Many will be familiar with the knockout format of the competition by now, but for those who are unaware, the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) sees eight top boxers compete for their share of $25m and the coveted Muhammad Ali trophy.
Fighters seeded one to four were arranged in two brackets and were allowed to select any unseeded opponent for their first match up. Organised by Kalle Sauerland and former Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer, we will be treated to frequent high-level competition.
Oleksandr Usyk and Marco Huck kicked the cruiserweight version of the WBSS off in style on September 9. This weekend we get to see how the super middleweights fair. Although the super middleweight side of the tournament isn’t filled with as many top names as the cruiserweight tournament – with George Groves the only world champion taking part – it has a lot to live up to.
That’s the case especially after the last super middleweight tournament, the Super Six, which was won by current pound-for-pound great Andre Ward in 2011. Although that tournament lasted over two years and was beset by the withdrawal of multiple fighters, this competition sees the quarter-finals taking place in September and October 2017, with semi-finals in January and February 2018 and the final in May 2018.
Early betting odds have number two seed Callum Smith as the favourite. Let’s take an extensive look at the contenders…
#1 seed – George Groves (29-3, 19 KOs)
The current WBA (super) super middleweight world champion as of May 2017, ‘Saint’ Groves is one of my favourite fighters to watch due to his famed jab and powerful right hand. Groves has a solid amateur background and handed Olympic Gold medallist and current IBF world champion James DeGale his only professional loss early in his career.
Since then, Groves is best known for his two losses to English super middleweight legend Carl Froch, including getting knocked out in front of 80,000 fans at Wembley Stadium. After rebuilding, he challenged Badou Jack for the WBC super middleweight title and lost via split decision. Since then, he has rebuilt again and comes into this tournament after five consecutive wins, including knocking out Fedor Chudinov for the WBA (super) super middleweight title in his last fight.
Groves had been one of the unluckiest fighters of modern times, only losing to top opposition and running them all extremely close. An early impressive win in this competition will give Groves the confidence boost he needs. A confident Groves is a hard man to beat.
#2 seed – Callum Smith (22-0, 17 KOs)
Smith comes from a boxing family and is the youngest of four brothers. His older brothers – Paul, Stephen and Liam – have all held British titles and challenged for world titles on multiple occasions. Liam Smith held the WBO light middleweight championship of the world for two defences. It is widely accepted that Callum is the best boxer of the four and he has won the British and European super middleweight titles, being successful at every step up in competition.
Smith stands taller than the average super middleweight at six feet three inches but he doesn’t fight like it. He has a proven track record of being one of the best inside fighters in the division. In 2014, he destroyed Tobias Webb with a multitude of vicious body shots. With his youth, length and power it’s easy to see why many have him as the favourite for this competition. However, he’s not fought anyone of real world calibre yet so questions still remain.
#3 seed – Chris Eubank Jnr (24-1, 19 KOs)
The third of four British fighters in this tournament, but perhaps the most entertaining to watch. Chris Eubank Jnr is the son of the eccentric, former two weight world champion Chris Eubank. Having started his career at middleweight, he may be one of the naturally smaller fighters in the competition and we’re still not sure if his power has carried to super middleweight.
His only loss came back in 2014 when he was on the wrong end of a split decision against current WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders. Many – including me – believe Eubank Jnr only lost that fight due to his inactivity in the first six rounds, not because of his lack of ability. Since then, he signed with a new promoter and went on a six fight knockout streak, winning the lesser IBO super middleweight title. He then defended this against the legendary but aged Arthur Abraham in 2017, beating him by a clear unanimous decision.
His blistering speed may be the difference but questions remain over his power at a higher weight class. If he has inherited his father’s famous granite chin and can get his mentality and tactics right, avoiding periods of inactivity in fights, he may well win this competition.
