Boxing needs more tournaments. There’s no question about it – the lack of a governing body for the sport results in most boxing matches sort of feeling random. Fighters operate as individual businesses, with four major belts (and a million more minor ones) in each division, not obligated to fight anybody really, various networks and promoters warring with each other and looking out for only their own best interests. It’s the biggest problem in the sport. The sports’ biggest fights can come too late or not at all – Mayweather-Pacquiao was served to us five years too late, Canelo Alvarez waited for Gennady Golovkin to age before he was comfortable taking him on, and the two clear best heavyweights in the world (Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder) are pussyfooting around each other and will no doubt fight at least one B-level contender again each before stepping in with each other.
That’s what makes the tournament format so enticing for boxing fans – in a single elimination, you can look ahead to matchups without guessing who is going to be next in line. That’s why so many boxing fans were excited when the World Boxing Super Series was announced early in 2017 – it took some of the best fighters in two divisions (cruiserweight and super middleweight), seeded eight fighters, and had them fight each other in a single-elimination style tournament to sort who the best man is.
Listen, it’s not come without it’s faults. The WBSS was unable to find a real U.S. broadcasting partner for the quarterfinal round – most of the fighters are European and likely their asking price was higher than American networks were willing to pay for unknown fighters. The super middleweight tournament is missing a lot of the top fighters in the division (though they nailed the cruiserweight pool). That said, the quarters were really interesting and are setting up some great matchups. Let’s take a look back at the quarterfinal round.
Oleksandr Usyk (Ukraine) TKO10 Marco Huck (Germany)
STW Scorecard: Usyk 89-81 Huck
Usyk, the betting favorite in the cruiserweight bracket, is a tall, skilled up-and-coming boxer that has potential to be the dominant force in the cruiserweight division overall. The undefeated Ukrainian is dangerous as he moves better than most everybody in the division, has the length to bother most guys and is an incredibly well-schooled fighter. He’s not a fighter with dynamite in his fists but he does get stoppages mainly on volume and accumulation on punches, which results in a lot of late stoppages. Huck is an old warhorse of the division, a former titleholder on the wrong side of 30 and having been in one too many wars – still, an experienced opponent and an interesting first opponent for the cruiser favorite.
Usyk started the match off behind the jab, staying on his bicycle keeping Huck away with his movement. Though Huck had his moments early in the fight, Usyk’s huge advantage in length really made a difference as his tentpole jab continually bobbleheaded Huck. In the 8th round, Usyk hurt the veteran German with a big shot that snapped Huck’s head back violently. Huck then wrestles him to the ground in a desperation move, and while Usyk is on his knees, Huck tries to go for the dirty punch, causing him a point deduction and getting Usyk really angry. For the next two rounds, Usyk fights mad – and you won’t like him when he’s mad. In the 10th Usyk knocks a clearly hurt Huck against the ropes and for about 30 seconds just unloads a barrage of nonstop punches as Huck just tries to survive. The referee steps in and stops the match there, perhaps a tad early, but Huck was so far down on the cards and with really no way to win the fight.
Mairis Briedis (Latvia) UD12 Mike Perez (Cuba)
STW Scorecard: Briedis 116-111 Perez
I’ve always liked Perez – the former heavyweight is a tweener in size in that he’s small for a heavy but big for a cruiser, but he was always a skilled, strong puncher. He seemed genuinely bothered by the tragedy that occurred following his match with Magomed Abdusalamov in 2014, and his career seemed to stall a bit following that fight. Breidis, a cruiserweight titleholder and a big name in the division, was fighting at home in Latvia.
This was a sloppy match, with a ton of grappling from both guys, particularly from Perez. It made some rounds hard to score. Breidis did a nice job of getting one or two quick shots in, and then they would clinch, get seperated, and then go again. Not a lot of clean shots landed at all, and the ref was all wrong in the match – getting involved when he doesn’t need to, not getting involved when he does. Perez was clearly frustrated coming downt he stretch. Both fighters were docked points during the match (Perez in the third for a head butt that opened a decent cut, Briedis in R10 for excessive holding), and it wasn’t pretty or a classic by any stretch of the imagination. Still, Briedis earned his chance to move on and will face Usyk in a very interesting semifinal matchup.
Yunier Dorticos (Cuba) KO2 Dmitry Kudryashov (Russia)
STW Scorecard: Dorticos 10-9 Kudryashov
In this fight, which was randomly held in San Antonio, you had guaranteed fireworks going in. Two guys that know how to punch, two KO artists, getting in the ring together, you just knew they weren’t both walking out. Kudryashov came in the much more limited of the two in skill, but with a shot just due to his crushing power. Dorticos had the edge and skill but had big power himself, so the question was what would happen when you put them both in the squared ring across from each other.
Well, we learned pretty quickly. After a relatively cautious opening round, in which Kudryashov looked strong but slow and Dorticos finding some success with some hooks on the side, the second round turned into an immediate firefight. Dorticos found something here and just started unloading – the Russian really didn’t move his head at all, and Dorticos pounced on that. In the middle of the round, Dorticos landed a nasty right hand to the side of the head that dazed his opponent and followed it up with another one that just finished him. He went down hard, was wobbly as shit and near crosseyed and could not beat the count. Great knockout.
Murat Gassiev (Russia) KO3 Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (Poland)
STW Scorecard: Gassiev 20-18 Wlodarczyk
Gassiev is a young power puncher in the division with loads of promise and nasty power. Wlodarcyk is an older guy who has been fighting at the top of the division for years, but had been pretty inactive in the past couple of years. This fight was not close.
