Ken Hershman of Showtime plans to keep the Super Six World Boxing Classic alive in spite of his latest setback, the defection of Andre Dirrell. We must admire Hershman’s commitment to a product he believes in.
And he’s right when he says that plenty of drama lies ahead no matter what form the tournament takes now. Semifinals that include Andre Ward, Arthur Abraham, Carl Froch and a fourth fighter are compelling.
Still, if we learned one thing from the Super Six, it’s that the format doesn’t work.
The tournament was scheduled to have 12 fights (nine in the first round, two in the semifinals and a championship match) over about a year and a half, which provides too many opportunities over too much time for things to go wrong.
And go wrong they did. Jermain Taylor pulled out after a brutal knockout loss against Arthur Abraham. Then Mikkel Kessler defected with what he said was an eye injury. And finally Dirrell, claiming neurological concerns, abandoned ship, leaving the Super Six with only three of its original six participants.
Other issues also cropped up. Most notably, Showtime had to threaten a lawsuit before Ward and Dirrell agreed to meet in their now-canceled fight on Nov. 27.
Compare the Super Six with the network’s four-man bantamweight tournament, which is composed of four fights over a few months – semi-finals on the same night, a final and a third-place bout. Of course, even an abbreviated format could encounter trouble but the chances are slimmer.
I have always been an advocate of an eight-man, single-elimination format, which would be riveting if it went off without any glitches. However, in light of the Super Six lesson, I’ve changed my mind. Any vehicle with too many moving parts will break down.
Hershman says he still loves the six-man, quasi-round-robin concept but it’s difficult to imagine Showtime or anyone else attempting it again.
“We still believe in the Super Six, we think it’s a fantastic concept,” he said. “It’s very, very challenging, obviously, to get through that many fights at that level of competition over this course of time. We will still have the semi-finals next year with at least three of the original participants.”
No one is to blame for the failures of Super Six, at least not on the surface.
Hershman has worked tirelessly to put the tournament together and then keep it afloat. And if the fighters were injured, they were injured. We can’t expect them to face a world-class opponent if they’re not 100 percent.
Is it possible the injuries were manufactured so the defectors could go a different direction without violating their contracts? Sure.
No one took issue when Taylor pulled out of the tournament. Most observers genuinely feared for his well being after a series of brutal knockout losses, which raises questions about whether he should’ve been included in the first place.
Dirrell was smart to withdraw if what his uncle-trainer Leon Lawson told ESPN.com is true. Lawson said a doctor advised his nephew not to fight because of ongoing dizziness and headaches, possibly the result of the vicious blow he took from Arthur Abraham while on the canvas in March.
And only Kessler and his doctors know whether his eye injury was serious enough to preclude him from fighting.
The point is that it really doesn’t matter. Unusual circumstances (Taylor), injuries (whether real or not) and flaky fighters (Ward and Dirrell) can and will spoil the best-designed tournament, as it did to the Super Six to a great degree.
Hershman should and will remain resolute and see the tournament through to the end, which I support.
I think his best option is to go with five fighters rather than replace Dirrell. That way, Ward, Abraham and Froch – three of the original six – would go through to the semifinals and be joined by the winner of Glen Johnson-Allan Green. Nice and clean.
Even those calling for Hershman to raise the white flag would have to admit that the semifinal and final matchups are must-see TV even if the tournament isn’t what it once was. The final will do tremendous numbers.
Then, when it’s finally over, we should all agree that the concept – while fascinating – just isn’t practical and should never be tried again.