#4 seed – Juergen Braehmer (48-3, 35 KOs)
The oldest fighter in the competition, Juergen Braehmer, has held two world titles at light heavyweight. With an amateur record of 95-5 and a long professional career, he is undoubtedly the most experienced fighter competing. He enters the competition coming off of a loss to the recently retired Nathan Cleverly in 2016. A tricky and sturdy southpaw, his only knockout defeat came in that fight against Cleverly after he was forced to retire with an injury.
Surprisingly, he has rarely fought outside of Germany – once daring to fight in Hungary – and may find it hard to keep up with the hungrier fighters in this tournament. His age could be his downfall.
Jamie Cox (24-0, 13 KOs)
Jamie Cox is the final British fighter in the tournament and is a southpaw with a strong amateur pedigree, winning gold at the 2006 commonwealth games. After starting his career at light middleweight, he has slowly progressed up the weight classes. In 2016 he spent a short while in prison for assault and harassment but has since won four fights in a row leading up to the tournament. He is currently undefeated as a professional but hasn’t fought anyone of note. This tournament is a large step up for him and he is somewhat of an unknown commodity.
He has only been the 12 round distance once and questions remain over his power, even after his camp claim that he punches as hard as Froch did. He could be in for an early exit.
Avni Yildirim (16-0, 10 KOs)
Undefeated Turkish fighter Avni Yildirim is well travelled having fought in Turkey, America, Germany, Italy and Mexico. He has campaigned at both light heavyweight and super middleweight, winning and defending minor titles. In 2015 he outpointed the veteran Glen Johnson and has racked up wins against decent opposition – most of whom have had winning records – including Aaron Pryor Jnr and Marco Antonio Periban.
He may struggle with the step up in competition but his victory over Periban is good preparation. Rumours are that he handled himself well in sparring with world champion DeGale. However, as we all know, sparring is very different to competing under the bright lights on fight night. It’ll be exciting to see what he has to offer in this tournament. Win or lose, he could be a name in this division over the next few years.
Erik Skoglund (26-0, 12 KOs)
With a long amateur career that included losing to two weight world champion Jack in the Swedish national championships, Erik Skoglund is stepping down from light heavyweight to compete in the tournament. Skoglund is also a well-travelled fighter having fought in Germany, Denmark, Finland and Sweden. He hasn’t been as active recently as the other competitors having not fought this year. He can’t afford to have any ring rust when he starts his campaign. He has beaten the aged former world champion Glen Johnson and Derek Edwards – the only man to beat Jack in the professional ranks.
Ranked #12 in the world at light heavyweight, he is big and strong for the division and may cause matchup problems with other fighters if he can get past his tough first round opponent. Legendary super middleweight Mikkel Kessler has picked him to do so. Although, having been rocked early in his career against the unknown Lolenga Mock, I don’t hold out much hope for Skoglund.
Robert Brant (22-0, 15 KOs)
The undefeated Robert Brant is the lone American competitor. He is a former middleweight stepping up for the competition. As an amateur, his career began in 2007 and by 2009 he was a US national champion, winning the national golden gloves title a year later. He campaigned for much of his amateur career at 178-pounds so fighting at super middleweight (168-pounds) shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Known as a skilled boxer with outstanding power (click here to see it at work), he was named in ESPN’s top 20 rising stars in professional boxing in 2016. He is currently the number two ranked middleweight by the WBA.
He is extremely confident about his chances and could surprise us all. However, there aren’t any standout names on his resume and the first round of the tournament sees him fighting away from home support for the first time in his career. It should be a real test of his ability and mentality, he should look to make a big statement.
My picks for the first round of the tournament are Groves, Smith, Eubank Jnr and Brant.
My pick for the whole tournament is number three seed Eubank Jnr. He has proved that he can hang with world calibre opposition such as Saunders and Abraham, plus he impressed sparring former champion Froch when he was still a middleweight. Speed kills and Eubank Jnr has speed to spare. His combination punches and vicious uppercuts leave many in awe. It could be his time.
Who do you think will win the tournament? Let us know in the comments below…
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