- The upcoming World Boxing Super Series is a combat sports competition designed to unearth the next Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao.
- The Super Series is the brainchild of Kalle Sauerland, one of the most powerful promoters in combat sports.
- British boxers Chris Eubank Jr and George Groves are two of 16 competitors who are fighting for a slice of $US50 million (£38.4 million) in prize money.
- The draw to decide who fights who was described as a “bizarre gladiatorial dating game” as each competitor eyed the other up at a hotel swimming pool.
One of world boxing’s most powerful figures has created a competition he hopes will unearth the sport’s next superstar fighter.
Kalle Sauerland of Sauerland Events spent four years putting together a new tournament that could be to boxing, what the FIFA World Cup is to football.
Boxing traditionally exists within a ranking structure set up by four rival world organisations: The WBA, the WBC, the WBO, and the IBF. It allows fighters to avoid each other if they campaign in different organisations.
Sauerland’s new tournament, the World Boxing Super Series, puts boxing politics to one side and brings elite fighters from all of rivals organisations into a single elimination competition. And the money involved is huge.
The premise is simple. Fighters compete in two eight-man tournaments. One tournament is for super middleweights (168 pounds / 12 stones), while the other is for cruiserweights (200 pounds / 14 stones and 4 pounds).
The tournament begins with a quarterfinal round in September and, providing they keep winning, they will reach the finals in May 2018. The two champions will bank the lion’s share of the $US50 million (£38.4 million) prize fund on offer.
Business Insider spoke to Sauerland about what he calls “the greatest prize in boxing.”
Why is the World Boxing Super Series a big deal?
“The World Boxing Super Series will create the next superstars in world boxing,” Sauerland says. “This tournament does not detract from the day-to-day nature of boxing but it is completely the way forward for the sport.
“You can’t strip boxing to make it sterile. Boxing needs characters. It needs the guy with a wonky eye chomping on a cigar. Agents, managers, promoters, fighters, and organisations are all part of the sport’s ecosystem. All we’re doing is adding a stand-out event akin to the Tour de France in cycling, Wimbledon in tennis, and The Open Championship in golf.
“This concept provides narrative with a fan and media friendly product. Normally, at the end of big fights, we have to wait months to find out who’s fighting who next. But with this format, everybody knows. It’s a pre-set tournament. It’s easier for broadcasters, fans, and the media to get behind as you always know that the winners will fight the winners until there’s only one fighter left in each weight class.”
Sauerland recalls the Super Six World Boxing Classic, a now defunct boxing tournament he was involved in between 2009 and 2011, which propelled previously unheralded fighters like Andre Ward and Carl Froch into the limelight.
Super Six winner Ward is now considered the number one boxer on the planet, according to prominent boxing magazine The Ring. Runner-up Froch ended his career by knocking out George Groves in front of 80,000 fans at Wembley Stadium in 2014.
“Andre Ward and Carl Froch can thank their lucky stars they were involved with the Super Six as they grew into pay-per-view stars because of the format,” Sauerland says. “But think about it this way: The Super Six was only the pilot for the World Boxing Super Series.”
The Super Six was plagued by injury problems, late withdrawals, and disastrous event-planning. But Sauerland insists these issues have been ironed out for the Super Series.
“Decision-making power in the Super Six was not centralised, it was cluttered with politics, and took too long — two years — but the Super Six shows that the format can work.”
The Super Six thrust six fighters into a two to three fight league format ahead of two semi finals and a final. The Super Series has binned the complex league structure in favour of a knockout style tournament from the start.
What else makes the Super Series different? “It has had more money, is a more innovative product and there is far, far more media coverage and exposure. Will the winners end up bigger stars than the Super Six finalists, Ward and Froch? Yes — and that’s the biggest buy-in. We could be looking at the next Floyd Maywather and Manny Pacquiao.”
British boxers Chris Eubank Jr and George Groves are some of the bigger names in the super middleweight division, while Olympic gold medalist Oleksandr Usyk and two-time world champion Marco Huck will compete in the cruiserweight division. These are some of the guys who will be hoping to rise to the top and boost their star power.
When do the fights start?
The quarterfinals in both weight classes begin in September and October. All semi-finals are scheduled for January 2018, while the tournament finals will take place in May 2018.
TV deals are still being nailed down, but it wouldn’t be too wild a prediction to say the tournament could air on Showtime in the US and Sky Sports in the UK.
This is because Showtime’s ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr has been recruited. “[The World Boxing Super Series] is super exciting and vitally important for the future of the sport,” he tweeted last month. “I can’t wait to be involved.”
Furthermore, Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, who has an exclusive arrangement with Sky Sports, represents three fighters who will compete in the Super Series.
“I have three guys, Callum Smith and Jamie Cox in the super middles, and Mike Perez in the cruiserweights as well,” Hearn said to a World Boxing Super Series official in July. “I’m excited for them. It’s a whos-who of world boxing. These tournaments are wide open for anyone to win.”
However, nothing is guaranteed. Eubank Jr, after all, has been fighting on ITV Box Office and the broadcaster could also be looking to get involved.
Why was the Gala like ‘a gladiatorial dating game’?
The World Boxing Super Series began to take on a life of its own at a glitzy red carpet gala in Monte Carlo last month. You can watch some of the action in the video above.
