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World Boxing Super Series: ‘If it ain’t broke...’

The WBSS will run the cruiserweights again in season two.

On Tuesday, Comosa AG and Kalle Sauerland announced the third weight for Season Two of the World Boxing Super Series. Joining the bantamweights and junior welterweights would be… wait for it… the cruiserweights. The cruiserweights?! You mean, after unifying the entire division and staging one of the most absorbing tournaments that this format has created we are going to do it all over again? Yep.

This task of trying to recreate the 8-man tournament that dominated the boxing media – if not the broader sports media - this past year is a daunting one, but one that chief boxing officer Kalle Sauerland is committing to.

The charismatic promoter cited the following in a press release regarding Season Two: “Season One paved the way for Oleksandr Usyk to write history and take home the first-ever Muhammad Ali Trophy. The cruiserweight edition of the Ali Trophy gave the world spectacular matchups in the quarterfinals, ‘Fight of the Year’ contenders in the semifinals and we witnessed Usyk as a pound-for-pound best with his amazing performance in the final. We are really looking forward to continuing the success of this exciting weight class in Season Two.”

Fine. You can’t argue with Kalle’s model for success. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” springs to mind immediately when considering the appeal of this third weight, however, with limited fighters able to reach the levels of Season One, we may be left struggling for narratives and overall interest as this plays second fiddle to the two lower weights.

Why even have a third weight? Two worked perfectly – despite the two delayed finals – over the past year, with an extra weight muddying the waters of the strict scheduling we saw at the back end of 2017. Challenged with the limited pool of talent to contest a trophy that is supposed to identify the best in the world, Sauerland later dispelled these issues with a promise of a “strong lineup”: “People can expect a very strong lineup. There will be some remarkable names from Season One, the highest-ranked challengers and, as always in the World Boxing Super Series, a huge geographic spread. We now have all three weight classes in place and we cannot wait to share the Ali Trophy action with the whole world.”

So what do we know already? With Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev – Season One finalists – more than likely ruled out of competing in the sequel, we are left looking at some of the nearly men of the past twelve months to have another stab at the trophy. The likes of Yunier Dorticos (although he recently stated he may move up to heavyweight), Dmitry Kudryashov and Mairis Briedis could make a welcomed return to the format, with names such as Ilunga Makabu, Andrew Tabiti, Maxim Vlasov, Mateusz Masternak and Denis Lebedev touted as being in the running to fill the void of the empty brackets.

Ok, now we’re talking. The cruisers have lived in the shadows of the mainstream boxing media for years now; drama would be guaranteed, once again, if we could get some of these big hitters in the ring together. A new breed of hardcore heroes could be allowed to shine in the spotlight, without the constant political bulls*it we are often left to write, talk and moan about.

A problem to negate, however, would be the incentive for these fighters. This all depends on Usyk’s next step regarding the gold currently draped around his waist, neck and shoulders. The WBC, WBA (Super), IBF and WBO belts all belong to the Ukrainian, and without the promise of at least one world title after winning three fights over the course of a year, the top end of the 200-pounders may think twice.

This, of course, is assuming that Usyk doesn’t vacate – which he will have to eventually. Much hinges on his proposed fight with UK’s Tony Bellew – expected for November 10 this year – as to whether ‘The Cat’ will be able to juggle all four titles for a sustained period. If they sign, these crowns will be locked up until then, with the winner (whoever it may be, *coughs* Usyk), likely to vacate to move up to heavyweight, or retire (in Bellew’s case).

This scattering of titles will inevitably allow the WBSS to sweep some – if not all – of them up, injecting them back into Season Two with added impetus for the contenders; whether the would-be fighters can work on this assumption is a huge stumbling block that the organisers will have to convince is just a minor detail.

For a lot of world-level cruiserweights, the promise of three fights (for the winner and runner-up) as well as media exposure, TV exposure and guaranteed purses is too much to turn down. Alphabet belts are becoming less important in the careers of a lot of fighters, with monetary gain topping priorities in the true form of ‘prizefighting’. This is what the WBSS are targetting, and even without a sprinkling of world titles, this 8-man format is an extremely enticing offer impossible to turn down for any fighter who isn’t deemed a ‘pay-per-view’ star.

Politics seem distinctly absent in the 200-pound division, with promotional wars hampering potential super-fights in a majority of the divisions. The bantams, junior welterweights and cruisers seem void of these disputes as a whole; allowing the WBSS to sweep in as a ‘saviour’ to the divisions as the best vow to fight the best. Imagine trying to organize an 8-man tournament in the middleweights; the welterweights; the heavyweights. Impossible, but boy, they would be phenomenal.

In its current infancy, there is a ceiling to the talent that the WBSS can recruit. With future successes, who is to say this format can’t break into the more ‘mainstream’ divisions in a search for the ultimate king of each weight.