Gassiev impressed from the start. After a somewhat cautious opening in which Gassiev still separated himself, the Russian began landing more significant shots and controlling the action by just applying consistent pressure. Wlodarczyk really has nothing. In R3, Gassiev walks him against the ropes, sneaks in a powerful short left uppercut and then follows that up with a left hook to the liver. Wlod goes down like a mannequin, face down. Total wipeout. Gassiev now faces Dorticos in the next round in a guaranteed fireworks matchup.
THE SUPER MIDDLEWEIGHTS
Callum Smith (England) UD12 Erik Skoglund (Sweden)
STW Scorecard: Smith 114-113 Skoglund
Well then. This was a fight that Smith was supposed to win, as the big Brit was seeded first and thus had perhaps the clearest path to the final in a bit of a weaker tournament. That said, he underwhelmed here in a close unanimous decision victory, and displayed some serious weaknesses.
Both guys started off pretty cautious – Smith landing some bigger, more effective shots but Skoglund being the busier man. Neither guy really lands too much here. Smith takes an early lead, though a close one, towards the beginning. Disappointingly, not a lot is separating these two but Smith probably punches a little harder as the bigger man. Skoglund has some success mid rounds and scoring behind his jab – the Swede is boxing nicely but it’s apparent that he doesn’t have the power to hurt Smith, hwo really isn’t doing enough for me. Have Skoglund taking a bunch of rounds in a row here but they are admittedly close. Smith’s nose is bleeding and that seems to bother him as he’s fighting cautiously and with a look of worry on his face.
In the 11th Smith hurts Skoglund with a right hand and the wobbled Skoglund has to take a knee. That opens Smith up as he sense his foe is diminished but Skoglund manages to survive the round. In the 12th, Smith came out frustratingly conservative, though he did edge the round. He wins the bout, but is far from impressive here.
Juergen Braehmer (Germany) UD12 Rob Brant (USA)
STW Scorecard: Braehmer 119-109 Brant
This was probably among the most unknown of the first round matchups. Braehmer is an experienced veteran, but he’s older than shit, and has been inactive recently. Brant is a little-known young, untested fighter out of Minnesota, who talked a nice game and touted big-name sparring partners and a trainer ahead of this fight, his big chance to make an impact on the international scene.
Well, we got the least interesting (and probably most predictable) version of this fight, as Brant took himself to Germany and showed himself to be far below the level of Braehmer. Braehmer was the better fighter in every way, and Brant was unwilling to lay it all out there in hopes of a hail Mary, giving the German an easy near-shutout decision win. Brant blows his shot and likely will sink back to obscurity/journeyman status, while Braehmer gets to extend his career a little further as he faces the vulnerable Callum Smith next bout up.
Chris Eubank Jr (England) KO3 Avni Yildirim (Turkey)
STW Scorecard: Eubank Jr. 20-17 Yildirim
Chris Eubank Jr. has superstar potential in this sport. The son of the famed former British boxing champion has the looks, the trash talk and the power to potentially become a big name in this sport. He came up short in a title shot a couple years back against Billy Joe Saunders (a disputed decision in a fight I actually scored a draw) and since has gone back to the drawing board and built up a reputation for stopping guys and building his name.
Yildirim was a complete unknown out of Turkey, and the most he contributed to making this fight interesting was having his manager make headlines by going off in an embarrassing fashion at the pre-fight presser. The fight itself was a total blowout. Yildrim just started off by following Eubank around with his hands plastered to his head while Eubank bounced a consistent jab off his forehead upstairs, ultimately scoring a knockdown with 30 seconds left int he first round.
The second round was just two guys winging punches at each other, in a fun display that Eubank consistently got the better of. In the third round Eubank just came out fucking swinging. He was a little wild with his looping shots but Yildirim didn’t have the skill set to counter him. He kept throwing these crazy hard power shots and eventually caught him with a right-left combo right int he face and knocked him down hard. The ref stopped it immediately which was a little weak as he didn’t even try to let him get up but Eubank was another class for sure.
George Groves (England) KO4 Jamie Cox (England)
STW Scorecard: Groves 29-28 Cox
I’ve always liked George Groves, though he’s had a strange career. After making it to the big time by fighting two huge stadium fights against Carl Froch (both competitive, exciting losses), his career’s been up and down. He flashes major skillsets and has won a belt in the division but at times seems really unsure of himself and someone who can get in his own head. Cox came into this fight a total unknown, at least to me.
This was a fun one. Groves, as usual, is a decent fighter though just sloppy and unsure enough to give his opponent some openings. A ton of punches are thrown here – Cox not really doing damage but he’s really game in there and threw about five billion punches in round 2. Most of them are missing but Cox definitely recognizes that he can only win with a knockout so that’s what he’s going for.
In the third round Groves begins to separate himself and show his class, especially when the fight goes on the inside. Cox has no idea what to do when the fight gets there other than hold ineffectively. Finally, in the fourth round Groves drops Cox for the predictable KO as Cox’s ‘knockout or bust’ strategy turns up bust and the world gets to so Eubank Jr-Groves, a major British fight and perhaps the biggest single bout in terms of name recognition across the two tournaments.
WBSS SEMIFINAL MATCHUPS
Oleksandr Usyk (Ukraine) vs. Mairis Breidis (Latvia)
Yunier Dorticos (Cuba) vs. Murat Gassiev (Russia)
Callum Smith (England) vs. Juergen Braehmer (Germany)
Chris Eubank Jr. (England) vs. George Groves (England)