr. middleweight has produced a satisfying round robin for the fans that sort of ends up in the same place.
The lesson is when fights get made, it leads to more fights and ultimately gets the pack whittled down a marquee match.
Whether the WBSS continues or not, boxing in the ring is at its best when it finds a way to use competition to feed more competition, steadily raising the stakes along the way. Fans get to enjoy the reward for their investment in the journey this weekend.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org