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Why boxing needs the World Boxing Super Series

How often does sport really make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up? Mine did as I watched Nonito Donaire and Naoya Inoue battle it out in one of the all-time great fights in the bantamweight final of the World Boxing Super Series in Saitama, Japan.

It’s quite rare that we get to see two warriors fearlessly attempt to unify their belts in an era of boxing where money and the boxing’s politics often conspire to prevent big fights from happening. And yet, thanks to the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS), we’ve been treated to two incredible fight-of-the-year contenders in as many weeks.

On October 26th, in front of a packed O2 Arena in London, Josh Taylor and Regis Prograis produced scintillating displays, with Taylor capturing the WBA and Ring Magazine belts, as well as the Super Series’ Ali Trophy in a close but deserved majority win, just five months after winning the IBF title against Ivan Barachynk in Glasgow.

And, two weeks later, just when you think it can’t get any better; a modern-day classic that’ll be talked about for years to come was produced in Japan. Inoue – one of the most talked about fighters on the planet – edged a decision win against former four-weight world champion Donaire; the Phillipino very nearly shocking the world and conjuring up the seemingly possible in his probable farewell from the sport.

Phenomenal

The contest had everything: skill, drama, grit, heart and an 11th-round that’ll surely go down as one of the best ever seen in the sport. Despite sustaining a nasty-looking cut early on in the fight, Inoue – who is fast becoming a pound-for-pound star – was the one to lift the Ali Trophy aloft, defend his IBF world title, capture the coveted Ring Magazine belt and win the WBA strap from his Phillipino counterpart.

Former WBSS cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk in training

This phenomenal conclusion to the second season of the WBSS is no one-off either. Last year’s tournaments didn’t exactly disappoint. British fighter Callum Smith shocked many by winning the light-heavyweight version of the tournament in Saudi Arabia, sending icon George Groves into retirement in the process.

Not many will forget the dramatic cruiserweight tournament either. Oleksandr Usyk produced a remarkable individual crusade towards greatness by beating Marco Huck, Mairis Briedis and Murat Gassiev in their home nations; thrusting the Ukranian into the public domain and building a profile that should earn him a heavyweight title shot next year. It really was a demonstration of what boxing can do when its frustrating politics are put to one side.

The WBSS sounds great, doesn’t it? The best fighting the best, immediate unifications with no opportunity for fighters to take easy defences after winning world titles, plus epic production values, with amazing light shows that make every show unforgettable. It sounds almost too good to be true.

So why are there rumours swirling around that the second season of the WBSS could also be its last?

Fears

In fairness, it’s not always gone smoothly. The WBSS – headed up by Kalle and Nisse Saureland – was founded as a tournament that looked to bring the best-of-the-best of each weight division into a knockout-style competition.

However, they haven’t always been able to secure every big name possible. Jose Ramirez – the current WBO super-lightweight champion – was a notable absentee from this year’s tournament.

“Boxing needs these fights to happen in order to keep up with mixed martial arts”

There were also fears earlier this year that the tournament may even discontinue before season two reached its conclusion due to complicated issues with investors. A competition attempting to get the biggest stars in world boxing on board was always going to need serious investment and, without that, there’s really no place for the tournament to go. Especially if they want to try and target some of the higher weight divisions.

Let’s hope that these problems can be put to one side, though, and the WBSS can continue for a few more series to come. This is fantasy boxing, an idea that only a true purist could dream up.

We live in a world where fights like Crawford vs Spence and Joshua vs Wilder are just quixotic debates in the pub rather than real-life fights in the ring. This tournament makes those dream super-fights a reality.

Boxing needs these fights to happen in order to keep up with mixed martial arts – another combat sport that is rapidly growing in popularity amongst the younger demographic.

Future

Last week, a world championship fight between Canelo Alvarez and Sergey Kovalev was delayed so it didn’t clash with Nate Diaz’s MMA bout with Jose Masvidal in the UFC. A worrying indication at where boxing is in comparison to other sports.

The Sauerland brothers are attempting to breathe new life into it by forcing unifications and putting on amazing events involving incredible fights in the process. It doesn’t just buy ready-made stars in either, it makes them.

Last year, it was Usyk and Smith who shot to fame as a result of their WBSS glory. This year, Taylor and Inoue will be the ones to rise to the summit. The Japanese star has already been snapped up by Bob Arum’s Top Rank on a highly-lucrative, multi-year deal.

There’s no denying that the project has had its issues, and future seasons would have to run a lot smoother than the first two, but to give up on the concept would be a crying shame after it has helped deliver so many amazing fights in such a short space of time.

The WBSS simply must be preserved for as long as possible – whatever the cost.

Image credits: MR Gatis & Andriy Makukha via flickr.com.

Groves begins war of words with Eubank Jr after win

George Groves has accused Chris Eubank Jr of letting his ego get in the way of his career, saying his next opponent is “a performer first, fighter second”.

The British rivals will meet in the semi-finals of the World Boxing Super Series, which pits six super-middleweight title holders and contenders against each other in a knockout format.

Groves, 29, set up his clash with Eubank Jr by stopping Jamie Cox in four pulsating rounds at the SSE Wembley Arena, and immediately went on the offensive.

“Eubank to his credit is a performer first, fighter second. He is always aware of how he’s being perceived. He was desperate to fight me because he knows fighting me makes it a big fight. He craves fame, I’m here to fight.”

Eubank Jr beat Turkey’s Avni Yildirim in three rounds in Stuttgart earlier this month to reach the final four.

Londoner Groves ended Cox’s 24-fight unbeaten record and took his own tally to 27 victories – with 20 coming by knockout – and three losses.

Power shots

Cox, 31, began well, tagging Groves with multiple jabs to the body. Groves fired back with body shots of his own and eventually connected with good straights to the head. Both fighters started unleashing power shots towards the end of the opening round.

The Swindon boxer continued to target Groves’ body with jabs, pressuring him into the ropes where the pair traded blows in a fierce exchange.

‘The Saint’ clipped Cox with accurate punches towards the end, but the challenger had made his intentions clear.

The same blueprint was used in the third. Cox started with the body jabs and Groves countered with a strong uppercut and a brief brawl ensued after. Cox showed a little frustration in the third after a few slips but the bout stayed even as both fighters landed shots.

Cox kept his pressure up in the fourth but then out of nowhere Groves landed a perfectly-placed right hook to the body. The challenger went down and did not get up.

 Humble

Cox didn’t have much to say after his defeat

Cox was a man of very few words in the post-fight press conference.

“It was a great fight. It’s great to be part of this World Boxing Super Series. George Groves is great world champion, and I relish the opportunities forthcoming.”

As for future plans, Cox didn’t have much to say.

“A couple weeks of a break, then I’m back in the gym. I’m going to sit down and speak with Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing and go from there.”

Focus

Groves, the former British, European and Commonwealth super-middleweight champion, gave credit to his quarter-final opponent and said he had been ready for Cox’s early onslaught.

“We expected him to be aggressive and fast early on. We planned for that, so we weren’t surprised. Logically, it would have made sense that Jamie would try to force the pace early.

“But I’m a strong guy, I’m a clever fighter as well. I knew it was only a matter of time because I was able to land good shots.”

Groves now switches his focus to Eubank Jr, and their eagerly-anticipated bout is set to happen in January or February, according to promoter Kalle Sauerland.

The winner will then fight for the Muhammad Ali Trophy in the final bout of the World Boxing Super Series in May.

In the other semi-final, Britain’s Callum Smith will face either Germany’s Juergen Braehmer or American Rob Brant, who fight in Germany October 27.

Photos by Patrik Kuitunen