The best development in boxing in the last few years has to be the introduction of the World Boxing Super Series – eight man, single elimination tournaments in various weight classes, with competitions taking place around the world.
The first season of WBSS featured two weight classes – super middleweights and cruiserweight. The cruiserweight tournament in particular was completely stacked – all four major belts were involved, meaning the winner of the tournament would be undisputed champion. By winning the tournament, Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk put his name at the top of pound-for-pound lists and created a legacy of perhaps the best cruiserweight in history.
The super middleweight field was much weaker, but the eventual winner (the UK’s Callum Smith) firmly etched his name into the minds of boxing fans around the globe as a real champion with an impressive knockout of countryman George Groves in the final. Both tournaments were successes, and to the great pleasure of boxing fans worldwide, the tournament was quick to announce a second season – this time featuring three weight classes (cruiserweights, super lightweights, and bantamweights). The quarterfinals have been completed, so let’s take a look at where things stand in all three tournaments.
The bantamweight tournament in some ways feels like it’s going to be an inevitable crowning of “The Monster”, Naoya Inoue, the young Japanese prodigy who is wreaking havoc in the lower weight classes. That said, the bantamweight tournament sported a strong field with three major titleholders: you had Inoue join titleholders Ryan Burnett, Zolani Tete and Emmanuel Rodriguez. Joining those four was veteran fighters Juan Carlos Payano and Nonito Donaire (moving back down to bantamweight in the twilight of his career), and two unproven low seeds in Mikhail Aloyan and Jason Moloney. Here’s how the first round went down:
Oct. 7: Naoya Inoue (Japan) KO1 Juan Carlos Payano (Dominican Republic)
Inoue has torn through just about every opponent he’s ever fought, and he made an immediate impact in his quarterfinal matchup against the veteran Payano, brutally knocking him out in a KOTY contender. Find the replay to find the beautiful footwork, shot placement and brutality of the knockout combination that ended this fight just as it was getting started. You could almost see Payano’s brain hit the back of his skull and turn his lights out. Absolutely brutal, and scary for the rest of the field.
Oct. 13: Zolani Tete (South Africa) UD12 Mikhail Aloyan (Russia)
STW Scorecard: Tete 115-110 Aloyan
Tete is a tall, lengthy and skilled boxer, the current WBO titleholder and difficult style matchup for anybody. Aloyan, conversely, is a small, compact Russian who had a decorated amateur career but came into this fight completely unproven, with just four fights. The two did not create a lot of buzz in their matchup, as their styles meshed into a slow, uninspiring snoozer in this unanimous decision win for Tete. After starting quickly and scoring a R1 flash knockdown, the South African fighter puts most of the fight in cruise control. Both fighters lost points (Tete for elbowing, Aloyan for holding) as the end of the fight devolves into a grapple fest. Aloyan won’t be much of anything as a professional, as whatever skill he has is negated by the fact that he doesn’t much power in there. You’d hope to see better from Tete moving forward – he’s either not the truth, or fights to the level of his competition. Time will tell.
Oct. 20: Emmanuel Rodriguez (Puerto Rico) SD12 Jason Moloney (Australia)
STW Scorecard: Rodriguez 116-112 Moloney
A couple of undefeated up and comers here, although Rodriguez holds the IBF bantamweight belt. Moloney gave a good account of himself and was incredibly game, but was a half step slower and less accurate throughout. Rodriguez was precise and skilled, showing good schooling and an athletic disposition. Moloney left it all in there and had a nice rally late, but too little too late in my mind. Scorecards were a bit closer than I thought, 7-5 Rodriguez x2 and one 7-5 Moloney card. Deserved win for Rodriguez, who has his hands full in the next round with Inoue.
Nov. 3: Nonito Donaire (Phillippines) RTD4 Ryan Burnett (Northern Ireland)
STW Scorecard: Donaire 38-37 Burnett
The biggest upset of the quarterfinal round of the WBSS saw the veteran Donaire take Ryan Burnett’s WBA title off of him in Glasgow after the Northern Irishman suffered a freak back injury (turned out to be a torn oblique) after whiffing on a punch in the 4th round. After a tight back and forth beginning that saw an intriguing matchup of the slower but still powerful Donaire trying to hunt down the quicker, more accurate Burnett, it was a disappointing way to end the fight, and Donaire didn’t do much celebrating to have won in such a strange way. That said, Donaire now finds himself holding a bantamweight belt and moving on to face South Africa’s Tete, a matchup – based on the first round – you have to feel Donaire can win. There is, however, a Monster lurking on the other side of the bracket, and one that many Donaire fans might be nervous to see him in the ring with.
