Eric Raskin

“Six” sense: At Showtime, the show must go on

If we learned one thing last week after Showtime announced that Andre Dirrell had pulled out of the Super Six tournament, it’s that fighters and network executives are held to different standards. Fans and media alike have almost zero tolerance for boxers who quit when the going gets rough. But apparently when a TV network has a taken a few flush shots and has been wobbled a couple of times, we encourage the suits in charge to throw in the towel.

Everyone’s knee-jerk reactions become public domain nowadays thanks to Twitter. And in terms of those immediate reactions to the bad news, folks were almost unanimously suggesting a quit-job rather than a solution.

ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael tweeted: “Super Six on life support at this point. I mean why go on when half the field has dropped out? Showtime gave its all. Know when to fold ’em.”

BoxingScene.com’s David Greisman tweeted: “The Super Six should just be super nixed.”

A St. Louis based fight fan named Josh who uses the Twitter handle @ThaScoreCard tweeted: “Andre Dirrell drops out of the Super Six tournament. Now is the time to let this thing out of its misery. Half the field has dropped out!”

And on it went, with numerous voices from inside and outside the boxing world suggesting that Showtime Sports Executive Vice President Ken Hershman do precisely what we excoriate our fighters for doing: roll down his sleeves and walk away.

The all-hope-is-gone reaction is an understandable from an emotional standpoint. We can’t give any of the quick-twitch Tweeters too much grief because it did feel for a moment, with Dirrell’s withdrawal piling on top of all of the delays and pull-outs that have left is with only three of the original six boxers, as if the tournament is just plain jinxed. And for most of us, it’s human nature in trying times to choose the easiest way out – at least in terms of our gut response.

But when we take a deep breath, sometimes we see that there are reasonable solutions and that continuing offers more upside than quitting.

In this case, there are two very direct silver linings to Dirrell pulling out.

First, we’ve been spared Andre Ward vs. Dirrell. Though the bout was competitive and intriguing on paper, it had become clear these two friends and former Olympic teammates didn’t particularly want to fight each other. The potential was undeniably in place for a 12-round sparring session in which two speedsters did everything possible not to hit the other hard. So maybe it’s just as well that the fight isn’t happening.

And second, one of the three upcoming Group Stage 3 fights just became considerably more meaningful. Allan Green (who subbed in for Jermain Taylor after Group Stage 1) vs. Glen Johnson (who subbed in for Mikkel Kessler just a few weeks ago) probably would’ve meant nothing in terms of determining the semifinalists. Now, depending on who replaces Dirrell as Ward’s opponent and whether or not the bout is part of the round robin, Green vs. Johnson will likely be a straight-forward win-and-you’re-in affair.

And yes, there’s a counterpoint to that: Arthur Abraham vs. Carl Froch just became less meaningful because both winner and loser are positioned to advance. But these are two proud fighters who don’t want a second defeat on their records, plus they might just be fighting to determine who avoids facing Ward next. So the amount by which the significance of Abraham-Froch is diminished does not equal the amount by which the significance of Johnson-Green is increased.

And ultimately I believe the value in scrapping the tournament at this point does not equal the value in continuing with Group Stage 3, the semifinals and the finals.

“Our mission is to put on the most competitive fights possible,” Hershman said in announcing last week that the Super Six would move forward despite Dirrell’s departure. “We think we have a great field and we still think that the ultimate victor will be someone that has been through the rigors of this tournament. It may turn out to be somebody who slipped in as a substitute. But, if they can beat this field and get to that place, then I think they deserve to be crowned champion as well.

“If we get through this Group Stage 3 and we get into the semis, I think the energy around the tournament will come back and we’ll be in for a great 2011 with two or three great shows. That’s what the fans want. They want to see great boxing. The tournament overlay on top of it will just add a bit more color to it.”

Obviously, Hershman is putting the best possible face on a highly imperfect situation. But at the same time, he’s right that the continuation of an imperfect tournament offers more to fight fans than prematurely concluding that tournament.

Look at what the Super Six has already delivered. Without this tournament, who knows whether Ward or Dirrell would have stepped up to fighting elite opponents yet? They sure as hell weren’t doing it before the Super Six began. Who knows whether American fight fans would have had the opportunities to watch top European super middleweights Abraham, Froch and Kessler in major bouts?

And if the tournament were to be unceremoniously halted now, we would have no assurances of Abraham vs. Froch (an excellent fight on paper) or either fighting Ward. As it is, we might get all three fights in that triangle, plus maybe Johnson against one of them. If you ask me, Abraham vs. Johnson is potentially a spectacular battle, and Froch vs. Johnson sounds like an all-action fight too.

Hershman has his own reasons for wanting to continue. There are contracts involved and tearing them up is presumably an absolute last resort for him. Plus the Super Six is his baby, and presumably he’s more emotionally attached to it than the average fight fan is.

But you don’t have to be Ken Hershman to want to see this tournament persevere as best it can.

