On the second Saturday of July, boxing in the U.S. was at a near-standstill. There were two noteworthy shows in the U.K., but these events were overshadowed by developments in Monaco where the pairings were announced for the opening rounds of the World Boxing Super Series.
The WBSS, which is slated to begin in September, consists of two single-elimination tournaments, one for cruiserweights and the other for super-middleweights. The top three seeds in each division got to pick their opponents. Here are the match-ups.
Oleksandr Usyk (12-0, 10 KOs) vs. Marco Huck (40-4-1, 27 KOs)
A gold medal winner at the 2012 Olympics, the top-seeded Usyk, a 30-year-old southpaw, is the reigning WBO champion. The 32-year-old Huck, who has participated in 18 world title fights, has seemingly been around forever.
Murat Gassiev (24-0, 17 KOs) vs. Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (53-3-1, 37 KOs)
Gassiev, the reigning IBF world champion, got a #2 seed. He didn’t get to pick his opponent; the match was already made, although the date and venue haven’t yet been decided. Wlodarczyk was his mandatory opponent and the IBF agreed to let the match play out under the WBSS umbrella. At age 23, Gassiev is the youngest contestant in the tourney. The 35-year-old Wlodarczyk (pictured on the right; that’s Gassiev on the left) will be competing in his 12th world title fight.
Mairis Briedis (22-0, 18 KOs) vs. Mike Perez (22-2-1, 14 KOs)
Briedis, a former European kickboxing champion, is the reigning WBC title-holder. Perez, an Irishman originally from Cuba, was a dubious selection. The former heavyweight title challenger has had only one match as a cruiserweight, that against a no-name opponent.
Yunier Dorticos (21-0, 20 KOs) vs. Dimitry Kudryashov (21-1, 21 KOs)
Bombs away. Born four-and-a-half months apart, these 31-year-old gladiators have a combined 41 knockouts in 42 fights. Kudryashov has the weaker defense, but is considered the harder puncher. He avenged his lone defeat.
SUPER MIDDLEWEIGHT DIVISION
George Groves (26-3, 19 KOs) vs. Jamie Cox (23-0, 12 KOs)
One of the most popular fighters in England, Groves is the top seed. He chose a fellow Englishman whom he acknowledges is an old buddy. “It’s a long tournament, so I picked the easy guy first,” said Groves, who has won six straight since cutting ties with his old trainer in favor of Shane McGuigan.
Callum Smith (22-0, 17 KOs) vs. Erik Skoglund (26-0, 12 KOs)
Smith, the #2 seed, eschewed a world title fight with Anthony Dirrell to participate in this competition. Skoglund, a 26-year-old Swede who is largely unknown outside Scandinavia, is coming down in weight after competing as a light heavyweight.
Chris Eubank Jr. (24-1, 19 KOs) vs. Avni Yildirim (16-0, 10 KOs)
Chris Eubank Sr. made this pick on behalf of his son. More exactly, he made this pick on behalf of the winner of the forthcoming fight between his son and German-Armenian veteran Arthur Abraham. Although this was putting the cart before the horse, the younger Eubank should have little difficulty with Abraham who has seen better days. “My son is an upgraded version of me,” says the proud papa.
Juergen Braehmer (48-3, 35 KOs) vs. Rob Brant (22-0, 15 KOs)
As the #4 seed, Braehmer, who is dropping down in weight, had no choice but to select Brant. The oldest fighter in the tourney at age 38, Braehmer is coming off a loss to Nathan Cleverly, but had won 17 straight heading in. Grant, fourteen years younger than Braehmer, is the only U.S. born fighter in either wing of the tournament. He’s been competing as a middleweight but is a former National Golden Gloves champion at 178 pounds.
Frank Warren’s show at the Copper Box Arena had no clear-cut headline attraction, but with five minor titles at stake, and 12 bouts overall, it promised to be an entertaining night of fisticuffs. Unfortunately, the fisticuffs weren’t confined to the ring. A massive brawl broke out after one of the undercard bouts. Hooligans heaved bottles and chairs and for a time Warren actually considered cancelling the rest of the card in the interest of public safety.
The riot broke out when the super welterweight contest between Asinia Byfield and Sammy McNess, scheduled for 10 rounds, was halted in the fifth frame when McNess’s corner threw in the towel. A diehard fan of the West Ham soccer team, McNess brought a large delegation of “co-religionists” with him. That was a prescription for trouble. An article last month in the (London) Telegraph identified West Ham supporters as the leading contributor to soccer-related arrests by public transportation police.
In authorized fights, Bradley Skeete and Gary Corcoran, welterweights on a collision course, won their respective bouts. Skeete advanced to 27-1 with a wide 12-round decision over Dale Evans of Wales. Corcoran (17-1) labored to upend Olanrewaju “Larry” Ekundayo, a 35-year-old Nigerian transplant, but escaped with a 12-round split decision in a good action fight.
In other bouts of note, light heavyweight Anthony Yarde (12-0, 11 KOs) stopped Hungary’s Richard Bananyi in the opening round and Daniel Dubois dismissed Mauricio Barragan in the second frame.
The 19-year-old Dubois, who stands six-foot-five and came in at 232 pounds, is a prized prospect. He reportedly knocked down Anthony Joshua in a sparring session. Barragan, imported from Uruguay, had a 15-1 record but was out of his league. As a pro, Dubois has stopped all four of his opponents inside two rounds.
Saturday’s match between Josh Taylor and Ohara Davies was that rare match between undefeated and highly-touted fighters who were yet in the nascent stage of their pro careers. It shaped up as a humdinger and didn’t disappoint, at least not for Taylor’s rabid fans who created a very hostile atmosphere for Davies, a Londoner.
When the smoke cleared, Taylor, a Scotsman from Edinburgh, advanced to 10-0 (9) with a seventh round stoppage. A 2012 Olympian, Taylor had the previously undefeated Davies on the canvas in the third round and twice in the seventh before the referee intervened. Davies had several good moments in the middle rounds, but was effectively outclassed by Taylor, who was three inches taller.
Taylor, who is promoted by Barry McGuigan, retained his British Commonwealth title and served notice that he will be a player in the rich 140-pound division.
The weekend activities concluded on Sunday in Ekaterinburg where Denis Lebedev was the main draw on a show that included MMA and Muay Thai contests. In a bout sanctioned for the WBA Super World cruiserweight title, Lebedev (30-2) scored a lopsided 12-round decision over Australia’s gritty but overmatched Mark Flanagan (22-6). The scores were 120-107 and 119-108 twice.
In his previous start, Lebedev lost his IBF cruiserweight title to Murat Gassiev. On the heels of that setback, the WBA anointed him their “Super World” champion. If you are confused, so are we.
Photo credit: Mark Hermenau / WBSS
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