This is my favorite of the current tournaments going on, mainly because we have two burgeoning, up and coming stars involved in Scotland’s Josh Taylor and the USA’s Regis Prograis, and is genuinely a tournament without a heavy favorite. Either of those two could win, but their potential finals matchup is thrilling. Neither has an easy path to the finals either, as the rest of the tournament was made up of either experienced, tough opponents without a big name (Terry Flanagan, Kiryl Relikh, Eduard Troyonovsky) or young, unproven and largely unbeaten fighters with an element of danger to them (Ryan Martin, Ivan Baranchyk, and Anthony Yigit).
Oct. 7: Kiryl Relikh (Belarus) UD12 Eduard Troyanovsky (Russia)
STW Scorecard: Relikh 115-113 Troyanovsky
This was a close fight, though not necessarily a great fight. Relikh, the WBA titleholder in the divison, was the stronger puncher and much more of the come-forward guy, with the Russian backing up and trying to pick him off coming in. The back half of the fight belonged to Troyanovsky, as he started to get timing down and a progressively more exhausted Relikh seemed to run out of ideas and just come forward with no plan. All three scorecards were 7-5 to Relikh for the deserved decision, but neither man looked great here. Relikh is all grit and heart, and comes forward and throws big punches, but he is cursed with a lack of power. That said, his only two losses came on questionable decisions and he’s going to be a tough out for Regis Prograis in the next round. Speaking of…
Oct. 27: Regis Prograis (USA) UD12 Terry Flanagan (England)
STW Scorecard: Prograis 119-108 Flanagan
Prograis, the young, flashy New Orleans boxer, has on the come-up just blown everybody out of the water. He’s shown crazy power, highlight reel KOs and an exciting style with an at times troubling lack of defense. His quarterfinal matchup saw him in tough with Terry Flanagan, who lost his belt (the only one not in this tournament) in his previous matchup to tricky boxer Maurice Hooker. Flanagan is no joke for a first round matchup. He’s a tough veteran who knows what he’s doing, and Prograis’ dominance here should be nothing to sneeze at. Those disappointed that he didn’t get a knockout fail to appreciate the work the young American put in, as he beat his veteran opponent to the punch at every step, drilled him with a heavy KD in R8 and overall proving himself to be a cut above – and not just a big puncher.
Oct. 27: Ivan Baranchyk (Belarus) TKO7 Anthony Yigit (Sweden)
STW Scorecard: Baranchyk 68-64 Yigit
‘Beast’ is the most fitting way to describe Ivan Baranchyk. The man is a walking muscle, just a relentless come forward pressure fighter with little skill but a lot of sadasm. Yigit put forth his best effort but was hopelessly overpowered, as at every turn Baranchyk was up in his grill not allowing him to breathe. The doctor stopped this fight after the seventh after Yigit’s eye exploded in a disgusting hematoma that looked awful. Baranchyk isn’t the greatest fighter in the world but he’s a tough matchup. Taylor-Baranchyk might be my favorite semifinal matchup in all three weight classes.
Nov. 3: Josh Taylor (Scotland) TKO7 Ryan Martin (USA)
STW Scorecard: Taylor 60-54 Martin
Going in, I thought this was an underrated matchup. Taylor is one of the rising stars in the sport, a polished young fighter who shone brightest when actually matched tough – with impressive wins over fellow prospect Ohara Davies and Viktor Postol (and nobody looks impressive against Postol). Martin is an extremely athletic, unbeaten young fighter (his nickname was literally ‘Blue Chip’), trained by Abel Sanchez and someone that looked like a promising fighter at one time. He’d been unconvincing in his stepup fights (most notably a disputed decision against journeyman Francisco Rojo on the GGG-Canelo 1 undercard).