“Even if there were no contractual issues to deal with, why scrap it at this point?” asked Lou DiBella, who is involved in the event as a promoter and can empathize with Hershman as a former television executive with HBO. “Froch and Abraham is a good fight. Johnson and Green, they’re in training, they’re less than a month away, why would you scrap it now? That makes no sense to me. The fights are still high quality. I think Ken did the right thing.

“We have a very unpredictable sport. The old expression ‘sh– happens’ … well, more sh– happens in boxing. It seems like nothing ever stays the course. But as an attempt, I think that it was a good idea. I liked it as it was unfolding; I thought that it was, frankly, unfolding pretty well, and the third round, the semis, the finals, were really set up very well. And that’s why I think the critics and the naysayers are f–king idiots. The sport is fading, and it needs creative concepts. They’re not all going to work out as planned. But we have to shake some sh– up.

“The round-robin concept proved what we already should have known from the days of Hagler, Hearns, Leonard, and Duran, which is when you put the best together, they’re going to beat each other sometimes. And an undefeated record can mean a lot less than a record with some defeats if the fighter is a true warrior. The negativity that’s being flung, I find it unfair.”

Nobody can deny, however, that there have been stumbling blocks and that, if a tournament like this is going to be attempted again, the formula could use some tweaks.

There are those who have expressed suspicions about Kessler’s eye injury and/or Dirrell’s neurological problems, and if indeed either is faking in order to get out of the tournament, that’s indicative of a major concern going forward: How do you account for so many participants looking out for their own interests when their market value fluctuates as the event progresses?

It appears that no matter what you try, if the tournament has three round-robin stages, fighters will drop out along the way. So here are two solutions to consider:

Solution 1: Start with more fighters. If you begin with eight and only the top four move on to the semifinals, you can replace whomever drops out and probably still have enough original participants advance to maintain the integrity of the tournament.

Solution 2: Start with six fighters, but no semifinal round, so only two fighters advance. It’s a similar concept in that it allows two or three fighters to fall out without causing major problems. No matter what, you move straight from the round-robin stage to the finals with two of the original six fighters competing for the tournament title.

No solution will be perfect, but DiBella feels strongly that the Super Six is a concept worth trying again after this one is over.

“It’s had a lot of problems,” DiBella said, “but remember, there’s no Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao now for how many years? Nothing is ever easy in boxing. Guys get injured and sh– happens. So do I think this is a concept that should be scrapped forever? No. I don’t. I think it’s worth trying again.

“I feel very, very sorry for Ken and for Showtime because it almost seems like no act of creativity or new opportunity winds up going unpunished. I still believe in the concept. I don’t think that this should cast any bad light on the concept or on Hershman or Showtime. I still applaud what Hershman and Showtime tried to do here.”

Or, more accurately, what Hershman and Showtime are trying to do here. They haven’t given up yet, and unless one or two more of the original six drop out, don’t expect them to give up.

There are still great matchups ahead, this November and beyond. That’s to the benefit of fight fans.

Andre Ward hasn’t quit. Arthur Abraham hasn’t quit. Carl Froch hasn’t quit.

Why should Ken Hershman?

RASKIN’S RANTS

• I’m torn on the performance of referee Gary Rosato during the Danny Garcia-Mike Arnaoutis fight Friday on Telefutura. First, he made a great call that too many refs blow: When Arnaoutis got dropped, got up unsteadily and tumbled back down again, a la Zab Judah in the Kostyz Tszyu fight, he kept counting rather than pulling a Jay Nady. Then he made a terrible call that I don’t think many refs would have made: When he reached the end of the eight-count and Arnaoutis was still wobbling all over the place, Rosato let the fight continue. Even Steve Smoger would’ve waved this one off sooner than Rosato did.

• We all know who’s going into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2011: Mike Tyson, Julio Cesar Chavez and Kostya Tszyu. But I can’t understand why Darius Michalczewski, whose final fight came a few months before Tyson’s, Chavez’s or Tszyu’s, isn’t on the ballot, unless there’s a maximum number of new nominees allowed.

• It’s been at least two decades since Sports Illustrated gave boxing the positive attention it sometimes deserves, but SI might have hit a new low last week with Chris Mannix’s piece calling Wladimir Klitschko “the best fighter of his generation.” (Read Tim Starks’ spot-on dissection of the article here.) Mannix later apologized, saying he meant “best heavyweight of his generation,” but even that is debatable, since there’s a fella named Vitali Klitschko out there with arguably a stronger resume. But more to the point, why didn’t any SI editors catch this? Are they that out of touch with boxing, or that disinterested in covering it accurately, that they see Wlad Klitschko called the best fighter of his generation and no alarm bells go off?

• Random theory: Paulie Malignaggi is a savvy self-marketer, and after his loss to Amir Khan, he had very little marketability left. Is it possible that he ripped former promoter DiBella just to snag some headlines and make himself worth Golden Boy Promotions’ investment by extending his relevance a tad longer? Let’s not forget, Floyd Mayweather Jr. is one of Malignaggi pugilistic idols; couldn’t Paulie have learned the water-cooler power of a “slave contract” statement by watching Mayweather?

Eric Raskin can be reached at RaskinBoxing@yahoo.com. You can read his articles each month in THE RING magazine and follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin.

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