Boxing fans love tournaments. Or the idea of a tournament, at least. The idea of a select amount of participants battling it out to determine who really is the best in any given division.
All the major sports have tournaments, football has the Champions League and the World Cup, the NFL and the NBA have the play-offs, tennis has four grand slams a year. These respective tournaments leave little doubt to who is the best (or at least had the best year) and always end with an undisputed winner.
The same can’t be said in the world of boxing. A successful tournament is an incredibly hard thing to pull off, with promotion and financial disputes aplenty and the ever-present prospect of an injury disrupting the schedule. Most fans point to the super-middleweight Super Six tournament as a successful tournament as it resulted in a deserved winner, perhaps forgetting that it was marred by injury from the get go.
With all this in mind, things were almost going too well for the inaugural editions of the World Boxing Super Series. Going into the finals the Super Series had lost only one of its 16 participants to injury and the man in question, Jürgen Brähmer was not considered as one of the favorites to win the tournament.
This has all changed, however, as super-middleweight finalist George Groves is potentially being withdrawn from the tournament final against Callum Smith due to injury and replaced by the man he defeated in the semi-final, Chris Eubank Jr.
The super-middleweight variation of the ambitious pair of tournaments presented the bigger issues from the start. Whilst the cruiserweight tournament was always going to see the winner crowned as the undisputed champion of the division, only one of the four title holders at super-middleweight signed up to the tournament (Groves’ WBA title). This meant that the first round of the tournament was left with underwhelming mismatches that couldn’t compete with the likes of Oleksandr Usyk vs Marco Huck and Yunier Dorticos vs Dmitry Kudryashov taking place in its cruiserweight counterpart.
The WBSS seem to be taking their time to make an official decision, but this seems to be more about giving Groves the chance to prove his fitness than them seriously considering whether to change the date.
The tournament’s main promoter, Kalle Sauerland, has been quoted as saying “the tournament is bigger than any fighter” alluding to the fact that they will not postpone the final to accommodate Groves.
Whilst the statement itself is hard to disagree with, the premise behind it is not. Groves has been one of the favorites to win the tournament since it began, he is the only participant in the super-middleweight bracket who currently holds a world championship and most importantly, he soundly defeated Eubank in an unanimous decision just last three months ago.
That no one person is bigger than the tournament is an understandable statement, and generally agreeable in most contexts but Boxing is so very different to every other sport. For example, if Mo Salah were to pick up an injury before the Champions League final, Liverpool would have to find a replacement. The idea of pulling Groves from the final, however, is more akin to removing Liverpool from the competition entirely and replacing them with Roma, who they beat to earn their place.
Removing Groves from the final of the Super Series would completely undermine the entire premise of the tournament and completely negate the good will the WBAS has built up with the fans over the way it has been run to this point.
You cannot claim you competition is ‘the Champions League of boxing’ and then have it end with a stunt like this. A final between a still relatively unproven prospect and a man who was comprehensively defeated in the previous round.
The WBSS risk the integrity of the entire competition over this decision. These tournaments were created with a clear purpose in mind – to find out who is the best in their respective divisions. If Groves is pulled from the final, this question will not even come close to being answered. The winner will take away nothing but a paper-trophy and the division’s four champions being left to find out for themselves who’s the best, rendering the super-middleweight version of the tournament a failure.
Postponing the final will admittedly be an inconvenience to Sauerland, and it will no doubt come at the expense of a lot of time, effort and money, but in the long run removing Groves from the tournament could well cause irreversible damage to the integrity of the tournament. If you’re going to claim to be the Champions League of boxing, you need to let the Champions fight.