I was wrong. Taylor was many levels ahead of Martin. Martin could not get off, looked afraid of the moment and barely threw any punches, content to nervously let Taylor box his ears off and dominate him in every way. In R6, Taylor turned it up and started really putting a beatdown on Martin, who was bleeding and seemed defeated. Martin found a way out in the very next round, taking an accidental rabbit punch and using that as an excuse to go down, the referee somewhat awkwardly stopping the fight. It was a strange stoppage but Martin wasn’t upset about it at all, seemingly glad to just get out without getitng too hurt. The Josh Taylor train moves on, and now he must fight a Belorussian animal in Baranchyk.
As good as the season one cruiserweight tournament was, the second season in this division has been a bit mystifying. Why the WBSS decided to run back this weight class immediately is anyone’s guess – the last season featured all four major belts, while this one features none. This year’s cruiserweight crop features two also-rans from the last season (albeit good ones) in Mairis Breidis and Yunier Dorticos, established veteran Kryszstof Glowacki, up and comer Andrew Tabiti and four guys even the most hardcore boxing fan has never heard of. It does not have last season’s champion (who has all of the belts) nor last season’s runner up (Murat Gassiev) and thus feels kind of like an also-ran tournament with limited relevance. Some good fighters here but it just doesn’t feel…important. The best you can get from this tournament – because even a lower level a tournament is better than no tournament – is some good fights and action, and sadly, the quarterfinal round didn’t have much of that either.
Oct. 13: Andrew Tabiti (USA) UD12 Ruslan Fayfer (Russia)
STW Scorecard: Tabiti 116-111 Fayfer
Tabiti is a fighter who seems like he has the goods to be a star – he’s handsome, well spoken, sculpted and powerful looking. He’s also, to this point in his career, been an absolute bore to watch. His most impressive win to date was a decision win over an over-the-hill Steve Cunningham on the Mayweather-McGregor undercard, a fight that was so boring that it threatened to set boxing back 15 years given the amount of casual eyeballs that were on that fight. Tabiti went into the Russian’s backyard on this one, and managed to outpoint him despite fighting tentative, doing more posing than actual fighting. Fayfer was nothing but a jab and grabber and didn’t do much other than hold. Brutal fight, one of the worst of the tournament thus far.
Oct. 20: Yunier Dorticos (Cuba) UD12 Mateusz Masternak (Poland)
STW Scorecard: Dorticos 115-113 Masternak
The best fight of the cruiserweight quarterfinals saw power puncher Yunier Dorticos hang on for a really close win over Masternak, a limited but tough fighter who managed to take Dorticos’ early power shots and survive to nearly steal one from the Cuban big man late. Dorticos is a fighter who I’d have put as my favorite before the tournament started – he got knocked out late in a competitive fight in last season’s semifinals, a fight that was one of the best fights I saw in 2018 – but he didn’t look great in this one. He was getting caught with shots, never had Masternak seriously wobbled. You wonder if either Masternak was better than expected or if Dorticos lost something in the ring that night in his war with Gassiev. Time will tell, as he has an interesting matchup against the flashy and talented but underwhelming Tabiti.
Nov. 10: Kryzysztof Glowacki (Poland) UD12 Maksim Vlasov (Russia)
STW Scorecard: Glowacki 118-110 Vlasov
Competitive but clear, this was a pretty entertaining scrap between the veteran Glowacki and the little known Vlasov, who was game and gave it his all but didn’t have enough for the former titleholder. The fight really got cooking down the stretch when Vlasov hurt Glowacki badly and Glowacki fired a hail mary desperation overhand punch that somehow landed flush and knocked Vlasov back, allowing Glowacki to recover. Good effort from Vlasov, but Glowacki moves on.
Nov. 10: Mairis Briedis (Latvia) UD12 Noel Mikhailin (Germany)
Alright, look. I watched almost every single semifinal matchup. This fight took place on a night where I had a wedding to attend, and came on DAZN after the way more relevant and interesting Tony Bellow-Oleksandr Usyk card. I meant to watch it on replay but only heard that it was A) a garbage fight and B) a garbage robbery decision, so I can’t bring myself to spend an hour of my life watching it. The word on the street is that Breidis, last year’s semifinalist and the man who gave Usyk his closest fight in last season’s tournament, didn’t look good and was gifted a questionable decision against his unknown opponent in a fight with a lot of grabbling and very little action. He moves on to face Glowacki in the next round, and if he doesn’t have his shit together, we could see him lose that one.