Boxing Tournaments – The Perfect Cure for Divisional Doldrums?

By Jason Peck - Expect Showtime’s beleaguered Super Six tournament to catch too much grief in the next few days. Half the original lineup has backed out, and every doom-and-gloom “boxing is dead” sports writer stands by with the usual clichés: Boxing “failed a golden opportunity” “got it wrong again” “let the fans down” “boxing politics kill the sport” and maybe even my favorite – “black eye for boxing.” How original.

Save it. This isn’t a hockey tournament, with an entire team of men in heavy protective padding. Not an MMA tournament, when the action stops as soon as actual blows are finally landed. Not a golf tournament, where only the ball suffers blunt force trauma. This is boxing, a sport that takes a tremendous physical toll – AND a tournament among six elite athletes. So lay off. And recognize this is the best thing for boxing in years..

Already, the Super Six tournament has had a positive impact on boxing. Even if the tournament ends tomorrow, it has still paid off with attention-grabbing headlines and evenly-matched battles that probably wouldn’t have taken place otherwise.

The point has still been made – with big risks come big rewards. Every time the Super Six held a new round, people watched in far greater numbers than they would have otherwise. Promoters and fighters must certainly rethink whether it really pays to stay protected, or to side with guts and glory.

So far the answer is encouraging. The boxing net is abuzz with talk of a likely tournament in the cruiserweight ranks, and Showtime has its own follow-up scheduled with its bantamweight tournament. The bantamweight tournament of course falls short of the Super Six (to my mind the biggest shortcoming is the exclusion of Fernando Montiel, by now the best bantamweight in the world) but it’s still a good shot in the arm to a stale division. And it doubtless would never have happened without its predecessor.

Better yet, tournaments like this actually take full advantage of the multiple sanctioning bodies that publications like the Ring Magazine endlessly bemoan. I’ve written before that done right, I have no problem with multiple champions. The uncertainty adds to the drama.

And ironically, once a single undisputed champion is crowned, those same people often lose interest in the division anyway. Never addressed, but it’s true.

I remember the heavyweight division of five years ago, falling in between Lennox Lewis retiring and Wladimir Klitschko winning a title belt. To my mind, those horrid three years really symbolize all that is actually wrong with boxing.

The four belts were spread out amongst four boring fighters, all of them well-protected by promoter Don King. None fought each other, or took on serious challenges for fear of their promoter losing a piece of the pie. With a tournament, even this sad state of affairs could have been exciting.

So the champion Lennox has left; leaving a plethora of hungry, ambitious men yearning for their shot at immortality ­– the heavyweight championship of the world, the most coveted championship in boxing. No one has much faith in them, each comes with bad losses on their records, and a lot to prove. And only one remains standing (standing to be knocked out by a Klitschko, probably, but that’s another story).

The possibilities are tantalizing. How about a light heavyweight tournament? There’s a lot of talent in that division, but no one fights the other and the average fan has little clue who’s actually there. Bernard Hopkins held that division up for years, time to give some young pups a chance for the spotlight.

How about a tournament at lightweight? All the major champions have moved on, leaving only Juan Manuel Marquez as the dominant champion whose clock is ticking. Or super bantamweight, in limbo with the absence of dominant champ Celestino Caballero. How about a new tournament at middleweight, where the once-unified division is now spread out amongst four champions? It worked once before with Hopkins and Felix Trinidad.

I wanted to see the Super Six original lineup finish this as much as the next guy. But I’m not nearly as upset as him. Like I said, the legacy of this ambitious undertaking can’t be anything but good.

Article posted on 09.10.2010

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