During the event, four fighters in each weight class were seeded according to their divisional ranking. The two top seeds in each weight class had their pick of the remaining unseeded fighters. The second seed had second pick and so on, until two sets of four quarterfinals were established.
“Nobody knew what was going to happen,” Sauerland says of the draw. “But the funniest interaction was at the Fairmont hotel before the Gala.
“Fighters were actually eyeing each other up around the swimming pool, it was really quite bizarre. You could see how their brains were working. ‘Oh, he’s got a bit of fat on him.’ Or, ‘That one’s flexing and trying to hard.’
“What we were seeing was a gladiatorial dating game where the top seeds were, by process of elimination, picking the opponent they wanted to take out on the night.”
There some notable omissions from the competition, however. These include IBF super middleweight world champion James DeGale, American boxer Anthony Dirrell, and his brother Andre Dirrell.
“During the gala, Chris Eubank Sr said it really well, ‘If you don’t participate, then you are suspect,'” Sauerland says. “James DeGale has had shoulder surgery and the Dirrells may have had their reasons but will have all sorts of problems.”
Eubank Jr’s commitment to the tournament is clear. He told BI last month: “It’s a huge opportunity and against elite fighters you will see the best of Chris Eubank Jr. I plan on winning the World Boxing Super Series.”
Who are the favourites to win the two tournaments?
Sauerland says he is “very happy” with “an extraordinary pool of fighters in both weight classes.” He is already talking up potential winners. Here are some of his predictions for the two divisions:
The super middleweight bracket
“This is such a Brit dominated division. George Groves will bring the heat. He beat James DeGale twice, and is clearly the man to beat. He’s the favourite of all the super middleweights and faces Jamie Cox in an all British contest.
“Callum Smith is supposed to be ‘the next big thing’ but Chris Eubank Jr has created all sorts of waves. Even Jürgen Brähmer is a two-time world champ.
“Then the next four guys — Cox, Yildirim, Skoglund, and Brant — are in the chasing pack. They’re all undefeated as well but it’s time for them to step-up and they will do so here.”
“Cruiserweight is one of the least celebrated divisions but for me, just look at a cruiserweight… they’re heavyweights who are in shape.
“Oleksandr Usyk is really the man to beat. But looking at the field it’s so hard to split them. Dorticus has rave reviews but is not really heard of. Looking at him, he’s an absolute beast.
“Mike Perez may be a dark horse but he has Breidis and that is a tough fight.”
As a division, cruiserweight was established in 1980 and is still a very young weight class. As a result, it has produced very few superstar fighters. Evander Holyfield and David Haye are perhaps the exceptions but both of them eventually moved up to heavyweight.
Sauerland hopes his tournament will produce a global cruiserweight superstar. “The winner here will be seen, clearly, as the best in the division,” he argues.
Al Bernstein, who commentates for Showtime and Channel 5, expressed his excitement about the exposure the cruiserweight division is about to receive on a recent “Quick Hits” show on YouTube. He said:
“They have loaded this tournament with the very best cruiserweights in the world. This is what I love about this tournament. Cruiserweights make the best fights in boxing. There are four quarter finals, two semi-finals, and a final. I wouldn’t be surprised if five of those seven fights became classic encounters.”
How will the $US50 million prize money be funded and distributed?
The $US50 million prize fund will be raised through two key avenues, according to Sauerland.
- “We can drive revenue through broadcasters by selling the rights to the tournament.”
- “We will also have sponsorship to drive the prize money.”
“People in the industry are picking up on what we are doing and are thinking outside the box, too,” Sauerland says as he explores online video deals, as well as the best ways to utilise Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram channels.
Comosa, the Switzerland company set up to manage commercial activities for the World Boxing Super Series, will sell the rights to the tournament but full details of broadcasters, sponsorship, and OTT will be confirmed at a big press event in the coming weeks.
“The prize fund is split between the purses for the whole set-up,” Sauerland says. This means every fighter receives a fight purse simply for showing up. Every quarter-finalist gets paid regardless of whether they win, lose, or draw. Purses then become bigger as the tournament progresses.
“Think of it like Madonna, she gets a stage fee at concerts just to show up. So, between the divisions, there are turn-up fees and there will be a big announcement regarding the money the winner will receive.”
Business Insider pressed Sauerland for a ballpark figure. “Fighters are fighting for millions and millions of dollars.”
He says: “I had discussions with one fighter and I put the pay arrangement on the table. He said ‘Well it’s not that much,’ I said ‘That’s just to show-up, you get this if you win.’ He couldn’t believe it! He started saying what he’d do for millions of dollars. I had to tell him he only has to do one thing — win.”
The Muhammad Ali Trophy
It’s not just money the fighters are competing for. The winner will also get a trophy named after the greatest boxer of all time.
Sauerland had to secure permission from Muhammad Ali’s family and the Ali estate to use his name on the trophy and for the branding on the competition as a whole.
Sauerland spared no expense when it came to commissioning the cup as the Muhammad Ali trophy was designed by the now deceased Silvio Gazzaniga, an Italian sculptor famous for creating the FIFA World Cup.
The World Boxing Super Series super middleweight and cruiserweight winners will each receive one Muhammad Ali trophy to keep.
Muhammad Ali was nicknamed “The Greatest.” For Sauerland, the Muhammad Ali trophy is “the greatest prize in boxing.”
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